Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: How To Get Started With Yoga

Q&A Wednesday: How To Get Started With Yoga

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Q: Hi Erika: First, I love, love, LOVE your blog. I read it everyday. I want to start a regular fitness routine and I thought yoga would be something wonderful to start, especially while I’m a student and the classes and gym are FREE at my school! I want to gather supplies before I start. I could always rent from the gym but (ew!) I’d rather have my own so I can practice at home as well. I went to a website, but I am lost! What is a yoga blanket? What kind of mat do I need? Do I need those foot-sticky thingies? What’s the best attire: spandex or loose? Ugh…I am so lost! Please help! LOL

First of all, what kind of awesome school is offering free yoga classes? I really hope that more colleges start incorporating fitness – beyond intramural and phys. ed. – for all students.

Jeez. Jealous much!

Second, I know how people looooove to go on a rampant shopping spree – anything to make us feel more inclined to commit to something new – but sometimes, it’s not always necessary.

When I first started off with yoga, Namaste Yoga – which I wholeheartedly recommend to any yoga newbie – came on three times a day. I didn’t know much about yoga, I just knew that it looked challenging and that I wanted something that might help with my flexibility. From there, I set myself up with a schedule. Since the same episode played at 7, noon and 6PM, I’d watch the 7AM showing, attempt the moves at noon, and go full out in the evening. I mean, I was committed.

When I first started out, I didn’t have a yoga mat. I just had a hard linoleum floor. I tried standing on my bed – wobbly yoga is not fun yoga, let me tell you – to practice, but wound up running into my ceiling more than I liked. From there, I ordered a mat from Amazon.

The girls on the yoga show didn’t use blocks, straps, mats, sticky feet and hand things, and they didn’t wear loose clothing. As a matter of fact, they didn’t wear much in the way of clothing, at all. All kinds of booty shorts and sports bras abound in that series. And, while I wasn’t wearing that little in the comfort of my own home, I wasn’t wearing mumus, either.

Fast forward to a few years later (wow, I can’t believe it’s been years, already), and now I take yoga classes at my health club. Because I began without blocks, straps, blankets and mats, I was a little dumbfounded by people who had stacks of “props” sitting next to their mats… that is, until I started approaching poses that I’d started experiencing difficulty with.

The thing about yoga classes in comparison to learning via DVDs is this: while I credit my DVD series for teaching me the basics – what each pose should look and feel like, how to flow, how to even relax and not be so afraid of your own body – there will always be fine tuning that you can only get in a classroom environment. I can execute trikonasana (triangle pose) perfectly – hand on the ground, without a block…that is, until your instructor grabs your arm and turns you so your chest is facing the ceiling instead of the side… and then you start feeling thankful that you’ve got that block. My health club provides yoga mats, which are awesome… that is, until you get in that downward facing dog and realize that their mats aren’t as slip-resistant as yours.

(That’s another thing about classes – I finally started learning the original names for these poses! Yeee!)

All this being said, if you’re a newbie to yoga, here’s a few things I recommend to make your journey a bit easier (and cheaper):

1) Spend some time watching some DVDs. I’ve owned Yoga For Dummies and the Namaste Yoga series and found both helpful. Yoga classes are pretty quick paced, and there are very few things in the world that feel as awkward as being that student in a yoga class who clearly didn’t know their plank from their pigeon pose, and is holding everyone up because the teacher has to keep helping you. I’ve never been that guy, but I’ve given that guy the side-eye before. Don’t be that guy.

Spend some time, in the comfort of your own home, remote in hand, practicing what some of the poses should look like. Pause the DVD frequently. The goal is to prepare you for going in. Your execution might not be perfect, but it’d be better than someone expected to move quickly and fluidly in a class.

In fact, if there’s a “yoga basics” class offered, by all means take it. Even after years of practice, I attend basics classes and pick up things I didn’t catch, and it makes me a better yogi. Not only can you never have enough of the fundamentals, but its further proof that humility is key in the development of one’s abilities. Treat yourself carefully, and that means don’t put your body through what could be a rigorous experience without having at least a broad understanding of what you’re going into.

2) Clothing. Wear something form fitting. And, while I know many of us may not be comfy enough with our bodies in form-fitting gear… get over alllllladat. During a yoga practice isn’t the time to chastize ourselves and make ourselves feel bad for the state we’re in. If anything, during a yoga practice is the time when you should be most free from outside negative influence. You don’t feel bad about who you are because you’re actually a terrible person… you feel bad because of an outside influence that shouldn’t be present when you practice.

Loose fitting clothes – namely big t-shirts – are frustrating during a yoga practice because, quite frankly, once you get into poses that require you to lean forward, there’s nothing more anger-inducing than your shirt flying over your head. You don’t want those things to interfere with your ability to flow from movement to movement. You don’t want oversized shirts to get in the way of being able to reach your toe from behind the other side of your back.You also don’t want your shirt to fly off once you hit that one legged down dog. That’s a bad place to be with no shirt.

Notice that I’m saying “form-fitting,” not spandex. When you say spandex, I think Jane Fonda and, well, I’m not even entirely sure Jane Fonda liked that. Your pants should be form fitting to the point where if you laid on your back and your legs were lifted in the air – like an L shape – your pants wouldn’t come sliding down to your thighs. Your shirt shouldn’t obstruct your view if you were leaned down in a downward-facing dog pose. I suppose you could “tuck in” a big-sized t-shirt, but once it becomes untucked, you’re gonna look like a parachute, and it’s more fidgeting outside of your practice. Feel free to safety pin it to your pants. Whatever it takes to assuage your self-consciousness, because it’s a really unwelcome vibe.

3) Scout your prospective yoga studio (or, in your case, class), and find out what they offer you. Most gyms offer the mats at a bare minimum. More upscale joints will provide mats, blocks, blankets, hoops and straps. Expect a lot of the startup studios to provide… a place to purchase all the props you may need. That’s okay, it just means you’ll have a nice little collection of what you can use at home as well as in class… which might actually make life easier for you. You won’t have to get used to multiple mats, and you can buy what better suits your needs. You won’t be like me, who has to lay half of one mat over half of another to elongate my mat. (I wish they’d realize that you short people don’t have yoga on lock. Jeez.)

4) Yoga props:

Mats. The stickier, the better for a newbie. To me, yoga mats are characterized by two main components – stickiness and texture. They can be one in the same – a mat with more ridges can feel stickier – but I’ve definitely had sticky mats with little to no texture. Sticky mats, if you’re carrying an extra pound or two, can offer more support when you’re in positions that might result in you slipping forward, or your feet slipping back. While yoga does help you develop the muscle you’ll need to help you sustain those poses without sliding around, you also need support to hold you up in the beginning.

Gloves. This is where the gloves and sticky socks come in. If you practice at a place that offers mats that aren’t very sticky or supportive (as is the case with worn out frequently used mats), you can use the gloves and sticky socks. I’ve also had very creative yoga instructors place a towel over the front and back of my mat, which offered a nice bit of support for where my hands and feet would be, too. It’s all in how you play it – if you’re getting yourself a good mat, you won’t need the gloves. But if your mat is provided, you may want them.

Blocks. I learned without blocks, but they can be valuable for people who are just starting out with balancing poses or basic flexibility. If your ability to hit that half moon pose is affected by you inability to reach the floor without keeling over, then having a pair of blocks standing on top of one another can ease that learning curve… without bruising. You can start with the blocks balancing on one another the long way, then after you’ve grown comfortable with that you can turn one block the short way. From there, it’s all about adjusting so that you remain successful and progressive in your learning.

Blankets. The blanket was new to me until I started taking classes. Some of us aren’t flexible enough to be able to sit on our heels when we’re on the ground, and can only comfortably support our spine if there is space between our booties and our heels. You can use a blanket to help facilitate that. If you fold the blanket, you can make it wide enough that it fits between your booty and heels, making it easier on your body to sit comfortably.

Straps and hoops. If you have difficulty reaching your toes, then it stands to reason that you might also have difficulty reaching that big toe while balancing on one leg with the other leg clear off into the air, right? Wrap a strap or hoop around your foot, lift it up there, and the strap acts as an extension of your arm while you work on developing your flexibility. You can just as easily use a belt in this fashion, too.

Finally, relax! I know our first intention when we dive into something new is to “make sure we have everything we need” but if there’s one thing I learned through the unorthodox way I came to appreciate yoga, it’s that you truly don’t need much. You just need a desire for focus, desire for peace of mind, an ability to commit and an ability to be humble… because conking out on your forehead repeatedly requires humility to help you get back up and do it again!

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Kait December 28, 2011 - 4:27 PM

Erika – Jade makes long yoga mats (up to 80″ long)! They are a bit pricey but 100% worth it if you practice often. Lulu might too but I don’t support the company.

IMHO, I think starting in a class that is designed for beginner’s (or “no yoga background necessary) is better so that you can begin to teach your body proper posture from the get-go. At the studio where I practice, the teachers will give new students a tour and direct them to the back/center of the class where they can better see everyone around them so that no matter what direction we’re facing, they have someone to follow.

Erika Nicole Kendall December 28, 2011 - 4:34 PM

I saw those mats at my club, but didn’t gt what the fuss was. If THAT is the case then I might have to grab one, LOL.

What’s with Lulu?

Kait December 29, 2011 - 10:57 PM

Just try down dog on a jade mat…you will instantly understand!

As for Lulu, this article basically sums it up: http://open.salon.com/blog/firedfornow/2009/03/31/why_i_dislike_lululemonmore_than_before

There’s also this: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/11/shopping-right-wing-lululemons-political-values/

Plus, as one yoga teacher said, “no expensive outfit needed to begin a yoga practice.” I don’t feel the need to spend $90 on any piece unless they are made of 100% locally-grown, organic materials and from an ethically-intact company. That’s two weeks or more of groceries, a couple tanks of gas, a night in a hotel somewhere…you know, more important things! 😉

Biolobri January 4, 2012 - 12:34 PM

But their running gear is PERFECTLY designed!

Janine October 24, 2012 - 10:52 AM

Thanks for the links! I didn’t know about the Randian shopping bags at lululemon at all. Reminds me of when I found out that whole foods is owned by a libertarian who donates big time $$ to the GOP. As if I needed another reason not to pay $180 for running pants and $100 for a week’s groceries…

Aptlife December 28, 2011 - 4:29 PM

My old university also provided “free” gym access and tons of classes (yoga, pilates, zumba, spin, etc). It’s not exactly free since it’s added to your tuition as some sort of fee (which is why I forced myself to go to the “free” football games that I already paid for lol ).

Anyway, I wanted to take a yoga class, but a friend and I looked in on a beginners class and almost passed out. Yoga is so intimidating and reading this article made me feel better about chickening out. We took pilates instead (love!), but I’m still jonesing to try yoga. Thanks for the helpful tips!

Fallon December 28, 2011 - 5:15 PM

I plan on giving yoga a try when I get back into town. I love this blog!

MissJoy December 29, 2011 - 1:07 AM

Yay! Thanks for answering my question. I should have been a little more clear: like Aptlife says, it’s not really “free” because there is a student rec fee included in our tuition, but I might as well take advantage of something that I’m technically already paying for! Thanks for these tips: I am excited!

Takeyah | Core Connection Lifestyle December 29, 2011 - 3:05 AM

I like your point about fine-tuning that happens in class. I often think that people find yoga to be “hard” because they 1) don’t have the proper guidance and 2) are attempting to make their bodies look like the people in the videos and magazines. Umm…we are not in circus school. I tell my students that all the time 🙂

When starting out, many people focus on the physical movement, but there are other aspects where people may find a great level of comfort. While it’s not necessary, something that your readers may want to consider is a private or semi-private session with a teacher at their local studio. A private session can provide customized guidance not only on the asana practice, but also how to include the other aspects of yoga (like breathing, meditation, etc.) into their practice.

I wrote an article a while ago called “Want to take yoga? Not sure where to start.” in response to questions from people about how to “jump in”. You can check it out here: http://www.coreconnectionlifestyle.com/want-to-take-yoga-not-sure-where-to-start

It’s a practice. After practicing yoga for over 10 years, I still believe that there is something to learn with each class. We are all beginners.

Kait December 29, 2011 - 10:37 PM

I LOVE your comments and agree 100%. I think part of the reason yoga appears really inaccessible to people because what we see of it involves tall, thin men and women in perfect shape twisting their muscled-but-lean bodies in the most advanced positions. Like with everything…that isn’t the case. Plus, after a while you start to learn that its about CONNECTION and not totally strength.

Takeyah | Core Connection Lifestyle January 5, 2012 - 9:16 AM

I feel you Kait. A good number of people miss the “connection” part of the experience.

Asana-wise, some people even think that they cannot do many of the postures because of their size. However, I know for a fact that on a very basic level, size is not the determinant of flexibility. I am a pretty lean person and have freedom in a lot of postures. However, most postures that call for open hamstrings present a challenge for me.

I think a good place to start is connecting to our core values, gaining comfort in our own skin, and operating from places that resonate with who we are. All the other stuff and negative self-talk will fall away.

Nicole January 4, 2012 - 11:27 AM

Walmart..2blk & strap $10..xtr cushion mat $18..ck 5 and below store also…block comes in handy when doing krane!

Jame January 5, 2012 - 3:18 AM

I really like these yoga cards to help plan a routine. I have had them for about 10 years now and refer to them all the time!

I just pick 5-10 cards and go. There are ideas for routines included.


Takeyah | Core Connection Lifestyle January 5, 2012 - 9:18 AM

I’ve used those cards too. I have had a few yoga card decks and of the bunch, those have remained and constant.

shil January 8, 2012 - 8:26 PM

im new to the site and I LOVE it!
when i began my lifestyle improvement journey i took a yoga class with Megan Garcia of megayoga.It was a class for the more curvy of us…but the class welcomed all sizes.I loved it.It encouraged me to take better care of myself because i loved the way i felt after each class.I was much more flexible.
i will be reading through all your previous posts.so glad you did all this work.

Andrea January 23, 2013 - 10:58 AM

This is SO perfectly timed! I just took my first yoga class night! It was challenging, relaxing and awesome. My only issue was this– I am all sorts of busty and would love recommendations on sports bras to hold back all of my goodies!! Im a ‘H’ cup and even with bra and two sports bras, my cup runneth cover! Thanks! Love your blog, btw!

Gail January 24, 2013 - 12:54 AM

I really enjoy yoga & have recently stumbled upon two great resources for larger sized yogis. http://bodypositiveyoga.com/ and http://www.curvyyoga.com. So refreshing to see that yoga can be done by anyone of any size. Namaste

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