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: