#36 5 Steps To Overcoming Yoga Intimidation While Creating Your Own Yoga Practice
I’m often asked by friends and family where I teach yoga and when I tell them I don’t work in a studio, I choose to simply teach the faculty and staff I work with after school once a week. I also remind them I teach the kids in class as well, and it’s then that they ask me if I would teach them private yoga classes. So I can see right away, it’s not practicing in a studio that intimidates them as much as it is practicing with an instructor they’re not familiar with.
When I recommend great, professional yoga studios in the area and rattle off the names of several awesome yoga instructors assuring them they will get the best of care, they shy away and say, “Yeah, but, we really want you to teach us.”
When I probe deeper, they quickly get honest about their intimidation for the practice. I’ve come to find yoga intimidation to be really huge among people who don’t practice, so today I’m hoping to help dispel any mysteries around the practice of yoga in hopes that you’ll consider creating your own practice with courage and confidence.
In a 2016 study by Yoga Alliance, 36.7 million Americans, or 15% of the adults in the United States, practice yoga. Ten million of those people are men, and since this is the most recent study, certainly more men are now practicing within the last three years. Fourteen million of those practitioners are over the age of 50, 25% have only been practicing for 5 years, and 98% consider themselves beginner or intermediate level.
I’ve been practicing for over twenty years and I still consider myself at the intermediate level. If I pushed myself a bit more I could certainly be advanced. I can take advanced level classes, but I’m not one of those athletes who enjoys pushing themselves. There’s nothing in the definition for “athlete” that mentions anything about pushing; an athlete is someone who is proficient in sports or other forms of physical exercise. I like to exercise; I like my body to feel like it’s been worked out, and I don’t ever feel the need to push any boundaries to get that feeling. But when I question people to find out more about why I’m being asked to teach them private yoga classes, I’m told:
“I’m not flexible enough.”
“I have no idea what the teacher’s saying”
“I don’t know the etiquette.”
“I have no one else to go with me.”
“It’s so quiet, I’m afraid to ask a question during class.”
“I don’t know what to do with the props.”
Again I assure them that a professional studio and any mindful yoga instructor will notice a new face in class and will introduce him or herself. I tell them what I’m going to tell you right now:
A good yoga teacher is going to introduce him or herself to you privately and ask if you have any injuries that need attention. They may ask the class in general if there are any injuries they need to know about, at which time you can raise your hand. They should then come over to you so you can discuss any injuries with them in private. Some people don’t mind talking about their injuries in front of the whole class, but there is no need for you to have to do that.
You can also walk up to the instructor before class begins and introduce yourself, tell them it’s your first time, tell them you’re a little nervous, and you also have a bum knee, or whatever is ailing you. They will take care of you. It’s not a gym.
I’m not gym bashing here so please don’t misunderstand me, but in a yoga studio, you don’t find people looking at what everyone else is doing. I know if my eyes are roaming, it’s only to find out if I’m going in the right direction or if I’m in the right position, but never to compare or judge.
A yogi’s practice is honored as his or her own. Each day the body and the breath are different. Yogis are doing their own work; listening to their own bodies. One day you can get into a pose just fine, and then the next day you can’t even think about getting into that same pose. That’s just how it is. That’s the practice of honoring where you are in the moment.
A good yoga instructor will want to know if you’re new to yoga, so he or she can keep an eye out for you and make sure you’re understanding the alignment cues. They will help you to adjust your posture in the poses (called asanas in Sanskrit) as needed. (Sanskrit is the ancient language of India.) In a good yoga class, the instructor will use both Sanskrit and western terminology to announce the names of the postures. They will give clear alignment cues telling you where to place your body parts properly to avoid any injury. Nothing should ever hurt in yoga.
I’m still met with comments like:
“Yeah, but I was in a class once already and got yelled at.”
“I just don’t feel comfortable and I want you to teach me what I’m supposed to do.”
If you’re someone who doesn’t need much more convincing and can be persuaded to go to a studio class now and feel you already have enough information to make a comfortable practice happen for you, then in the spirit of honoring your time and what you came here to listen for, the five steps are below to get you started. Feel free to keep listening if you’ve got the time; I’ve got a special promotion for you at the end as well as several great yoga resources you may find helpful along your new journey.
5 Steps to Fast Track You to the Studio:
#1- Practice at home with DVDs or by streaming classes
#2- Check out times for beginner classes
(Restorative yoga classes will also help ease you into the practice) Restorative yoga class has fewer poses that are held for longer periods of time and allow the body to open up with the use of props rather than muscles to support your body. They will have no standing postures and this is my favorite form of yoga to practice.)
#3- Introduce yourself to the instructor and tell him or her you’re new and you’re nervous or apprehensive
#4- Disclose any injuries
#5- Ask questions
You’re good to go, and if you’re really looking to overcome intimidation and to create your own yoga journey, keep listening because I’m going to share my personal journey with you. Otherwise, you may feel like you’ve already got all you need to make it happen, and if that’s the case, I’m really excited for you to enjoy your first studio class. It will be a game-changer.
I’m taking you all the way back to the early ’70s when I was a toddler watching my mom practice yoga in front of the TV in our living room. I always watched from the background making sure to never get in the way, and I remember trying some of the poses while my mother followed what the lady with the long black braid was doing. Her voice was so calm and smooth, much like my favorite yoga instructors I like to learn from today!
I spent a very short period of time today searching YouTube to see if I could find any video of this PBS show, and don’t you know it, there she was! Lilias Folan! I was pleasantly surprised to find the very woman my mom (and I) practiced with. Her name is Lilias Folan and her show was called Lilias, Yoga and You. Lilias became known as the “first woman of yoga” when her morning show aired on PBS out of Cincinnati.
Let’s fast forward to 1994, when my husband, Steve, and I were fairly new parents. Our daughter was two years old and Steve had either been reading an article or listened to an interview with Sting, the very popular English musician and actor. Sting has always been a favorite of ours. We’ve seen him a few times in concert and even got the chance to see him up close on Broadway back in 2014 in his musical, The Last Ship, which was inspired by his childhood. From the article or interview, whichever it was, Steve learned that Sting was a big fan of yoga and apparently that got him thinking because one day he came home with the VHS tape: Yoga Mind and Body with Ali MacGraw and featured Yoga Master Erich Schiffmann.
I remember us putting the tape in right away and we began to practice. I was a bit familiar with yoga from my childhood, but never formally practiced the poses. Steve and I were both athletic and keeping fit and eating well were always an integral part of our lifestyle, so we really embraced this new adventure.
We found some poses to be tricky, while others were so liberating as they opened up the entire front and back of the body. I thought it was neat to see how differently our bodies responded to each pose. What was easy for me was really tough for Steve and what worked for Steve didn’t necessarily work for me. I found that the best part for me was noticing how my body opened up more and more with each pose and how clear the world around me seemed to become as the chatter in my mind quieted. My face just began to smile as I felt magic like force pulse throughout my whole sense of being. All my senses were affected. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Little did I know or realize all of my energy centers or chakras were opening and moving energy that had been stuck in my body. What an amazing feeling!! I’d NEVER got this feeling from any other exercise I’ve tried and I’ve tried a lot.
I will embarrassingly admit that I’m one of the many people who get sucked right into the exercise infomercials, especially when they promise me I’ll get fit in less time. The ad isn’t even halfway into the pitch and I’m already dialing the number. It all started with Jane Fonda’s Exercise Record that someone gave me back in the ’80s.
I suppose it didn’t actually start with that album, it started after I left high school, attended college, and wasn’t participating in organized sports anymore that I came to the awful realization that I had to actually do something to keep myself in shape. Ugh! I never “exercised” per se, I played sports. That kept me in shape season after season since third grade. I ran around my neighborhood, I played roller hockey, kickball, and manhunt in the streets. Exercise? Jack La Lane exercised and showed the adults how to do it on TV, but I didn’t have to do that. Except the sad truth was that I did have to do that because my body was turning into something that I wasn’t familiar with and it didn’t feel good physically, mentally, or emotionally. I didn’t like the idea of having to exercise. It aggravated me that I had to do it, so I was on a mission to find the perfect workout that was quick, kept me in shape, and that I enjoyed doing.
In the 80s it was aerobics with Jane Fonda. I did that routine religiously every day having to stop the routine and flip the album over. I’m not sure how that album landed in my hands, but it wasn’t soon after that I was sweating with Richard Simmons and some kind of cards he was selling until the Arms, Abs, Thighs, and Buns of Steel line came out in ‘87. In the early ‘90s, it was Body by Jake. Do you remember him and his bright colors? Suzanne Somers came out with the Thighmaster in ‘92. The Ab Roller came out in ‘94 because for some reason I believed this machine would work better than the actual sit-ups I’d already been doing most of my life and that had already been working for everyone in the world for centuries. That ended up at the curb eventually.
Bill Phillips wrote the book Body for Life in 1999, and I really liked that book and enjoyed those exercises with free weights from the comfort of my own home. Can you see a pattern here? I’m not a big fan of exercising outside the home. Anything that kept me out of the gym was a huge sell to me. I didn’t enjoy that atmosphere. I’ve tried to, on several occasions, but it just wasn’t for me.
After I had my first child, Steve and I joined a gym and I was in the best physical shape of my entire life. My motivation was the 70 pounds I gained while carrying her. I REALLY took advantage of being pregnant. Steve and I were eating ALL THE TIME. He gained a lot as well, and when I realized I lost only 14 pounds after she was born, I knew I had some serious work ahead of me.
A friend introduced me to kickboxing in the early 2000s; I saw major results with that practice. It took me down an entire size. I never got into the Wii fit or boot camps, but one thing that really rocked my fitness world was the Fluidity Barre with Michelle Austin in 2007. THAT did just what it promised. It was low impact, high results, and a workout was only 30 minutes. SOLD! I paid it off in monthly installments and I still use it to this day. I use it in spurts, like when I can’t get to a yoga class or when I only have 30 minutes to exercise. I really love it and always feel fabulous afterward. It’s a ballet barre system that also pairs yoga poses into the routine.
In 2009, the Bosu 4 in 1 Workout got my money, as did many of the Beach Body programs that came onto the scene with all kinds of trainers and later on-demand options. The one that I practiced most consistently was T25 with Shaun T 2013; at least I did until I tore my meniscus while trying to slide my foot across the basement floor. I never got myself all the way through all four weeks of the program. I’d get too tired, too intimidated, and when I got myself back into it, I always started from the beginning.
I usually would get these programs and start out with good intentions and then just do my own thing. I’m certain there were several Denise Austin cardio videos mixed in there as well as Rodney Yee yoga DVDs.
With all these different types of exercise “experiences” behind me, it was obvious how light my body felt and how connected to the earth I was after practicing yoga with Ali McGraw and Erich Schiffmann in the new video Steve brought home. The practice was only 45 minutes, and I was so grounded after the practice that I couldn’t wait to practice again the next day. Steve and I had a good thing going for a while as we practiced together each day and for the times when life got in the way, we would practice on our own if we couldn’t make it happen together.
How that tape is not worn out today is a mystery to us, but we graduated to the DVD version, and later to watch it on YouTube for easy streaming. I will still practice with the VHS version just because and I continue to feel just as light and grounded each time I have only 45 minutes to spare.
* 5 Steps to Overcoming Yoga Intimidation *
Step #1: Work the kinks out and build your confidence up with DVDs or streaming classes
What I liked best about the video was that it taught me the basics of yoga. I learned just enough about the yogic philosophy, uniting the breath with the movement, and how yoga is an exercise of total mind/body fitness. Physically, I quickly saw my muscles toning up and mentally and emotionally, there was a big shift in the way I handle stressful situations in my life, which I later came to learn as practicing “yoga off the mat.”
Thirteen years and many yoga DVDs later, I was ready to join the local yoga studio. My home practice wasn’t cutting it anymore and I needed to step up my practice. The studio was advertising a really great promotion that was something like unlimited yoga classes for the month at only $30. I signed up but never got the chance to take a class because I was diagnosed right around that time, which really stunk because when I was all cleared by my doctors to return to exercise, my month was up and I had to pay full price in order to take classes. Weird, right? I thought they would honor the fact that I hadn’t taken any classes that month of the promotion and they would honor the initial deal, but they didn’t.
Oh well, I’d already learned that there are worse things, so I didn’t sweat it. Fortunately, the studio has new owners long since then and I’m certain they would honor such a request.
Step #2: Check out the schedule of your local yoga studio for Beginner or Restorative classes
What I call my “formal yoga routine” of practicing in a yoga studio began. I became an immediate fan of the 8:00 Saturday morning beginner class with Christy, 7:30 Monday night restorative class with Judy, and 4:30 Wednesday afternoon class with Brian. My love affair was well on its way.
In these classes I deepened my understanding of yoga, I worked to open up my hips that were tight and constricted with scar tissue from radiation, I worked hard to bring back by ab muscles that atrophied after being in bed for five months and having a surgery as the last phrase to being cancer-free, and best of all, I met lifelong friends.
I learned about chakras, mantras, mudras, and chants. I attended kirtans, sounds healings, and meditations learned Sanskrit and pranayama. All of it, every last little piece of it has enriched my life immensely. (As a side note, I love that I’m writing this on the 12th anniversary of being cancer-free, December 17, 2019! It is so apropos.)
Step #3: Introduce yourself and be honest any nervous energy or apprehension
I had attended a few classes at the studio and figured things out well enough, but it wasn’t until I attended a class taught by Christy Linson where I really came to know the practice and make it mine. Christy did just what I told you to do in step #3. She immediately came right up to me, something no one else had done before, and introduced herself to me. I explained my situation and how I was just cleared for exercise and how I was relatively new to yoga and was only practicing at home. She assured me she would walk me through the class step by step and that was very comforting. Twelve years later, I watch her do the very same thing in each class she teaches. She recognizes each new face and puts them right at ease.
Step #4: Disclose any injuries
Christy was a blonde mirror image of my radiation oncologist. It was uncanny. They share the same disposition. Christy was, and still is, patient, a great listener, soft-spoken, and an amazing teacher. I felt very comfortable to tell her about my history and that I’d been in bed for the last five months and my hips were very tight from scar tissue. She would come over to adjust me and I would giggle through struggling breath to tell her my body wouldn’t move that way…. yet, and she would just hold me in place until my body opened up little bits at a time.
Step #5: Ask Questions
My yoga practice grew and evolved with each question I asked. Sometimes I’d ask while I was being adjusted on my mat during class, other times I’d ask before or after class. A professional yoga instructor will have the time to dedicate to you to answer any questions you have. They won’t make you feel like you’re a bother. And hey, if they do… roll up your mat and walk out. No harm done. There are lots of yoga studios out there and most offer the first class free as a courtesy to see if you’re a good fit for each other.
I want to take some time here to share some resources with you to help you along your journey. Here are some great books, magazines, and podcasts that will help you with your comfort level. If you have any you would like to add, please do so on the Shift for Wellness Facebook Group page.
The Breathing Book by Donna Farhi
Chair Vinyasa: Yoga Flow for Every Body by Delia Quigley
Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley
How Yoga Works by Michael Roach (The first on yoga I’ve ever read.)
The Key Muscles of Yoga by Ray Long
Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
Living Your Yoga by Judith Hanson Lasater
Mudras for Healing and Transformation by Joseph and Lilian Le Page
Myths of the Asanas: The Stories at the Heart of the Yoga Tradition by Alanna Kaivalya, Ph.D. and Arjuna van der Kooij
Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times by Judith Hanson Lasater
The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health by Linda Sparrowe and Patricia Walden
The Yoga Anatomy Coloring Book by Kelly Solloway
Yoga As Medicine by Timothy McCall
Yoga Body, Mind, and Spirit by Donna Farhi
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Mukunda Stiles
Yoga Land with Jason Crandell
Yoga Talk with J. Brown
Finally, I am very happy and proud to announce the Aligned Flow online yoga school, my yoga teacher and friend, Christy Naida Linson has created for us all! For the incredibly low price of $10.00 a month, you can sign up for over 50 online audio classes. Christy is still developing the site so if you join now, you will be grandfathered in at this low rate. Coming soon are photos, instructional videos, and a price increase but not if you act now! alignedflowschool.com
Class Styles (copied directly from the Aligned Flow Audio Class Schedule)
- The Gentle Class is a floor-based class. Generally, there are no standing postures. This is a great class for the end of the day, for active recovery if you are an athlete, or for a gentler approach to the practice. It is a movement-based class addressing the most common areas of tension (lower back, neck, shoulders, hips) and not Restorative, although there will be 1 or 2 restorative postures at the end.
- Aligned Flow® is an alignment-based moving class. The sequence builds around the Sun Salutation with variations depending on the focus of the class. Alignment Cues are meant to serve as focusing points to keep you safe, deepen your experience of the practice, and to encourage you to feel things. All classes are Intelligently Sequenced beginning with introducing actions in simpler postures early in the practice and repeating these throughout the sequence in more challenging postures as we build-up to the peak posture.
- Beginner– Will contain Sun Salutations, Standing Postures, Balancing Postures, and a Beginner level peak posture with options to support you where you are.
- Open Level– Contains Sun Salutations, Standing Postures, Inversions, and Arm Balances all Intelligently Sequenced so that you are prepared. There are options for the more challenging postures as well as modifications so that you can practice in the way that is most supportive to you.
- Open Level/Intermediate– Similar to Open Level, Open/Intermediate offers more complicated variations of the postures. Even if you aren’t practicing a particular posture, you are given the steps along the way so there is always something to practice. You are given the option to stay in a posture if it is challenging enough or, if you feel strong, continue to the next variation.
I think you can agree that those 5 different styles of classes, with over 50 audio classes to choose from, plus the photos, and instructional videos to come are well worth the cost of $10.00 a month. That’s half the price for a walk-in class for most studios which averages $20 and you can’t guarantee you’ll get the same quality of teaching as you will with Christy.
So there you have it, 5 steps to overcoming yoga intimidation while creating your own yoga journey:
Step #1: Work the kinks out and build your confidence with DVDs or streaming classes
Step #2: Check out the schedule of your local studio for Beginner or Restorative classes
Step #3: Introduce yourself and be honest about any nervous energy
Step #4: Disclose any injuries
Step #5: Ask Lots of Questions
Hopefully sharing my personal journey has encouraged you to feel less overwhelmed and intimidation and more courage and confidence to take the first step toward creating your own yoga practice.
I leave you with the customary Hindu greeting: Namaste. Namaste is typically said at the end of western yoga practices by the instructor and it means “I honor and bow to the light in you”. It is said with both hands pressed together in front of the heart center, fingers spread open. It is customary for the class to respond to the instructor by repeating the greeting and bowing slightly, or however deeply you feel comfortable.
Speaking the genuine words of my lovely yoga teacher, Christy Naida Linson, “The Devine spark that exists within me, recognizes and honors that same light within you, namaste.”