1. It’s hard for everyone when you start.
There is no person who is “naturally” good at yoga that can immediately do all the positions with perfect posture. Everyone struggles because very, very few people can hold their body weight up in a bunch of different positions and be super flexible without practice. It’s yoga practice not yoga perfection. Just do the best that you can do and modify positions if you need to, there is no shame in that, only the knowledge that you will be better.
2. You will improve very quickly.
The upside of yoga being difficult for beginners is the speed with which you can improve. If you do a 20 minute practice everyday for a week the last day of that week will be markedly different from the first day. Your body wants to be healthy and strong. Your muscles and flexibility improve quickly and you will be surprised at how positions become easier and second nature over time.
3. Yoga magazines can be the enemy.
I love reading about how I can improve my practice but the images of perfect women living their perfect lives and having perfect technique in advanced positions is discouraging to me, so I made the decision to stop reading for awhile. The best teachers will tell you that you don’t want to imitate someone else’s shape, you want to become the shape you are supposed to be.
4. Focus on how you feel, not on how you look.
I’m not ashamed to admit I had dreams of becoming the perfect yogi — my thin limbs arching into pretzel shapes and posting Instagrams (hastag #rustic) of my farm to table meals and only wearing organic cotton clothing. But that’s not what yoga ended up being for me. It was feeling strong for the first time in a very long time in my Warrior II pose. It is breathing in as I try new positions, especially ones I couldn’t do before. It is coming to my mat when my life seems out of control and leaving it feeling completely stress free and complete. I don’t want to bring out the mirror to watch myself (except occasionally to check posturing) because how much happier could I be if I looked like a perfect woman doing yoga? There’s no room. My arms feel strong and my legs feel long and that’s all the happiness it takes to feel good right now.
5. Don’t do something that feels painful.
It feels like a failure to not be able to do something, especially in a beginner class, but you’ll get even farther behind if you have to take time out for an injury. Listen to your body. Push yourself in small steps, and move slowly.
6. When you’re beginning, try pulsing in and out of positions.
The first few classes I took focuses on breathing in the positions, but holding them, which is pretty normal. Then I took a class with an instructor who was focused on beginners and she showed us how to move in and out of a position until we were comfortable enough to hold and breath in it. For instance, Downward Facing Dog is difficult if you haven’t build up the arm strength to do it. By pedaling my legs or pulsing between Downward Facing Dog and Child Pose, I found I could spend longer and longer periods in the full position.
7. Go outside.
I was very intimidated to take my practice outside because I thought people would stare at me and I’d feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. I started doing it on my deck after dark. A few people might be able to see me, but it was mostly private. It was an incredible experience. It felt so much more natural than it did inside on my hardwood floor or in a class with a bunch of strangers. It was just me and the breeze and my breaths. I still focus on finding semi-private places when I practice outside but once I brought my mat to a public dock at a nearby lake and even though it was definitely public, it was one of the best times I’ve ever had on my mat.
8. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t like something.
When I started, if I attended a class and it didn’t go well I blamed myself. But the truth is not every style of class or every instructor is a match for every person. It’s okay if it doesn’t work out. You are doing yoga for yourself, so don’t be afraid to shop around and find something that works for you.
9. Try new things.
Typically in yoga you are always trying new things because each practice is different. You bring a new person to the mat, you take different breaths, and you grow. That’s great, but you want to make sure that you are trying a new class or new positions every once in awhile as well. You want your practice to feel fresh and you want to be inspired to keep coming back to it.
10. Just get on your mat everyday.
The end of a great practice feels incredible — you are happy and calm and sore in the most wonderful way. But even knowing this doesn’t make practicing every day easy. There are days I am crabby or busy and it’s absolutely the last thing I want to do. My advice for those days is just to make yourself roll your mat out. You don’t have to make yourself practice for an hour, just roll it out and say you’ll stick with it for 10 minutes. You can spend 10 minutes in Child Pose. It’s better than nothing, and often what happens is you find the energy and focus to continue.