I’ve been teaching yoga now for many years and though it may seem like I was born standing on my head, I too, started yoga as a beginner. Though occasionally a student with a very developed practice will find me, most of my students have started with little or no yoga experience. So I’ve had many opportunities to see how novice yogis get in their own way and make the whole experience much less awesome than it could be. Here are the main fumbles that have made it to my list. I’m hoping that maybe you can avoid these common pitfalls if I point them out to you ahead of time.
Perfection leads to procrastination. There will never be a perfect time to start.
1 So many people want to do yoga, or mean to do it, but never get around to it. Or they wait until their poor back or hip is so painful that the can barely hobble in, or until their stress is nearly killing them. A 2012 Study on Yoga in America found that 104.4 million people “want” to do or try yoga. So those of you who haven’t gotten around to doing yoga yet are in good company. I get it, starting something new is scary. You’re afraid you won’t be “good at it” or are waiting until you lose weight. A teacher at our studio recently revealed her current mantra to me; “perfection leads to procrastination”. There will never be a perfect time to start. You will always be too busy, too tired or not flexible enough. The thing you find out though is that those things will never go away, they will always be a part of you and your practice, but your practice supports you and your life as it is, imperfect. Your practice makes those things easier to bear.
That studio and the students who attend are LUCKY to have you in class…
2 It’s easy to spot new student the first time they come in to the studio. There is a spectrum of expressions on their faces from apprehensive to terrified. In addition to not knowing what to expect there is a very palpable feeling of not “belonging”. How do I know this, from personal experience. I’ve been the new student at the studio and felt terribly insecure. Where do I put my stuff, how do I orient my mat, where did the others get those props…? It’s a horrible feeling. Here’s an idea though, just ask! Ask the staff or another student. I’m going to let you in on a secret. You are VERY special. You as a new student or beginner are the lifeblood of that establishment. Like all living organisms if you aren’t growing you are dying. That studio and the students who attend are LUCKY to have you in class, because without you and others like you there is no studio. So hold your head up high, you’re really important. And… if you ask where the props are and you get anything but a very courteous answer, find another studio with better manners.
3 Sometimes it makes me very sad when I hear the things people say to themselves. Newer students and established ones make this common mistake; negative mantra. The word mantra, when broken down into its Sanskrit parts means mind-instrument or tool. A mantra is something a yogi may repeat verbally or internally to help them develop desirable qualities such as compassion or equanimity, or it may just be a tool to rope the mind into stillness. Many of us have very negative mantras looping daily in our minds. Some “mantras” I’ve heard recently; “I suck”, “I failed”, “I feel like a beached whale”. It may seem harmless but it’s not. Stop it. Here’s a good mantra to work with while you find your favorite – “I’m doing my best”. Try it while you practice next time, see how often you have to replace the negative mantra with the compassionate one, do so as often as necessary.
The biggest mistake Beginners make during practice is disturbing their gaze, or not having one at all…
4 Here is my number one tip for success in a yoga class whether you are a beginner or not. Work on your dristi. A dristi is a gaze; it could be at an object, in a direction or internal. The biggest mistake Beginners make during practice is disturbing their gaze, or not having one at all. Balance is a major issue for beginners because they are either looking around to see what’s coming next or their gaze it just generally unsettled. Treat your gaze like an anchor or foundation point, it’s like having a kickstand in all of your postures. It’s also the element that turns your practice inward and that yogis, feels so. Darn. Good.
5 Here’s a shocker, though you come to yoga to do poses it’s not about the pose. Don’t knock yourself out getting from point A to point B, don’t force yourself into that most advanced option. The reason you come to yoga is to cultivate sensitivity to information. Information that is in your body all day every day. The point is not the pose, it’s the experience you have getting to the pose or being in the pose, whether you get to the fullest expression or not. It’s learning to be available to the information and learning to be objective about what you discover in that vast and varied landscape that is you.
One of our most persistent qualities as humans is that we try to make the uncertain certain.
6 My final mistake – expectations. Stop having them. If I had a dollar for every time a student called or emailed to get more information, over and above the class description about the class they are hoping to attend. This is of course my job and I love to chat with new students. However… I reassure, and give a nice idea about what to expect and then, more probing. “What will it be like? What will happen if? How will I…? The answers to these questions require a crystal ball and my response is very feeble in comparison “Just show up, and let go of your expectations. Arrive fully and be there for whatever happens.” One of our most persistent qualities as humans is that we try to make the uncertain certain. Those of us who suffer from anxiety do this %100 more than the rest of humanity, at least. When we allow our experience to be clouded by anticipation and expectation we most often miss the beauty and wonder of the experience we are actually having. It’s cruel to do, to yourself and others. Chill out and enjoy the ride.
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Mandy Ryle is the Owner and Founder of Sound Method Yoga. She teaches beginners and advanced yogis with compassion and enthusiasm. Learn more about Mandy and her classes here.