No Excuses Guide to Starting Yoga


Originally published at Soberistas

I’m sure you can think of a million excuses why you’re not going to sign up for that yoga class you’ve been meaning to try for years. Or why you’re going to delay it a couple more months or wait until you finish that big project. You tell your friend whilst avoiding eye contact, “Sorry, can’t today. Next week, I promise.”

As your new friend, I won’t let you off so easy.

There’s a popular and incisive Buddhist teaching that we hate suffering but love its causes, which points out that we play a significant role in our own destructive behaviours. We can turn this teaching on its head and also say that we love happiness but hate the upkeep, which equally points out that we are responsible for our own continued health and wellbeing. If we get lazy about it, it can easily slip away.

Declarations of changing your life are powerful. Dropping behaviours that no longer serve you is of course a huge step in the right direction and is often an extraordinarily difficult and courageous thing to do. But to support the process and guarantee long term healing, health, and happiness, you need communities of support and new positive behaviours to replace the old negative ones.

Everyone faces crisis, pain, and suffering in their lives. Some, of course, more than others. How you deal with it is the crucial question. Do you numb it and push it away through substances, chemicals, and negative behaviours, or do you learn to deal with it through transformative practices like yoga? After dropping the negative stuff there’ll be a gap. Yoga can fill that gap. Many yoga teachers and practitioners actually came to yoga because they struggled and still struggle with their own neuroses and addictions and have found yoga as the tool to live happier and healthier. We’re all in this together.

So, let’s sit down and bust all your excuses.

1. I’m too old, fat, and inflexible

It’s true that some yoga classes seem to be filled with 30-year old spandex models on raw-juice diets. And, when they get on their mats they start channelling Soviet-era gymnasts. The truth of the matter is, I’ve seen women in their 70’s put me to shame in yoga classes and practitioners in wheelchairs embody the practice at its deepest level. Yoga is for everybody. However, some classes, due to location, physical intensity, and the age and personality of the teacher attract different audiences. If you feel you are not being taken care of by the teacher, or would prefer to be around people your age or who look more like you, then there’s probably a class next door or down the road that will serve you better. If you have specific physical concerns due to injuries or general wear and tear, many teachers will still be able to incorporate you into the class with modifications. There has been great momentum lately in social media and yoga periodicals to represent the variety of different body types and ages that practice. At a fundamental level, the practice is not about how well you execute poses, but rather how well you use the poses to help you understand your body and your mind. So, you’ve created a problem here that doesn’t exist.

2. I don’t have the right clothes or a mat

We’ve all seen social media posts of legging disasters in yoga classes, so try to avoid see-thru or barely there clothing not suited for purpose. Beyond that, all you really need is clothes that are form fitting enough that they won’t move about when you bend over or lift your legs or arms up, but not so tight that they restrict your movement or make you feel on display. Like any form of clothing, there is variety of choices from high fashion down to utilitarian, with respective price tags to match. Get what suits you best, but everyone has a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt in their closet, so there’s no excuse.

Most yogis don’t bring mats to class, so you’re also busted here. Studios often will have mats for your use. If not, most major retailers with sports sections will have mats for less than £10. If you find you are slipping about on your mat from sweaty palms, bring a small towel to place underneath your hands.

3. I’ll look like an idiot

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Remember that no one starts anything new and is immediately ‘good’ at it. It takes some time and practice. But if someone really cares what your triangle pose looks like so much that they’ll judge your character based on it, they’re an idiot so forget about them. It is a good concern, however, to want to be in a class that is at your appropriate level. My yoga studio and about every other one will have courses or one-off workshops to introduce beginners to the practice in a safe and supportive environment. Look out for them as they are a great way to get started.

4. I don’t have the time or the money!

Wake up a little earlier, eat dinner a little later, go to bed a little later. Most studios and teachers will have a variety of class times and lengths to be able to accommodate our hectic modern schedules. But to be annoying: no one has time, you make it!

For a variety of reasons, some yoga classes can be quite expensive, so this is starting to look like a valid excuse. Usually you can save money by buying a block of classes, or seeking out some of the cost-saving online deals. Even that may not be sufficient, which is totally valid. If it’s just not doable, look for online content. Teachers like me post a lot of videos and audio instruction for free. Beyond that there are numerous streaming services that in general give you a month of classes for about the price of one drop-in class in London.

5. I can’t see why it will help me

To reduce it down to essentials, the slow movement, breath, stretch and strength work that yoga typifies is excellent at taming the nervous system and your general stress levels, which affects every other system of the body in positive ways. Research is even showing the release of brain chemicals specific to yoga-type exercise that positively affect mood. If you’re used to other less healthy habits to forget about or drown out anxieties or negative experiences, here is where yoga can be especially useful as a new and productive tool that will affect your entire feeling of wellbeing. Yoga teacher and medical professional, Dr. Timothy McCall is now listing 75 medical benefits to yoga (with citations!). You name a complaint, yoga will probably have some way to address it.

But people do have the mistaken idea that yoga can be a bit mystical and wishy-washy. Sure, some classes may be fully entrenched in spiritual pursuits and even dabble in divine praise. Others will be purely secular and straightforward. It’s a big tent, you’ll eventually find classes with language and general tone that suit you, especially if you come in with an open mind and willingness to experiment and go out of your comfort zone. What’s important to know is that yoga works in powerful, profound, and documented ways to affect your physical body and nervous system, and if you’re into it, your heart and soul. Give it a shot.