Starting a yoga practice can quite often be intimidating for many first-timers. Most people seem to believe that they should be able to bend like Gumby before they even take their first class. Others have absolutely no idea what to expect. In an effort to help dispel some of these myths, and shed some light on the intricacies of yoga, we’ve compiled a list of the ten most common questions and concerns for yoga beginners.
1. I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.
This is probably one of the most common concerns for beginner yogis, however, it is important to reiterate that you don’t need to be a flexi-straw in order to begin a yoga practice! In fact, the desire for increased flexibility is one of the main reasons many people decide to start yoga in the first place. A lot of people do come by their flexibility naturally, but for many yogis, it takes much time and dedication to get to that point. We all have to start somewhere and by maintaining a regular practice, you may soon notice some results in the elasticity department!
If a lack of flexibility is one of your main concerns, it might be better to start with a designated beginner’s class, rather than an open-level class which can contain beginners as well as students who are extremely advanced. Being amongst these elite yogis can be discouraging, but try not to let it deter you. Even if you do wind up in an open level class, remember every body is different; try not to compare yourself to others during class and you’ll be bending like an old pro in no time.
2. Why should I practice yoga?
Something the ancient yogis had all figured out is that a regular yoga practice is pretty much beneficial for everything and everybody. Whether you are dealing with stiff and tight muscles, recovering from an injury, suffering from depression or other mental disorders, extremely stressed and/or anxious, or just looking for another form of exercise to add to your repertoire, yoga can help. It’s just a wonderful way to move the body while also quieting the mind, which can bring on a sense of calm and relaxation that is otherwise unattainable throughout the busy workday. There is no wrong way to practice, either; today, there are many variations of yoga offered that can really cater to your own specific needs and goals and a little experimentation with each one can put you on the right path. Most importantly, yoga just makes you feel good. You’ll leave class with more energy, which will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
3. What equipment do I need to practice yoga?
If you are going to a studio, all you need to bring is your mat; you should be dressed comfortably with a tighter-fitting top (due to being upside down in many poses) and regular workout pants. Usually, the studios will have blankets, bolsters, blocks, straps, and any other tool you might possibly need to easily move through your practice. If you are practicing at home and plan on staying at home, it would be worth it to invest in the equipment mentioned above.
4. Do I need to be vegan or vegetarian to practice yoga?
No, this is not a requirement, especially if you are just starting out. Many serious yogis on the spiritual path choose to be vegan due to a principle called ahimsa, or non-violence. This principle states that we must treat all living beings with respect, gratitude, and most importantly, kindness. Therefore, it is important to avoid products made from the harmful treatment of living things because it only perpetuates the cycle of suffering. Yogis follow this principle whilst on the path to Enlightenment (attaining enough spiritual knowledge to be freed from the cycle of rebirth).
That being said, there are certain benefits to following a vegan diet for serious practitioners; maintaining a vegan diet creates a feeling of lightness in the body, which makes certain postures, especially inversions and arm balances slightly easier to perform. It also makes the mind “lighter,” which brings us closer to the creator (according to Yogic philosophy). However, if you’re just starting out, nobody is going to tell you how or what to eat. It is most important to eat for your body and in a way that makes you feel your best. Just remember, if you encounter a teacher who pushes any agenda that you are not comfortable with, it is absolutely okay to try another class with someone new!
5. Is yoga a religion?
Yoga is not a religion, rather, it is a set of guidelines and principles meant to guide the practitioner towards Enlightenment or a higher spiritual plane. All aspects of yoga are meant to help the student remove the veil over his/her eyes and to see the world as it really is: a place of non-judgment, non-duality, and peaceful existences. That being said, each class and each type of yoga may vary with their levels of spirituality. Some teachers enjoy incorporating chanting and meditation into class while others are all business, focusing solely on the exercise component of yoga. The physical movements of yoga circulate the energy around our bodies; chanting is meant to do the same thing, and both are meant to bring us closer to our true selves. Of course, you are not obligated to participate in any chanting or other yogic rituals should they not align with your beliefs.
6. Will the teacher single me out and/or touch me?
You will never be singled out in a yoga class, however, the yoga teacher may adjust you in certain postures, especially if you are posed in such a way that may cause injury. If that is not something you want, you can always introduce yourself to the teacher before class, and specify that you would appreciate a hands-off approach.
7. What if I need to take a break during class?
This is absolutely fine! You dictate and decide your own practice. If at any point anything becomes too strenuous or uncomfortable, by all means, lay down in savasana (corpse pose) until you come back to yourself. The teacher may come over and ask if you are alright, but other than that, you are free to take all the time you may need.
8. What type of yoga should I do?
The answer to this question really depends on what your goals are. If you’re looking for a workout, Vinyasa yoga might be right for you. If you have stiff and tense muscles or are just starting out, perhaps gentle yoga may be more your speed. It may take some time before you find a yoga style and a yoga teacher that you enjoy, so try not to become discouraged if it does not work out immediately.
9. What if the people in class are better at yoga than me?
This is another major concern for many people. It cannot be stressed enough that in yoga there is no comparison; no better than or worse than. We are all in our own place and everybody’s bodies are different and will work in different ways. There are people with a more advanced practice who may have been practicing for years and years, so as a beginner, it is really unfair to compare yourself to them because you are setting yourself up for disappointment. It is easier said than done, but yoga is a time to go within and reflect. Use your practice to see what’s going on in your own body and try to address those concerns instead of feeling jealous of the lady who is balancing on one finger, because even that lady was a beginner at one point. We can all get there eventually with regular practice and dedication to yoga.
10. Do I have to “om” with the rest of the class?
Again, this is yoga. Nobody is going to force you to do anything you don’t feel comfortable with. Om is a beautiful sound, a cosmic vibration, and it has wonderful effects when you feel that vibration throughout the body. So, even if you choose not to chant, just being in the room while the rest of the class unites in “om” is still extremely beneficial and wonderful.