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8 Things I Wish I Had Known as a Beginner Yogi

My first yoga class was a result of boredom in a new city and a Groupon. Five years later, I’m still balancing on my hands and attempting to contort like a circus act. Are you new to yoga? A little daunted, maybe? Take a breath, relax—we’ve all been there.

1. Ignore the Yoga Unicorns

You know the ones: the love child of Barbie and Stretch Armstrong, fully decked out in brand name yoga pants, matching bra, hair always up in the “messy” bun that never seems to move. Never fret, little yogi. Block them from your mind’s eye. Your ability to do the headstands and stretchy dancer poses will come with practice, and I guarantee you it has nothing to do with your leggings matching your tank.

2. We breathe, stretch, and om for a reason

Coming from a weight lifting background, it was always “go hard or go home.” Who has time for stretching and breathing!? Giving the body time to acclimate at it’s own pace and properly warm up the muscles and tendons gives you a better chance at avoiding injury as well as getting into the pose to the best of your ability. Not to mention it’s a perfect chance to clear your mind from the busy chatter, dedicate that 60-75 minutes to focusing on your breath and just BE YOU.

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3. Invest in a GOOD mat

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Not all yoga mats are created equal. (Shhh, don’t tell the mats that though.) A quality yoga mat will make all the difference in your down dogs, and avoiding the “oh sh*t” moment when your hands slip out and you become a broken dog. I started with a cheap mat bought on Amazon and a bath towel laid on top. I spent my classes slowly…awkwardly… slipping…. just praying that the teacher would cue us out of down dog and into anything less precarious for my sweaty palms. Spend that extra dough. Removing the slip and slide effect allows you to fully explore the pose and enjoy it.

4. Try different classes

It’s easy to get hooked on one class or get turned off of a bad one, but the beauty of yoga is that there’s a range of styles that promote anything from deep stretching to fast-paced sweat-inducing flows. Sometimes that high intensity cardio-like class is too much for where you’re at physically or mentally. Try a slow moving flow and see if that’s what you need. You’ll find your glass slipper class.

5. Don’t be shy about public yoga

I’ll admit. I’m that person that will flip upside down anywhere scenic, but I didn’t start off that way. I started doing headstands while traveling about 3 years ago, but would only go inverted if it wasn’t crowded, or windy, or an inconvenience, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. I missed out on plenty of awesome opportunities because I felt I would embarrass my friends or worse, fall over and embarrass myself. I was surprised to learn that: a) strangers think its super cool, (I got a free shot for it once) and sometimes photo bomb or join in, and b) it gets easier. If you can do a headstand on shifting sand, why can’t you do it in a stable environment?

6. Not all pain is good

One of the key limbs of yoga philosophy is ahimsa: the avoidance of self harm. More important than getting your heel down in Warrior I, is learning the difference between pushing too hard and causing injury versus finding your limit and not crossing it. There’s no benefit to grabbing your toes in mermaid pose if you injure your low back and can’t sit down without pain.

7. “I’m not flexible, so I can’t do yoga” is a lie

Saying you can’t do yoga because you aren’t flexible is like saying you shouldn’t eat because you’re hungry. I took 3 months of gymnastics when I was 8 and my career as a gymnast ended. My first yoga class I couldn’t touch my toes in forward fold, and let me tell ya, friend… your body is smart, it will adapt.

8. #Justdoit

You might shy away from standing splits or lizard pose because your hamstrings or hips are laughing at you, but channel your inner Shia LeBeouf and just do it. No matter how many blocks you need to prop yourself up, be Beyonce and you work that leg. The poses that you don’t naturally exceed at are the ones you need to attempt at every chance.

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Over to you: What’s one thing you wish you had known as a new yogi? Sound off in the comments!

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7 Comments

  1. Megan Reddix

    Megan Reddix

    May 19, 2016 at 9:37 am

    Thank you for this post, Ashley! I’ve been practicing yoga for over 3 years and I definitely would have benefited from reading this. I would have loved for someone to tell me to try a new class or even a new studio. Also, if someone had told me the mat I bough was actually for pilates and not for Vinyasa, that would have been wonderful. What kind of mat do you use? I’ve been pretty hooked to a certain brand for the past few years, but I’d like to branch out and find something that is super sticky.

    1. Ashley Hsu

      Ashley Hsu

      May 26, 2016 at 7:53 pm

      You’re so welcome! I felt the same way when I started. I use the Lululemon 5mm “The Mat”. It’s the only one that I’ve found to combat the sweaty palm syndrome that gets to me. Sometimes I’ll add a yogitoes on top, but it varies from class to class. What do you use?

      1. Megan Reddix

        Megan Reddix

        May 26, 2016 at 8:04 pm

        I use Gaiam’s 5mm mat. I have a lot of Gaiam products, and really love them, but I tend to slide on my mat in Vinyasa classes. I wore Nike wraps for a while but my hands still slid around so I bought a Gaiam no-slip towel which works pretty well, but it’s really warm to practice on.

  2. Amanda

    Amanda

    May 19, 2016 at 9:48 am

    These are all spot-on! #2 is awesome…not only do we stretch, breathe, and om for a reason, but every little detail about yoga has a reason, and I find that so lovely. Even when I haven’t yet learned the “why” of some particular thing, I know it’s not by chance.

    The importance of a good mat really gets overlooked sometimes….people think, “I don’t know if I want to stick with this, so I’ll just get the cheapest mat I can find” but a nicer mat would actually HELP them stick (ha, ha) with it!

    Just Do It is one I’m still reminding myself of….there are always those poses that feel out of reach and uncomfortable, but the only way beyond that is to just do them. Wheel is something I’ve more or less avoided for all the years I’ve done yoga. Now, I’m actively focusing on doing that pose, and, whaddya know, it’s already easier and less avoidance-worthy.

    For me when I was starting yoga, I wish I had understood how much it would actually help me, beyond the physicality of it. I think I would have gotten serious about it much sooner than I did! But, everything in its time. 🙂

    1. Ashley Hsu

      Ashley Hsu

      May 26, 2016 at 8:00 pm

      I agree, I started out thinking “what a great way to sub yoga instead of cardio” but it’s so much more than that. At least we finally figured it out!

  3. Pála Margrét

    Pála Margrét

    May 23, 2016 at 3:07 am

    5. and 8. are for me 😀 Even though I´ve practiced yoga for 3 years, I´ve been slowly transitioning with public yoga and now I just don´t give a damn what people think 😉 When I was in Amsterdam this random guy (in a party mood, putting down his beer) really wanted to help me with my handstand – so I got a hilarious photo there! And yesterday, when doing arm balances in the park, a stranger complimented me and ended up saying that maybe she should start yoga too 😀 So public yoga is just of the good – and a fantastic practice of not caring what others think 🙂 Then about nr. 8 – I have always done less of the most challenging poses – that for me are the standing poses – and more of the ones I find easier – hip openers, forward folds – but doing Bikram for a month opened my eyes to the importance of doing the poses I do not like – and now I really embrace them in my Vinyasa.

    1. Ashley Hsu

      Ashley Hsu

      May 26, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      That’s awesome! I had the same thing in San Francisco when some drunk guy started trying to jump into the picture, which made it all that funnier.

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