1. Look for a class that offers the whole package: movement, breathwork, and meditation. The meditation and breathing parts of the equation are vital for making yoga an integral part of your life. Many of us have developed short, tight breathing habits, and yogic breathing reminds us to keep the breath low and slow. Meditation helps with mental acuity, memory, focus, and overall health benefits, including pain management.
Some classes focus entirely on meditation, and they may be great for you in addition to your regular asana practice. But the main reasons for all of that twisting and wriggling around in an asana class are to prepare you to sit comfortably for extended periods of time, to deepen your breath, and to relax for meditation. Even if meditation is your primary goal or interest, keep in mind that some movement before sitting, even if it’s just a short walk, can benefit your practice overall.
2. A little gear helps. Having your own yoga mat is good for both hygienic reasons and as a reminder to unroll it at home for personal practice. Clothes that are stretchy and comfortable also help to make the class more comfortable. I’ve had people show up for class in tight jeans, shorts that are way too revealing in wider-leg poses, and even skirts—any of which can inhibit you in your practice. Keep in mind when choosing what to wear that many movements in yoga classes require bending forward and lying down.
3. Arrive for class 10 minutes early and let your teacher know if you have special physical needs or injuries. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a new student arrive right at class time and tell me after the class, “Oh, by the way, I have a cervical fusion,” or “It’s hard for me to sit that way because of my hip replacement.” Had I known beforehand, I would have offered them different options during the class. Teachers need to know in order to help.
4. Remember that even a little practice can make a big difference. Try to find 10 to 20 minutes a day, the earlier the better so that your yoga doesn’t get back-shelved when you get busy. You can do a short online class, or even just do a few simple stretches each day. Of course, if you have more time, you could choose a longer class, but keep in mind that even a little bit of yoga can make a big difference when done regularly. Making yourself feel guilty about not practicing for a full hour every day may discourage progress and continuity. Think of your new yoga adventure as a seedling and gently encourage it to flourish.
5. Practice the poses you find challenging, as well as the poses and movements that are easy for you. In home practice, no one’s going to know if you avoid poses that remind you of your tight hamstrings or the weakness in your arms. Make a point of working on at least one pose that you find challenging each week at home.
Finding a yoga practice that’s right for you at this time in your life is well worth the effort. Most importantly, look for a practice that speaks to you, because sticking with it is how we deepen the neural grooves that help us enjoy the vitality and clarity that yoga brings the rest of our lives.