It’s not me. It’s yoga. That’s the mantra of yoga skeptics. They tried it, they didn’t like it. Maybe the teacher was too tough. Or was too preachy. Or made nutty health claims. My contact lens-wearing daughter was told not to wipe sweat from her eyes because the sweat would IMPROVE HER VISION! Yet legit studies show yoga can improve flexibility, ease back pain and reduce stress. The challenge is finding a class you’ll enjoy — and making the most of the class you take.
Figure out what you want
Your odds of a happy experience are greater if you ponder your goals. “Some people are interested in meditation, some in stress reduction, some in lengthening their hamstring,” notes Laura Parris of Georgetown Yoga Therapy.
Think about the kind of class you’d like. Hot or not? Would music inspire or distract you? Do you want a teacher who crisply describes poses? Or would you be OK with a yoga sermon? And how do you feel about being spritzed with lavender mist at the end of class? Make a checklist, then call a convenient studio and ask if there’s a class that would hit your sweet spot.
Make sure you pick the right level, too. An “all levels” class might sound fine for a novice, but local instructor Ayanna Smith cautions that the intermediate and advanced practitioners could “make you feel like you’re on the outside.” She recommends a beginners or “gentle” class: The teacher won’t just use a pose’s Sanskrit name and assume you know that chaturanga dandasana is a low pushup.
Don’t be self-conscious
“Let go of your ego,” advises Suzie Blackman, who teaches at Village Yoga in Potomac, Md., and other studios. Before class, tell the teacher you’re a yoga greenhorn and point out any injuries you have. If you don’t want the teacher to touch you, say so. And if you’re struggling during class, Blackman suggests: “Signal the teacher, without speaking too loud: Can you come over? I have a question.”
You may feel as if everyone’s looking at you. But yogis are busy thinking about their own aches and pains and poses, reassures Preston Scott, who has taught at D.C.’s Down Dog Yoga. If you’re the one looking at you, then stop going to mirrored studios, Scott says. “We don’t want you worrying how your clothes look, is this pose right.”
And don’t judge yourself as if you’re in a competition. Yoga isn’t about counting how many poses you do. Just “do your best in the pose,” says Shannon Garvey, a Down Dog instructor. “The benefit comes in the discipline of staying with.”
Devise a game plan if you’re not happy
What if you’re midway through the class and just don’t like it? One thing to remember is you don’t have to do everything the teacher says. “The voice of the teacher is there to guide you,” says Ilona Holland, who taught at local studios before a move to Nebraska. “But your voice is the most important to listen to.” If you fear you might “push it and pull something, zone the teacher out.”
What about an exit strategy? “If you feel like you’re not at the right place at the right time, you need to listen to yourself,” suggests Smith, who says there’s nothing wrong with slipping out quietly. “I’ve had people do that to me.” She doesn’t take it personally.
But there can be virtues to sticking it out.
“I’m gonna get really yoga on you,” says Flow Yoga Center’s Peg Mulqueen. “You become clearer about who you are, what you hold important, what you’re looking for in a class.” Even a session you kind of hated is “a great yoga class because it’s taught you something about you.”
And maybe next time, you’ll find your 60 minutes of zen.
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