More than 8 percent of the U.S. population practices yoga, so it’s safe to say it’s hit the mainstream. And nearly 40 percent of participants have less than a year of experience, according to the 2012 Yoga Journal study. I was surprised to see that fewer than one-third of people who practice yoga have been at it for three years or longer.
That puts me in a rare group: I took my first class in 1999 and have stuck with it pretty well. During that time, I’ve developed some habits that have helped me out. Some of these – but not all – may help you if you’re new to yoga. Or even if you’ve been at it awhile and just want a few new things to think about.
Ignore the “intention”
Many yoga teachers start off by asking students to “set an intention.” From the first time I heard this, it felt wrong for me – contrived and unnecessary. In my case, I’ve already achieved the biggest win just by showing up to class and ignoring all the excuses that could keep me away. By the time I roll my mat out, my intention is always just to get a good workout. That’s not something I need to repeat to myself. Bottom line: Set an intention if it helps you in some way. If not, don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong.
Go “thighs back”
One of my first yoga instructors gave me a great piece of advice: In just about any pose that involves a straightened leg or two, push your thigh(s) back. You’ll form a stronger platform for any pose. I find that it does more than just burn a few extra calories – it also loosens my hamstrings. Next time you’re in a down dog, a triangle pose or some variety of a warrior pose, try pushing the thigh back on any leg that’s straight. You’ll feel the difference.
“Awareness” is quite the yoga buzzword. For me, awareness starts with where I put my mat. Will my position infringe on someone else’s space? Do I block their view of the mirrors? Is my mat straight on the ground, and does it allow room for others who show up for class after I do? If someone shows up late, can I make some room? I don’t want to be a barrier to someone else’s practice. This is a great way to help the other people in your class.
No matter what class I take, I show up with water. Just chilled water for a regular class. For a hot yoga class, I’ll have a half-frozen bottle of water mixed with an electrolyte drink powder. It seems like an obvious thing, but I see a few people in each class who didn’t seem to realize what they’re getting into.
Some yoga teachers try really hard to keep a yoga class from turning into a competition. I get it – each of us is different. We have to progress at our own rate and avoid comparing ourselves to others. Once in awhile, though, I see a teacher who takes it too far and tells us not to push ourselves, that where we are today is absolutely OK if something “isn’t available to you.” It’s a good sentiment, but where I am today is not where I want to be tomorrow. That means a little extra effort today. Just be smart – try to reach your potential smoothly and incrementally, not by wrenching yourself into a position that you’re just not ready to reach.
Attempt to tune out the music
I once heard someone say that “hell is other people’s music.” As the heavy metal guy in a yoga class, I nodded and laughed. My best bet is to get myself beyond the in-class music. And I’m lucky that my favorite local studio doesn’t blare the tunes. I realize that I won’t convince many yoga classes to skip the music altogether, so I just try to ignore the sound, focus on the teacher’s instructions and concentrate on my form.