How to Be A Beginner: Your First Yoga Class


By Steph Schwartz | July 13, 2018

I’ll never forget the first yoga class I attended. I was in 5th grade and we were living in the Philippines. My mom had heard of an Expat who was teaching yoga classes out of her house and decided to bring me along. I remember thinking how cool it would be to teach yoga and to have a gold nose ring. My young, awkward self moved through the poses as best as I could, without hesitation or self doubt, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

A few decades later, I moved to Boulder and decided to try my second yoga class ever as an adult. Luckily I had a friend to show me around a well-known Ashtanga studio. My shyness and nerves would never have allowed me to go in there by myself. I am grateful I did. For many visits after I battled insecurities, fears, and nervousness about walking through the door. But in the end, not once did I regret rolling my mat out.

Being a beginner as an adult is much more challenging than being a beginner as a child. Children haven’t yet learned the word ‘impossible’, while adults have to swim through layers self-doubt, inadequacy, and the ‘not flexible enoughs.’ It takes courage and confidence to start something new and to challenge self-defeating thought patterns.

A beginner can be a first-timer or it can be a state of mind. John Glenn, the first astronaut to orbit the earth, circling it three times, always asked the question ‘Why Not?’ to stay open to possibility. No matter how scary it feels to start something new, it’s also a gift to be open to wonder and the novelty of a new adventure.

Yoga Every Day: The Beginner Series

Taking Your First Step

One of my favorite quotes is, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” We gain confidence through repetition, and repetition requires perseverance. A helpful confidence builder may be to start building a mini home practice before you take your first in-studio class.

You may have never even considered before how to “ground your big toe mound,” or “pull your feet towards your pelvis,” or my favorite “puff your kidneys.” Jump starting a home practice gets you familiar with the language and helps build body awareness.

There are informative videos and series for beginners to acquaint you with the basics. And before you commit to an hour-long class, there are plenty of shorter practices to help you gain endurance and focus.

BACK TO BASICS

Whether you’re deciding to take your first step or approach a more intermediate / advanced practice with a beginner’s mind, there are some invaluable benefits to going back to the basics.

 

Build Foundation

A cement foundation is much more durable than a house on stilts. Learn how to build your yoga house on a strong foundation. The basics of a strong foundation can be applied to other similar poses (for instance, low lunge to high crescent) and provides room to grow and explore.

 

Avoid Injury

Proper alignment is essential to longevity. Alignment cues are designed to engage muscles and protect joints. For example in vinyasa (flow) classes, much time is spent on the hands. It’s crucial to learn proper alignment for the hands and arms to support weight out of the wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints.

 

Simplicity

Albert Einstein states, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” He was a pretty smart guy! And some days it’s just nice to relax into simplicity to calm the mind, breathe, and get present.

 

Refresher Course

Taking time to refresh your knowledge of the basics assists in strengthening the beginner mind. Refreshers help us make use of the prior knowledge gained and to let go of being the ‘expert.’ As Shunryu Suzuki states, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

My first class as an adult was in 1999. When I signed up for teacher training in 2006, I tried to quit the first night. I was terrified of starting something new, especially when it required me to stand up and talk in front of other people. But something inside of me urged me to take the first step. Thousands and thousands of steps later, I’m so grateful I did.

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