I can’t count the number of fretful phone calls and emails I get from nervous beginning yoga students who all say something like; “I’ve never done any yoga before at all, is that OK?” Well if it wasn’t OK no one would be practicing yoga. We are all beginners at some point.
This repeated question makes me wonder if there’s a vicious rumor swirling around the yoga world of classes filled with contortionists wrapping their legs around their heads and balancing on one finger. For the record, I’ve been practicing yoga 12 years now and will only attempt the splits on the hottest day in July and after about an hour of practice first. I still cannot get my legs around my head and doubt I ever will. In fact, this may bit hard to believe, but I couldn’t touch my toes in a seated forward bend when I first started yoga. I wasn’t born flexible but I became more flexible because of yoga. This is why I often laugh when people tell me they can’t do yoga because they aren’t flexible. I say, “You need to do yoga because you aren’t flexible and flexible people need to do yoga for strength.”
I think the fear of the first yoga class comes from the perceived difference between a class at a gym and a class at a studio. Many people believe that yoga studios are only for those serious students with more experience.
Having taught at both venues, I’ve seen the advantages and disadvantages of both. Gyms tend to have class sizes around 15-30 students (occasionally I’ve seen classes upwards of 60) and the instructor often leads the class from the front of a very large room. Students follow along to the best of their ability as the level of the class varies. However, gyms do offer the anonymity of the back of the class for those who just want to watch and see.
As an instructor, I think that the smaller studio classes are the safer place for beginners even if they aren’t as anonymous as some might prefer. In a studio the instructor can help students with the correct form and modify poses more easily. There’s less a question of “am I doing this right?” in a studio.
At Tranquil Turtle Yoga studio, there are no designated classes for beginners because classes are never bigger than 8 students. This is small enough that everyone gets personalized attention from me.
Likewise, most students are beginners for a number of years before they move on to more advanced poses. This means that everyone tends to practice the same poses even if they’ve been attending class for some time.
I like to remind my students that yoga is a journey, not a destination. A student will never be perfect because there is no perfect in yoga. It’s a life-long process of learning all the nuances of a pose and holding it for just a breath longer than the last time. Over time the poses will begin to feel more and more comfortable. Also, students will become more and more confident in their ability to do the pose correctly on their own without instructor assistance. Muscle memory will take over and the body will start to automatically know what to do in a particular pose.
I remember the first time I ever attempted triangle pose. I thought there was no way I’d ever be able to do the pose and not feel as though my hamstrings were about to pop out of the back of my leg. Gradually, with the help of a yoga block and lots of practice, I was able to do the pose without pain. Then, with more time and practice, I was able to do the pose without a block. Now, I’m still working on turning open my hips without jamming up my spine and feeling the freedom in the pose. I’ll never get to the point where I’ll say, “Triangle, go t that down, don’t need to practice that anymore.”