As we get a little deeper into 2017 at SATTVA, many new faces will join us on the hardwood for the first time. What a perfect way to begin the new year, with some mind-body transformation! That being said, new beginnings often involve a learning curve and yoga is no exception. Thankfully, since we all tend to make the same mistakes, a little help can mean dodging some basic pitfalls. If you're just starting out, we’re glad you’re here; if you're in the middle, let’s grow a bit further; and if you're a seasoned practitioner, let’s take a quick self-check (and remember of where you started).
1. Starting at Someone Else’s Pace
Don't worry about where your friends are at, it is YOUR body that you need to make decisions for. If you have some experience and understanding of yoga, the All Levels class might be your jam; however, if you've never stepped into a studio before or don't understand the basic mechanics of postures, a Beginners Class might be more your speed. If you have some physical limitations (or are just stiff as a board), fear not, there is something for everyone!
2. Feeling Unqualified (Especially in Beginner Classes)
Students often feel they must reach some mystical standard of flexibility before beginning yoga or transitioning to the All Levels class. If you have been practicing beginners for a while, bite the bullet and move to the next level. In any physical activity, you will improve most efficiently when you work towards a higher goal than your current ability. Listen to your body and take the leap! There will be more to learn wherever you go and it’s actually really exciting and fun to challenge the body and break out of the comfort zone.
3. Putting a "Yoga Image" First
Advertising and social media market a visual lifestyle of yoga. Those images of people rocking an inner peace face with the "perfect" body, "right" clothes, and collection of parachute pants (insert inspirational quote), are not you. Yoga is your own journey and will impact your life differently than everyone else's. Looking the part is far less important than the mental work you will do in class. Your practice is more than an identity to try on; allow it to flavor your life in a personal way.
4. Gearing Up (Expensively)
Contrary to popular belief, you can be inflexible in lulu pants. In studio clothing, it is important to have great mobility, breathability (particularly if, like me, you sweat a LOT) and comfort. It's true, some companies specialize in doing this well but you needn't break the bank just to look the part. Bargain stores and smaller brands can have great options and, frankly, when we get deep into those lunging postures, no one has the brain space to ponder how "legit" you look.
5. Forcing It
I cannot stress this enough. What does forcing it look like? It looks like shaking like a leaf as you push into excess amounts of pain, with terrible form. Within each posture, there are multiple variations with different degrees of difficulty. If you don't know how to enter a posture, wave over an instructor! They will be able to adjust your body so you can find the necessary balance of engagement and relaxation to open up your tissues. If you can't breathe properly in a pose, consider modifying.
6. Thinking You're Alone
You have so many people on your team in a yoga class! Your instructors are waiting to help. USE THEM. If you have an injury or physical limitation, tell them before class and they will help make the postures work for you. The studio is not a space of competition; it is a space of togetherness. The bodies surrounding you have gone through (or will go through) the same struggles and epiphanies as you. That human-pretzel in front of you? They once needed blocks and straps. We may deepen into our own practices but we all know what it's like to start. Rest into that empathy.
7. Ignoring Your Intelligent Body
At SATTVA, there are no mirrors. You need to listen to your body to tell if you are balanced and grounded. You need to feel through the lines of your bones and tissue to find stacking. You are the best defense against improper alignment, so, take your eyes off everyone else, soften your gaze, and feel your way through the postures. In time, your awareness will increase and, as you do things properly, you'll remember what good form feels like.
8. Setting Unrealistic Goals
Your body will open on its own schedule and, if you don't let it work at its own pace, not only will you become frustrated but you may actually hurt yourself. If this is your personal pitfall, start a yoga journal. Track the date and length of each class, making some general notes on the experience. Then, most importantly, log something in a "little victories" column to help acknowledge the small gains you make. Finally, to put your expectations into perspective, track your number of sessions rather than the weeks you've been practicing.
9. Being Intimidated (Hero Worship)
When we enter an All Levels class, 95% of us have people in the room who are much deeper into their practice than we are. That person you feel intimidated by was once in your shoes, so don’t allow destructive comparison to sneak in. Instead, toss out feelings of inadequacy and enjoy watching the deeper variations in their postures. If feelings of intimidation persist, talk to them. It’s likely that they will admit to not being made of moonlight, magic, and the essence of Gumby—despite what you expected.
10. Ignoring the Mental Game
Like it or not, yoga is more than just a physical practice. As you strip away tension in the physical body, tension in the mind becomes apparent. Learning to soften your mind and body into the practice will reveal different aspects of self. Help prepare your mind by arriving early for the session, give yourself time to settle in, and don't ignore your intention— it will be your focal point, guiding you through all the challenges you face in class.
11. Not Preparing Your Body
Whether you sweat a lot or not, come hydrated and re-hydrate after class. Water aids in muscle recovery and will help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness, common in people just beginning a new fitness routine. Also, nothing feels worse than finding yourself hungry during a workout. Low blood glucose from inadequate food means that you may wind up sluggish and tired, not having the energy to maximize the benefits of your class. Try consuming easily digested carbohydrates (green smoothies anyone?) 30 minutes before class so that you are ready to go from Om to Om.
12. Overlooking Hygiene
You have just touched your mat with your bare hands and feet, depositing body oils, sweat, and bacteria onto its surface. For the love of everything, wipe it down and deep clean it occasionally or it will start to stink. In addition to cleaning your mat, you may want to rinse the salt off your skin before you go about your day. A quick rinse could save you from dry and irritated skin, especially during cold winters. Finally, ladies, take the time to bring a change of underwear to class as bacteria and yeast thrive in moist environments.
I sincerely hope you have enjoyed reading about my own mistakes, cleverly disguised as advice. As we move through the year, be encouraged that we are all in this practice together: making discoveries, stretching our limits, and tuning into the wisdom of our bodies. Remember that beginning is hard and an achievement unto itself. See you in class!
Holly de Moissac