The mental and physical benefits of yoga are well-known. From more sound sleep to better flexibility and posture, it’s easy to understand why so many people are drawn to the practice. During the pandemic, yoga is getting even more attention for being potentially immunity-boosting and simple to try at home.
Still, it’s not uncommon to feel like you’re just not a “yoga person,” despite all the good things you’ve heard about it. So, what are you to do if you want the benefits of yoga practice but can’t seem to wrap your head around how to get into it?
Here, expert yoga teachers share their best advice for helping yourself enjoy yoga.
From there, you can figure out what to look for when selecting future teachers and classes. “If you just try the same exact thing, chances are you won’t like it this time either,” points out Maura Blackstone, DPT, a physical therapist and registered yoga teacher.
People often don’t like yoga because they went to the wrong type of class for their personality or reason for wanting to try yoga, explains Jennifer Ellis, a yoga teacher. “For example, if someone who has never done yoga before enters an intermediate or advanced class where people are doing arm balances and headstands, they may get the wrong idea about yoga. Or, if someone who wants to use yoga more for a workout attends a restorative class, they may come to that ‘I’m not a yoga person’ verdict,” Ellis explains. So, explore the many different types of yoga, and experiment with something new.
“No teacher is for everyone. Not in boot camp, spin, dance cardio or yoga,” explains Heidi Kristoffer, a registered yoga teacher. Her advice? “Keep trying different teachers.” If you find a teacher you love — yoga or any other workout — ask if there are any yoga teachers they like themselves, Kristoffer suggests. “Since you love their style, odds are you may love their yoga teacher.”
Particularly if you’re taking a virtual yoga class at home, starting your practice in the right headspace can help prime you to have a better experience. “Try starting with a simple 5-minute breathing practice before your class to clear your mind and bring yourself into the present moment,” suggests Caroline Baumgartner, a yoga teacher. “An example would be sitting or lying on your mat with your eyes closed, bringing your hands onto your abdomen, inhaling for six counts and exhaling for six counts.”
Feeling like you’re not “good” at yoga can be a major turnoff for some people. “Often, I see clients expecting to be flawless and effortless in their first class,” says Bridget Barrett-Parker, a yoga teacher. “It reminds me of what my uncle used to tell me when I was learning to ski: ‘If you’re not falling, you’re not learning.’” So just remember, it’s part of the process.
If this is an issue for you, one thing that can help is to seek classes meant for beginners. “Many studios offer beginners’ series, which progressively build on your skills in a closed group setting, so everyone is learning at the same pace,” says Jenni Tarma, instructor for Yoga Medicine Online. They’re not necessarily “easy,” but they do focus on the foundational skills you’ll need to progress to more advanced classes.
Another option: Try a mixed-level class, where teachers offer different versions of poses. “Don’t hesitate to take the one that feels best for your body, even if it’s the ‘easiest’ one on the menu,” Tarma advises. “It’s far better to progress gradually than risk injury by pushing too far right off the bat.”
“Many new yogis will spend half the class looking around and miserably comparing themselves to the person across the room who has been doing yoga for five years and can effortlessly fold themselves in half,” notes Yaz Purnell, a yoga teacher. But these comparisons are actually at odds with what yoga is about. “Yoga is so special because it’s about you, no one else. Try to close your eyes, let go of judgments and comparison, and just enjoy being able to move your body.”
It’s not unusual to be skeptical the first time (or even the first few times) you try something — and yoga is no exception. “Commit to practicing consistently, recommends Lilia Karimi, a yoga teacher. “Sometimes we are resistant to yoga at the start because it’s totally different from how we typically move our bodies. Yoga also encourages us to focus on our breath and how we’re feeling in the moment, which can be a scary and new feeling if you’ve never practiced it.”
So how many classes is enough? Barrett-Parker recommends sticking it out for at least 10 sessions. “What I see time and time again is that by 10 classes, you’re comfortable with the flow, you’re learning the names of the postures and, suddenly, you’re starting to see the benefits of practice.”
“Come into class with a sense of curiosity about what or how you will feel during the poses and how you will feel afterward,” suggests Maggie Barchine, a yoga teacher and yoga therapist. “Be curious about your body getting into a pose and welcome what you notice you’re feeling without judgment.”
Sometimes, people see needing yoga props like blocks, straps and cushions as a weakness, but they could help you enjoy yoga more. “Seriously, having a little more separation between your torso and the ground can make a lot of poses more comfortable, yet still challenging, which can make the practice much more enjoyable,” explains Liz Bolton, a yoga teacher.
Turns out, you can get some benefits of yoga without ever setting foot in a formal class. “Learn Ujjayi breath online or with a teacher and practice a few Ujjayi breaths a day whenever you can,” recommends Namita Kulkarni, a yoga teacher. “This is a really powerful yoga technique, which counters our stress response and signals the body to move into parasympathetic (rest and restore) mode.”
If you still feel resistant to doing yoga, consider what that might mean. “Resistance is great; it means there’s something to learn,” notes Rae Davidson, a yoga teacher and coach. Consider: What specifically are you resisting? Where does it come from, and how can you overcome it? The answers might surprise you.
Unlock an experience that’s like having a dietitian, trainer and coach at your fingertips. Sign up for Premium for expert guidance and tools to help you reach your personal health goals.