Your first time on the yoga mat can be pretty daunting. If your mind is filled with expectations of having to do perfect lotus positions, headstands and backbends no wonder the first steps onto the mat can be the hardest part of the journey.
If you are just thinking about exploring the physical asana aspect of yoga, then be comforted that for every yogi, doing a daily practice, getting yourself onto the mat and committing to being present for the duration of the class is all part of the challenge. I still hear an instructor tell me to connect with my breath, and feel like the only one in the class who isn't having a transcendental experience. In reality, it all comes together when you stop doing yoga and start being a yogi and living in the mode of goodness as they say in the Bhagavad Gita, but that's step two or fifty, for now lets get the mat unfurled. Here are a few key tips to help you take the first steps, whether you are a shiny newbie or returning to yoga after a break.
1.Find a teacher: having a teacher you connect with and who instructs the class in a way that you understand is important. As a beginner learning the postures correctly and more importantly safely is the foundation to your lifelong experience. Try out a few styles and studios, or even utilise some of the vast array of free online yoga classes for beginners which is a brilliant way to get comfortable with the new moves before you take a group class. As a beginner the teacher should be ensuring that you are taken through each pose at a pace that is appropriate for your experience. You should be seen by the teacher and cared for, a beginner is the most important person in the class, not the experienced yogi's that can bust out their moves happily in their own way.
2. Tools: There is a basic set of tools that will enhance a new yogi in their practice. You need a yoga mat, a foam block and a strap. Mats are available from really basic models up to specialist branded types. Your budget will dictate your first purchase, and there’s no need to be super fancy, $20 will get you all you need to start. A foam block is great for helping you get into poses when you have beginner’s flexibility, these are available where you get your mat or online and cost about $10. Yoga straps are again an enhancement for flexibility – helping you get into poses and stay in them longer. These again range in price and style, you can use a latex band like you may have seen in pilates or at the physio, or a canvas yoga strap with a buckle, these are available from most retailers that sell mats with a vast array online to choose from. Everything is about form and function rather than look, the tools are to keep you safe as your body gets used to being in different shapes and balances, so see them as comfortable extensions of your body not accessories.
3. Comfortable clothing: There is nothing worse than starting a class and spending the whole time having to adjust your clothing to get comfy. Yoga clothes need to be flexible to accommodate stretching, the fabric needs to breathe, and you need to be comfortable in them. For home practice, or course there is nothing wrong with rolling out of bed in your pyjamas and getting started! It’s helpful in the beginning when you are learning the poses to wear leggings or a fitted flexible pant that will show the angle of your knees and legs so you and the teacher can see your alignment. A singlet or t-shirt similarly that is fitted but comfortable means you won’t have fabric ballooning over your head when you get into an inverted pose. Its handy to have a light shawl or throw for the end of the class when you do breathing and meditation just to keep warm as you cool down. For the ladies, a bra that is supportive and comfortable like a sports bra will be a great investment, and for guys, shorts with built in support or leggings/bike shorts will help you to get into poses without worrying about any awkward clothing malfunctions and the landing gear being put down early in the flight.
The asana or postures are just one part of the holistic experience of yoga, but this is what is most commonly understood as ‘yoga’ and the way many people enter what becomes a joyful lifelong practice. The physical almost inevitably leads to a deepening of the spiritual and internal part of yoga, and when you really do connect with your breath, it really means that you are beginning to become one, rather than a sum of your parts.
Dr Polly McGee is one part writer, and many parts assorted thinker, do-er, talker, eater, chef, explorer, yogi, kirtaneer and dog wrangler. She has worked in kitchens, bars and restaurants from frantic to fancy, managed multi-million dollar innovation grants programs, advised hundreds of start-ups on how to refine their business ideas and source funding, and championed causes from a variety of soapboxes, lecterns and stages. She is currently the Strategic Marketing Lead for Global Edtech Startup Prosper Education. Her new book, The Good Hustle, is coming out in February 2018