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For someone new to yoga, trying to figure out the best way to start can feel like trying to crack a secret code. Where to put your left leg, how to ground into your feet, what to do with your hands, or even how to breathe can all feel overwhelming.
Alex Dawson, a yoga teacher since 2002 and one of Wanderlust Hollywood’s founding teachers, breaks it down for us because sometimes—even more so than holding plank—showing up to that first class on the yoga mat can be the hardest part.
Whether it’s in a studio or online, how to start a yoga practice will mean something different for everyone, so we sat down with Alex to put together some helpful hints to help you build a regular practice that works for you.
“There’s so much room for interpretation,” Alex said.
Find the Right Class
So, what are the best types of yoga for beginners? Well, the answer isn’t necessarily one-size-fits-all. When Alex began practicing, what she loved most was exploring the different classes and different levels at her studio. There were basics classes with levels one, two, and three, and flow classes like vinyasa and ashtanga with varying levels.
“I took all of them,” Alex said. “It gave me a chance to try the challenging classes but always go back to basic form.”
Finding a beginner’s class that feels right gets us comfortable on our mat and in the space we practice in. For some, the size of the class is also a factor. Alex recommends smaller classes in the beginning, where you can get more attention from the teacher when it comes to yoga poses and alignment. If you’re wondering how to start yoga at home for beginners, it can be helpful if it’s a two-way class like on Zoom, so you still get the attention from a teacher. Whatever the format, start with the basics.
“Best bet,” Alex advises, “go to a beginner’s class first because you can always increase the challenge or level of difficulty.”
Build a Strong Foundation
If you’ve wondered how you’ll ever feel comfortable in downward facing dog, or thought to yourself all those Sanskrit words are intimidating, then selecting a class that breaks down the postures and practices is important if you’re new to yoga. Because certain basics classes can be a vinyasa class, or what is often called a flow class, Alex said, they move from posture to posture, “so the nature of a flow class can be a challenge for someone learning the poses.” Hatha yoga classes or restorative yoga sessions can be more accessible for those who prefer to move more slowly.
A strong foundation leads to a strong practice, which is why beginner or basics classes are the ideal place to start. Placing focus on that “basic form” is what builds the practice. Some of the best yoga exercises for beginners can simply be getting on your mat, building strength and working on alignment: for your feet, for downward-facing dog, or for vinyasa.
“In that ‘Flow Breakdown for Beginners’ series, I’ve tried to break down the very basics of what you might want to know if you’re going to take flow classes.”
Try More Than One Teacher
Having a variety of teachers keeps it interesting and exposes us to new perspectives. Don’t be afraid to give a different yoga teacher a try, because each person will offer something different.
“Even if you like one teacher,” Alex said, “you should still try someone else.”
When we’re talking yoga for beginners, it’s helpful to keep an open mind. Don’t shut it out just because you had one class you didn’t like. There are many wonderful teachers around the world, and everyone works differently together, so keep exploring what’s out there, and give it time.
Every Body is Different
What a beginner yogi looks like will be different for each of us. Every person has a different physical capacity of movement. It could be a product of your ancestry, Alex said, or maybe it comes from life habits: how you work, how you sit, how you move. People can practice yoga for years and still may not have the flexibility commonly attributed to an advanced yogi. Here’s the secret: it doesn’t matter!
“I don’t think that whether you can touch your toes is a product of you being a beginner or an advanced practitioner,” she said.
If you can’t touch your toes in a forward fold, or even if you can, one of the best ways to boost your practice is to get props. Alex recommends two blocks and a strap. If you are tall, she suggests getting a ten foot strap as opposed to an eight foot strap. Once you develop your practice, a blanket and a bolster can add an extra layer of comfort and help you realize the restorative benefits of yoga.
“Try to pay attention to the breath,” Alex said.
Reflecting back on when she first began her practice, getting the breath down was what gave her a “natural high.” And the natural high is what kept her going back, and going back is when she started seeing the results.
“I kept going back because I felt good,” Alex said, “and I felt good because of the poses and the breathing.”
Alex attributes that natural high to being able to access the “flow state,” which she describes as a moment of presence.
“To me flow state means that my mind isn’t somewhere else,” she said. “I’m exactly where I am, doing exactly what I’m doing without resisting what I’m doing. I’m breathing in what I’m doing. And I’m in my body.”
We often come to the mat with the chatter in our minds and when we start to move our body and start to breathe, some of that begins to process, and settle. When the body is in flow, Alex said, we have an opportunity to start to release some of those deeper patterns that are stuck.
“Whenever I have a new student in class,” Alex tells them, “I suggest they take at least 10 classes before they decide if you like yoga or not.”
And what about when we are ready to learn the more challenging poses, like say, crow pose? Alex’s best advice: keep trying.
“If you knew that on the 350th time trying it that you were going to nail it, would you keep trying?” she asked. “Just keep trying, because the beginning is hard. If you’ve ever tried to play guitar, in the beginning, the callouses – it’s hard. And then you get through that learning curve.”