Traffic is stressful. Missing a work deadline is very stressful! But yoga? Well, yoga doesn't seem like it would conjure up stress, but for many beginners, moving through a Vinyasa flow or simply sitting on a mat during the first few quiet minutes of class can evoke feelings of insecurity and uncertainty.
Whether your nerves are the result of unfamiliarity with the proper names of poses or simply because you're starting something brand-new (which, by the way, is totally normal and OK!), you should never let it stop you from reaping the many benefits of yoga. So, we reached out to two yoga instructors for their essential confidence-building tips for all new yogis.
Never Worry About Being "Good at Yoga"
"One of the most common things I hear from beginners is that they are afraid they won't be 'good at yoga' because of flexibility, strength, and so on," William Defebaugh, a certified yoga instructor at Loom Yoga in New York City, says.
But Defebaugh also says yoga isn't about achieving this concept of success — it's about creating a state of union between "the body and the mind, the conscious and the unconscious, the individual and the collective."
Try not to beat yourself up for not being able to perform a pose. "The peaceful state of yoga has nothing to do with whether or not you can touch your toes and is accessible to all," he says.
Meditation Takes Practice — for Everyone!
You're in Child's Pose. You're calm, cool, collected, and your mind is totally quiet. And then, two seconds later, you're thinking of everything you need to get done — grocery shopping, bills that need to be paid — and suddenly that coveted Zen is gone.
Guess what? This, too, is normal — even for advanced yogis. "Very few people can drop into meditation or meditative practices right away," Defebaugh explains.
"This is why we come together to practice and remind ourselves that we aren't alone in this. It takes time for the practice to reveal itself, but when it does, it is so worth it. You learn how to be more conscious in this one mat-shaped area of your life, and it starts to ripple outward into making more healthy and conscious choices in the rest of our lives," he adds.
So take one class at a time, and celebrate every second and minute of meditation, whether it's interrupted by internal thoughts or not.
Modify, Modify, Modify
Nowhere near a Handstand Scorpion? No problem. Advanced poses like this take years of consistent practice. So if you're not quite ready to try out a pose your yoga teacher is calling out, modify.
"Honor your body and your own experience. Yoga is not a competition," Hilary Jackendoff, a Los Angeles-based meditation and yoga teacher, says.
She suggests listening intently to your body, while being mindful of chronic pain and injuries.
"Go slow, and don't worry too much about keeping up," she notes. "If any poses don't feel right for your body, give yourself permission to modify the position. If the class is moving too quickly for you and you need to take a minute to catch your breath, rest in Child's Pose. Most teachers will offer this, but if they don't — offer it to yourself! Your body, your practice."
Start with Fundamentals
First yoga class ever? Consider signing up for a fundamentals class before hot yoga or power-based classes.
Jackendoff recommends Hatha Yoga or Slow Flow classes. And if you still don't feel confident going into a studio, research beginner videos online.
"When you practice online, you can really take the time to feel into your body and develop a muscle memory of each pose," she says.
Try Out Different Teachers and Class Types
You might not have a deep connection with every yoga instructor you come in contact with. If the chemistry isn't there, don't let it deter you from a personal yoga journey.
"Yoga for me has also been so dependent on the teacher, more than the style," Defebaugh admits. "Try out different teachers — maybe even looking them up online to see if you connect with what they put out into the world — and find the one who speaks to you."
And No — You Don't Have to Be Flexible
"You do NOT have to be flexible to practice yoga," Jackendoff says. You heard it — straight from a yoga instructor.
However, Jackendoff says that your flexibility will likely increase as you continue your practice, but your instructor should also give you instructions on how to modify poses. "You can also learn how to use yoga blocks and straps in your practice — blocks and straps are game changers!" she adds.