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Making Yoga Work: A Survivor’s Guide for Beginners

by Pam Lunz Medina

It can be intimidating to start something new, and our hearts may race upon our first visit to a yoga studio. We might be confused and anxious about moving our bodies in a room full of strangers, but by the end of the class, we will likely feel relaxed and peaceful. We can be confident about letting go of nervousness and stepping into yoga with clarity and ease with these simple tips.

Every body is unique: Not one person on earth has experienced the same accidents, traumas or responsibilities. Every human bone and muscle is its own expression of some body’s life story. We’re not going to move the same way. It’s common to be flexible in one area, but have tremendous tension in another.  Don’t expect to look like anyone else.

The right class: True yoga is more than a workout. There are breathing techniques incorporated with movement. Chanting, meditation and spiritual teachings may be weaved into the practice. A basic beginner’s class teaches terminology and basic alignment to assist our natural progression. Read class descriptions and call the studio. Speak with the teacher directly during pregnancy, nursing, recent surgery, chronic pain, illness or other trauma.

A good mat: Not all mats are created equal. A natural rubber mat will prevent sliding and injuries. A thicker mat comforts knees in kneeling poses and softens the ground during supine and prone poses.

Dress to stretch: Clothes shift and wiggle during yoga. If that tank sits low, it will be more than revealing as we roll our chest across the floor raising up into cobra. Stay focused on the body and breath by covering up.

Naked feet. That fabulous, sticky mat won’t be of much use without bare feet. Wear easy off shoes to remove before entering class.

Fitting in: Feel at home by setting the phone to airplane mode before class. Arrive 10 to 15 minutes early. Some studios allow late students to enter class after initial centering or opening chants; make that inquiry. Refrain from fragrances, as fellow classmates will be breathing deeply.

Bring on the props: Props come in handy for both beginners and seasoned practitioners. If movement restrictions are a concern, a class that utilizes props is a godsend. Use them as stabilizers, assisting alignment, balance and comfort in challenging postures. Straps in effect extend the extremities, facilitating a sense of structure and yielding into a position. Bring all the props to the mat space to avoid interruptions. If the studio doesn’t provide props, bring them along if needed.

Teacher talk: Ask questions before, during and after class. If the instructor isn’t approachable, choose a more compassionate teacher to learn this sacred art from. Yoga is a personal experience. Open communication will lead to enrichment and a deeper journey.

Glossary: Yoga means union. Mantra is a sacred phrase used to keep the mind focused. Om is a mystic syllable, considered the most sacred mantra. Asana is a position which is steady and comfortable. Hatha means effort and spaciousness. Vinyasa means flow.

Ease up: Don’t expect to learn everything right away. There are 36.7 million yoga practitioners in the U.S. It’s a lifelong study of oneness with all that is. Duration, frequency and devotion will influence the transformation of body, mind, heart, spirit and soul.

Community: The Yoga Alliance lists 5,485 schools sharing the wisdom of the sages. Within these schools, each teacher has their own exclusive style and expression. Finding a yoga family can take time, but it’s a worthy exploration. A nearby location is key. Once a week attendance should be a minimum, yet some yoga is better than no yoga. Choosing the teacher or studio that connects with students’ needs will keep aspiring practitioners inspired and ready for self-discovery, joyful living and tranquility.

Pam Lunz Medina, E-RYT, is a yoga teacher trainer and director of The Yoga Lily, in Clifton Park. She offers training, workshops, classes and retreats throughout the Greater Capital Region. For more information, call 518-744-5565 or visit TheYogaLily.com.

This article appeared in the September 2016 issue of Natural Awakenings Magazine. Click to read more.