It's been a good few years for the yoga industry, to say the least. A survey conducted by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal reports that in 2012, 20.4 million Americans were doing yoga; but this year, that number is over 36 million. That's a growth of more than 50 percent. In the last six months, 15 percent of the population have gone to at least one class. People of all ages are giving yoga a shot, and more people who don't consider themselves very physically active are trying yoga for the first time, too.
This same survey, however, also gave us some insight as to why there are a lot of Americans who still haven't gone to their first yoga class. There's still a strong air of exclusivity around the practice of yoga, and not for nothing. The yogis we see in ads and in most of our classes tend to be white, educated, cis gender, and privileged, and although there are many people out there who are trying to rectify this fact, it is still alienating to many people.
However, the community is growing, and there is an endless list of reasons why you should drag yourself to a yoga class, regardless of your body type or ability. A regular practice grants you a decrease in stress, a healthier heart, and stronger cardiovascular capabilities. If you've been flirting with the idea for a while, wait no longer. Yoga's gonna change things up for you in great ways.
But first, here are eight things you should know before trying yoga for the first time.
1. No, You Really Don't Have To Be Flexible
This is still the number one question I get asked as a yoga teacher. I blame Instagram, really, because most of the yoga pics you see are people doing full splits on the beach at sunset. No need to concern yourself with that, though. You come to yoga in order to become more flexible, not because you are already are. There are plenty of people in the yoga studio who can't touch their toes yet, so don't feel like you're going to be the odd one out.
The good news is you'll start to open up as early as your first class. At Colorado State University, Dr. Brian L. Tracy and his team of researchers found that a group of individuals gained tremendous hip, shoulder, and hamstring flexibility in just eight weeks of doing hot yoga. All of them were average young adults with no superpowers of flexibility.
2. It's Best To Avoid Smoothies Or Juices Before Class
Research shows that eating before a workout is smart for many different reasons. You need protein to give your muscles something to work with and grant your body some energy. The same goes for yoga. Despite what you may have heard, though, a thick smoothie or green juice before your first time isn't a great idea. I've seen it end unpleasantly one too many times.
If you're a rookie, all the twisting and bending will feel foreign. If you've got a belly full of heavy liquid, all that new movement could induce nausea and general discomfort. It's an icky feeling that might turn you off to the practice altogether. Reach for a banana, some nuts, or a small bowl of oatmeal about 45 minutes to two hours before you hit the mat instead.
3. You Might Feel A Little Dizzy During Or After Your First Class
In our everyday life, we hardly ever find ourselves in an upside down position. Go to yoga, though, and you move up, down, sideways, and back again all within a short amount of time. It's no wonder a lot of beginners get a tad dizzy during their first few classes.
I've seen it happen a lot after we come up from a forward fold. All the blood has rushed to the lower half of your body when you're in Standing Forward Bend, which means there is less going to your heart. In an attempt to compensate for this lack of pressure, the blood vessels constrict and your heart rate rises. Although this is good for you in the long run, it might make you feel woozy at first.
Also, the new breathing you're partaking in can make you feel light-headed. Deep breathing causes you to breathe out carbon dioxide faster than your body creates it; that results in a nerve function that makes you feel dizzy for a minute. If you run into this issue, sit down and rest and take slower, more even breaths.
4. Props Are Not For Losers
It's unfortunate, but many people are hesitant to use blocks, straps, and blankets because they're afraid it will make them look like total newbs. Don't make this mistake, though, because props can make or break whether you end up liking yoga.
They can help you get into different postures, stretch a little deeper, and relax more. Yogis of all levels should actually be using props at some point in their practice, as they help you achieve proper alignment. So you'd be smart to get cozy with them right off the bat.
5. You'll Probably Be Sore The Next Day, Even If You Work Out Regularly
If you've never stretched like this before, you're about to use different parts of the body that have maybe never seen the light of day. You'd be surprised at how much strength training is naturally built into a yoga practice, so the burn you feel in your upper back, quads, and abs might leave you feeling sore for the next couple days.
Furthermore, even the simple, slow stretching that looks easy can give you some aches. Muscle lengthening and the deep release that follows is an workout in and of itself, after all. So don't be surprised when you wake up the following morning with tight hamstrings. It's perfectly normal — and all the more reason to come back to the studio and stretch it out.
6. It's Best To Try A Few Different Studios Before You Decide On One
One of the best things about the popularity of yoga is how much variety there is in the practice now. Studios have their own unique mix of classes and teachers, and no two are exactly the same. Usually, there should be an intro offer you can opt in for, which lets you test out the waters at a discounted rate. Because these intro packages are so cheap, you can try a couple different studios until you find one you like.
Always remember: If the people aren't very nice to you, whether it's the students, instructors, or employees behind the front desk, don't go back. You don't have to deal with attitude to find a good studio.
7. You Don't Have To Like Every Teacher
Each instructor has their own style. A lot of people don't realize just how different teachers can be, so if they take one class they don't like, they assume all yoga sucks. Don't be so quick to judge, though.
With yoga, it matters more than usual what the teacher brings to the table, as their personality leads the class just as much as the sequence they teach. If you happen to take a class with a teacher you can't ever see yourself hanging out with, sign up for a different instructor next time. And don't feel bad about it.
8. It's OK To Feel Uncomfortable With Things Like Chanting
First of all, know that not all classes use chanting in class. Most of them don't use it at all, but don't be surprised if you run into it. There are some heated arguments out there in the yoga community about what yoga is "real" and "authentic." Some think there has to be ancient Eastern elements incorporated in order for the practice to be worthy, others think that's just ridiculous.
If you're not cool with that kind of stuff — if talk of chakras and energy healing makes you feel weird — that's fine. It's perfectly OK to only want the physical aspects of the yoga and reach for the spiritual layers if and when you feel ready. Move onto another studio that suits you better, without apology.
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