According to a worldwide survey released in January, yoga is now among the top ten fitness trends in the world. Social media news feeds are exploding with images of perfectly styled yogis bending themselves into jaw-dropping poses. And while these experienced practitioners may be inspiring to look at, all this fancy yoga hubbub can scare off newcomers. (How did she get her foot behind her head, anyway?!)
If you’re among those uncertain yet curious newbies, you may not realize just what you’re missing out on. Yoga offers benefits to strength, flexibility, balance and mental focus while easing anxiety and depression and contributing to an increased sense of wellbeing. I genuinely believe it’s worth the leap! That’s why I’d like to set the record straight on a few common fears for “yoga virgins”:
Everyone else in class will know what they’re doing
You may be surprised to hear that the majority of students I’ve come across in my classes are at a beginner or intermediate level. When you choose to step into your first yoga class, there’s a very high likelihood that you’ll be in the company of others just like you. And if you’re not, it’s OK! Because yoga isn’t about perfection or “doing it right.” Yoga is about doing what’s right for you, even if that means skipping some of the trickier poses.
One of the most important concepts we teach in yoga is the “beginner’s mindset,” or the idea that even the most advanced practitioner has more to learn. There is no such thing as knowing it all, or there cannot be continued growth. So embrace your status as a beginner and get excited about all the room for progress ahead.
I’m not flexible enough
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a million times — it is not nor will it ever be a requirement to have the ability to touch your toes in a yoga class. Despite what you’ve been conditioned to believe, yoga is not about bending yourself into a pretzel and scratching your ear with your toes. While you will probably experience an increase in flexibility with regular practice, it isn’t the core focus.
Your instructors know this and they welcome all students and body types, no matter your limitations. It’s precisely why they’ll offer modifications throughout class and use props like straps and blocks to make the poses work for everyone. Yoga is the practice of uniting body, mind and breath, and we can achieve that union no matter how much we need to bend our knees in downward dog.
I’m not in “good enough shape”
Here’s a fun fact for you: yoga was not originally created to be a hard workout, although it’s often turned into one in our Western culture. In fact, some traditional yogis believed that if you were working up a sweat, you were doing it wrong. The original purpose of yoga had more to do with calming and clearing the mind.
While it is possible to seek out a “power” class that will have you huffing and puffing, not all classes are the same and you should try a few different styles to find what’s right for you. Perhaps a calming yin yoga class is more your style or maybe you do want to push your limits with Bikram. Just know that yoga class is a judgment-free zone and every person in that room is there to better themselves mentally, physically or otherwise. You’re always welcome to modify or skip poses you aren’t ready for and take it all at your own pace.
I’m going to be bored
On the flip side of this coin is the idea that yoga is too “boring” — and I’ll admit, sitting still for an appreciable amount of time can seem scary! This was actually the biggest factor that held me back when I was a beginner. Many (but not all) classes begin with a few moments of silent meditation and end with several minutes laying still in savasana or “corpse pose.” Some forms of yoga will keep students in each pose for up to several minutes.
All I can say is yes, if you’re not used to finding time in your day for stillness and silence, this takes some getting used to. But also, if you’re as terrified as I was of this “doing nothing,” you will probably benefit immensely from giving it a try. Once you embrace it, you’ll find it to be the most important, calming, centering, mind-clearing part of your day.
I don’t want anyone in my bubble
Yoga has a reputation for being a very hands-on practice in which people readily gush about their feelings and get into your personal space both mentally and physically. If you’re afraid that crazed yogis are coming to force you to hold hands and chant, fear not! You are ALWAYS allowed to set your own boundaries in a yoga class and those boundaries should always be respected by your instructor. And by the way, we’re not all crazed. I promise.
If teachers plan on adjusting students during class, they always give the option to quietly opt-out of that hands-on help. Your yoga teacher has been trained to respect the physical and emotional needs of different students, even if the need is to back off and give them space.
Hopefully you’re feeling better about hopping onto the mat and into Child’s Pose, (don’t worry, they’ll explain it later). Yoga has earned a few stereotypes during its time in the spotlight, but it’s worth opening your mind and finding out the truth for yourself. It may take a few classes or more to get into the swing of things, but by holding onto your curiosity and “beginner’s mindset,” you’ll soon learn that yoga was the missing piece in your fitness and mental health routine.
Nikki is a yoga instructor, writer and public relations professional currently based in Colorado. When she's not furiously typing out her next rant or indulging in a vinyasa class, you can find her hiking, movie-binging or cuddling with her giant dog. To contact Nikki, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org