(Long Island, N.Y.) Lately, I’ve been so tense–lack of time to exercise has lead to major lack of energy and focus. In other words… I’m dragging. So instead of walking around the house looking like a lost LURCH, I figured it was time to restore my flexibility and focus–and take a yoga class. Easy enough. I found a yoga studio nearby and signed myself up for some “downward dog”. (I knew that term from the yoga video I bought and only used a few times.)
Yoga videos are great for convenience, but I needed some solid instruction. Every time I attempted to do a video, it felt all wrong. Although taking a class was what I really needed, the notion of doing yoga in a room full of people seemed a bit scary, due to my lack of experience.
For beginners who aren’t familiar with the various terms and styles of yoga–showing up to that first class can be intimidating. Carol, a 50 year-old mother of three, says she was always interested in trying yoga, but felt it was way out of her league. She admits to feeling nervous about going to a class for the first time and thinks she would look silly. “It’s so popular,” says Carol. “Even though I want to try it, I just don’t think I’d understand it, or know what to do when I’m there. Maybe I’m too old to start”
I recently asked Laura Hartman, Director of Transform Yoga, Hampton Beach, NY, to help take the mystery out of yoga. She has taught nationally and internationally for 29 years. She has worked in all aspects of yoga practice–with all kinds of people. She graciously discussed newbie issues, tips to “get over” intimidation, even yoga etiquette.
Long Island Exchange: What’s your advice for those who want to try yoga, but are too intimidated to get started?
Hartman: Try to find a gentle/beginner or Absolute beginner class, or perhaps a few private sessions with a qualified instructor. Careful doing videos at home, due to lack of supervision initially.
Long Island Exchange: I have a stack of yoga videos in my closet. I start them, and then begin to feel lost. Why is it so important to take a class and learn with a qualified instructor?
Hartman: It is important to take class with a qualified instructor for safety reasons, as well as to be assured of proper technique to achieve the most benefit from the practice.
Long Island Exchange: I used to think I couldn’t get a “workout” from yoga. Is that a common misconception?
Hartman: Yes, that is a common misconception. Yoga can be as strenuous or gentle as you need it to be. You can get a tremendous workout from the right practice if that is what you want.
Long Island Exchange: How do you define yoga?
Hartman: Yoga is a journey into the inner realms of our being. It integrates all aspects of our lives together under one beautiful state of mind and approach to life. It is designed to help us attain a spiritual awakening through the balancing of our bodies, minds, and emotions
Long Island Exchange: There are various types of yoga … how do you pick the style that’s right for you?
Hartman: You pick the style that’s right for you by first deciding what you want from the yoga, your fitness level, your emotional state, your time frame, injuries, etc. It is a very personal decision for each of us.
Long Island Exchange: Is there such a thing as yoga etiquette? Any tips you can share to make that first class go smooth?
Hartman: Yes! There is totally etiquette. For instance – maintain a sense of quiet whilst in the room, try not to wear strong smelling perfumes, lotions, etc, try to leave the room the way you found it, be considerate of the others around you, come to class clean. Then there is the no cell phone or beeper inside the studio, and no eating for one to two hours prior to practicing. Oh, yes, most studios ask that you leave your shoes at the door.
Long Island Exchange: Any other words of wisdom you can offer those interested in giving yoga a try?
Hartman: Generally, beginners are afraid of the unknown! As we all are…I hear from people that they need to lose weight or get more flexible before they can come into a yoga class. Actually, those two things can be achieved in a yoga class, and it always makes me smile. Important to let people know that yoga provides us with the capacity to drop our judgments and just be ourselves.
Within the context of yoga we begin to discover how OK we actually are just as we are, and that any benefit on top of that is great! We begin to feel the direct benefits of the yoga practice almost immediately, and the most important thing for beginners is to find a class at their level and not to try a class that is too hard right off the bat, or to decide how they feel about yoga after only one or two classes – they should be open and give it several classes before they form an opinion. They may also need to try several different teachers before they find “their” teacher. It is a very personal discovery, and lots of fun.
Other things like try not to eat for an hour or two before your class, wear really easy clothing to move in – nonrestrictive waistlines and open necks, for example. Go on an adventure and have fun!