You might not think of December as the perfect time to take up yoga, but hear me out. Here are a few of the reasons why now might be a great time to take up yoga (or zumba or weightlifting or pilates or whatever fitness class you’re interested in).
- you need a lot of stress relief around the holidays
- you need an activity that can be done indoors if the weather is cold
- you want to get a head start on your New Year’s fitness goals
- you need something to help ward off seasonal depression
- you want to take advantage of some holiday sales on yoga gear and studio discounts
- you are feeling the extra Halloween and Thanksgiving pounds, are tired of guilt and dieting, and are looking for a lifestyle change that will actually be fun
- you just really love yoga
- you have always thought you might love yoga, because you’ve heard such good things about it
- you love learning and trying new things
Whatever your reasons, now is as good a time as any. Yoga is a major source of happiness for a huge number of people, so here is a course designed to tap into some of that happiness for yourself.
A note about cost: This particular course can get expensive fast, and I usually try hard to keep my courses free whenever possible. You can and must control the expense on this one. Try things out before you invest. See if this is something you’d like to keep doing, and if you do, build up your supplies and gear and class expenses gradually.
- Yoga mat — You can spend a lot or a little depending on your budget. I splurged and got a Manduka Pro mat that is extra long (my husband is tall and wanted to be able to to use it, too). You do NOT need to get a fancy mat! If you have never practiced before and don’t even know if you’ll like it, you could even borrow one from the yoga studio you choose to go to until you’re sure.
- Yoga props — A few cheap props will be necessary, especially if you’re a beginner.
- a strap
- 2 blocks (I prefer cork but foam ones would also be fine)
- a mat towel if you will be going to a hot yoga class
- 2 or 3 blankets (something thick and warm like these)
- bolsters (big and small)–I personally use an over-stuffed throw pillow right now, but after practicing with bolsters in a studio you might decide to get some for home
- Active wear (makes me think of this) — You’ll need to have at least a couple outfits to wear to class. However, if you are just practicing at home, you can wear anything or nothing. If you choose hot yoga, look for tank tops and shorts in materials like Dri-fit that won’t get bogged down with moisture as you sweat. Avoid polyester and cotton. For women, a good sports bra is a must. For my non-heated yoga class, I just wear your standard yoga pants from Old Navy, a sports bra, and a lightweight t-shirt. Nothing fancy. Chances are you probably have something to wear already.
- Yoga videos — I will list a few specific videos I like, but ultimately, you need to find some that you like. I recommend borrowing from the library and from friends and buying only if you find one that you absolutely love. The videos listed below are just to get you started. Browse and choose anything that looks good.
- Hatha and Flow Yoga for Beginners with Tamal Dodge
- Flow Yoga: Elements of Yoga: Air & Water with Tara Lee
- Yoga for Beginners and Beyond
- Popular Yoga Gurus (to get you started until you find your own guru): Rodney Yee, Tamal Dodge, Shiva Rea, Tara Lee, Jennifer Galardi, Tara Stiles, Ashley Turner, Kathryn Budhig
- Yoga class — This is where it gets complicated. Some of you might be completely terrified of going to a class. I understand that 100%. I dipped into yoga in stages. First, I tried a video, then I went to a beginners workshop to learn a few basics, then I went to smaller, non-heated, diverse beginners classes, then I went to hot yoga classes. Each step up to another level was scary before I went, but instantly wasn’t when I finally got there. It was a great lesson in stepping out of my comfort zone, and it has always been a very positive experience for me. Do this however you’d like. I will say this, though: eventually, go to a class. You’ll learn a lot and it’ll make practicing at home (which I consider the ultimate goal) more effective and enjoyable. The accountability of going to a class is also a great motivation for some people. And, most importantly, going to a class is downright fun!
- Look for a beginner’s workshop. Ask local studios if they offer one at any point in the year, since they usually have them in four or five week cycles or something.
- Consider a class that is close to where you work or live. You’re just not going to go if it takes too long to get there.
- Consider taking a buddy, or not. This might help you get over the scary parts. Keep in mind, though, that it might actually be a better learning experience if you go ahead and do it on your own. It’s hard to explain, but I have been better able to take ownership of this “journey” by not sharing it with anyone else. It’s been more meaningful, which is what we want out of our learning projects.
- Research different kinds of yoga, but go to lots of different classes and with lots of different instructors. This might be my favorite part of venturing beyond videos at home and a beginners workshop. Each teacher is so very different, and although a lot of postures are repeated (your standards like downward dog and corpse pose), those teachers also throw in postures that I had never heard of or tried but that I absolutely loved; and sometimes they do the same poses in completely different ways, or they just explain them differently so that I end up understanding. This makes going to class very exciting and a lot less scary.
- Look for a deal. In order to take advantage of the above tip, consider different studios. I can’t really afford yoga class. BUT, I can scrape together enough to buy a Groupon to a studio for a month of unlimited classes. Once that month is over, I do it all over again at a different studio. The savings are huge, and I get the benefit of learning from so many teachers and studios. Once I can afford it, I hope to choose my favorite and make it my “home” studio.
- Go as often as possible. To get your money’s worth if you get an unlimited package, go every day if you can. This is not only a great way to learn quickly, but it is a great way to build the habit, get over your fears quickly, see fitness results sooner, and immerse yourself into the world of yoga. Early in the morning, during lunch, or late at night. I have never ever regretted going to a class, every day I can, even though I often resist. I’ve learned that going to class is a gift I give myself, not a chore.
Even the study of yoga involves reading! I own the books listed below because I love them so much, but you can get them from the library, of course.
- Moving Toward Balance: 8 Weeks of Yoga with Rodney Yee : Perfect for beginners and perfect for a serious student of yoga!
- No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness by Michelle Segar : I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love this book. It is from her that I learned the concept of choosing activities that are more like gifts and less like chores. A definite must-read.
- 30 Essential Yoga Poses: For Beginning Students and Their Teachers by Judith Lasater : Like having a beginner’s workshop in book form. I learned so much from this book–how the poses should feel and how to get in and out of them–that I wish she’d write more books about some of the non-essential poses, too!
- Explore the library and bookstores for more that you might like. This is one of those things where some highly acclaimed books might be duds to you, but that some unknown book might really spark you. Go check things out!
You have your mat, you’re in your active wear, you’ve read No Sweat, and you’re ready to commit to this experience. You’re hopeful. And you should be, because yoga is something that can really make people come alive. You should set your own course objectives, like always, but with yoga that is particularly important. Yoga is a very personal thing.
- Read No Sweat first. It will either guide you as you approach the practice of yoga, or it will steer you toward something that you’ll like better. Better to lay the foundation of commitment before you get started.
- Set an intention to learn something new. Every class and video I’ve ever experienced invites students to set an intention before they practice. I always felt lost and didn’t really know what to do. One day, I stumbled upon an intention that has been the very best in helping me learn to practice yoga, and that is this: I will learn something from this. I will learn a new pose, I will learn how to get into an old pose, I will learn how to breathe, I will learn how to relax into a pose so that it “works,” I will learn about my body and what it likes and doesn’t like, I will learn about how teachers do their thing, I will learn my true feelings about yoga, I will learn to accept myself, I will learn that I prefer certain yoga pants over others, I will learn how to use savasana to it’s fullest, I will learn a new visualization to help me meditate, I will hear a new song that I want to use at home, I will learn how to sequence my own home practice, I will learn how to use props in new ways . . . it never ends! When I set the intention to learn, from a video, a class, or from my own home practice, I always do.
- Experiment with videos. Try each one more than once. Sometimes the struggle of learning the flow and the language can skew the experience, so give it more than one chance to see if you’ll like it. Try different instructors and pay attention to their differences, just like you’ll eventually do in classes. You’ll begin to grow your skill and confidence until you’re ready for your first public appearance.
- Attend a beginner’s workshop or try a beginner’s course with a book (although I recommend the beginner’s workshop as essential and only use a book if you can’t find a workshop in your area). The idea of this step is to learn how the postures are supposed to be. This step helps you avoid injury and helps when you go to a class and your teacher says, “Warrior one . . . reverse warrior . . .” and you don’t want to have to look up and around every time she says something new. You may still have to, but having the basics down really helps. A workshop also eases you in to the studio atmosphere. Everyone will be brand new, everyone will be inflexible, everyone will fall and have terrible balance, and it will be so so fun. You’ll be able to ask questions, which is something you can’t do with a video, and that doesn’t really fit in a class setting. (For Boise locals, email me about workshops I recommend.)
- Sign up for a class and go to it, as much as you can. Soak it in and learn all you can–remember that intention–and you’ll begin to really enjoy your experience.
So, what’s the goal? You can make it anything you want! For you it might be to be able to do headstand or crazy cool poses, but for me, I want a fun and sustainable home practice. I want to build my repertoire of poses and techniques so I can recreate the feelings I get in class in my own home. I want to have a home practice so that I can allow yoga to permeate my day effortlessly, even when I can’t afford to go into a studio to practice.
When yoga really started to feel fun to me was after I had watched a lot of videos and had started memorizing some of their sequences. I had learned to do basic sun salutations, and I began doing them without anyone telling me what to do next and with my own music playing and in my own room and suddenly I fell in love. It was so quiet and so empowering that I just wanted to keep going. Learning from classes and books and workshops has made those moments of home practice the real gem of this entire project. I can now practice for much longer amounts of time because I not only know a lot more poses, I know how to keep them flowing into each other in a natural way, and I know that it feels really good when I keep practicing into the sweat-stage (where I get pushed to in class) and can move into poses that I couldn’t before–before I would just be done when I started to warm up because I didn’t know any better. It’s fun to remove the tension of being with others and just move how I want to, all by myself, without feeling self conscious at all. I can even fall asleep during savasana if I want to.
One last thought:
Forget about getting skinny, forget about looking impressive, forget everything. Approach yoga with a playful spirit one day and a quiet, serious mind the next. Always listen to your body–don’t injure it–but try new things, even ones you think you can’t do. You might be surprised at what you can do. And that’s when the real learning happens.
So, that’s it! Go forth! Build your practice! Learn something new.