12 April, 2015
I took my first yoga class in Sydney at the start of 2008; I suppose because my practice has become my passion the memory unlike so many others is quite clear.
My teacher Ingrid Gravenstein recommended that if you were new, you practise in the back row, so that you could look forward at the more experienced students and copy what they were doing. This suited me fine. As I wobbled all over the place, I didn’t need the embarrassment of more eyes on me.
Reflecting now, even in those earliest experiences my practice highlighted the ways in which I held myself back, like my habit of comparing myself to others, which I continue to work on today!
When I look back at my life, I tend to immortalise the ‘first time’ experiences and of course there are thousands. First day at school, first ride on a bike, first kiss, first driving lesson, first day on the job, first Pad Thai noodles, first Radiohead album, first garden to plant, first hangover, first love, first goodbye.
Sometimes the vulnerability can be overwhelming.
Everybody has been a beginner. Take my 13-month-old son Theo as the ultimate symbol, a beginner in life! How many experiences await him on his journey to revealing who he truly is?
Yoga is an ancient practice, with some estimating it is 6000 years old. Even if I locked myself away in a library and read for the rest of my life, I couldn’t possibly ‘know’ everything there is to know. And I wouldn’t want to either – this is a practice that needs to be experienced.
However if I had to start again, here are my 8 'top tips' for absolute beginners.
1. Yoga is not just a workout with the sole goal of flexibility. So, you can leave your strongly held view about your own flexibility (or lack there of!) at the door. Yes improved flexibility, posture and strength are by-products of practising the poses – called asana. However the whole practice of yoga also includes powerful subtle practices like controlled breathing, called pranayama, and meditation.
Continued regular practise of yoga will help you reveal the change you’re meant to make in the world.
If this scares you, you’re in the right place.
2. Be kind to yourself. When new to the asanas use modifications to help ease the body in to position. When in life have you ever responded well to someone forcing you to do something? I have found it much easier to ask the body nicely to open up, avoid ‘over stretching’ and protecting your joints at all cost (unlike muscle which can heal itself, you get one shot with your joints – ask any long term runner about this). The use of props like straps and blocks is also very useful.
3. Work on avoiding distractions. No surprise, the etiquette for a yoga class is different to an exercise class. This is your time to develop space and quiet for the mind. Having a chat about your hot Tinder date during a pump class might be okay, but during your asana and meditation you keep your thoughts to yourself and focus on your breath. When we start there will be a constant effort from the mind to distract ourselves. Rearrange the mat. Have a drink of water. Go to the toilet. Scratch. Re-fix my ponytail. Try to gently ignore these urges and stay in the practice.
4. Unless you’re a famous celebrity, it is unlikely anyone will be filming you, so try not to worry about what you look like ~ focus more on how you feel (like many of these tips, this one particularly applies to all aspects of your life!)
5. Let the philosophical and spiritual side of yoga wash over you. When I started practising I was quite determined that yoga would only be a physical practice for me and that was that. My teachers would impart small pieces of wisdom and philosophy, sometimes using Sanskrit words and I would judge them for what I saw as hippy waffle. Now I understand that they were respecting tradition. Of course it makes sense that if you’re passionate enough about something to teach it, you’re definitely going to respect it. When new/strange/alien ideas confront you, don’t fight, release, come back to the body and breathe.
6. Watch your mind. The way you react and perform on the mat is a microcosm for how you react and perform in life. The more we can practise watching our thoughts during yoga, bringing our attention back to the present, the happier, more grateful and fulfilled we will become ~ yay!
7. Invest in your own mat – then you can have a portable practice wherever you are. I highly recommend Jade yoga mats, which can be purchased online. They are a tough rubber and a lifetime mat. But you can also get perfectly good ones at The Warehouse!
8. Enjoy the process :)
Namaste ~ which means the light within me recognises the light within you
See you on the mat!