By Beth Passehl, MS
As a yoga teacher, I hear plenty of stories from folks who feel defeated from trying yoga. They quit – and rightfully so. The truth is – yoga is most definitely harder than it looks. But with the right teacher and instruction, you can practice at least some yoga and find great benefit.
Why do students give up, and what can you do to stick with it?
Failed Class Experiences: There could be lots of reasons why – but just to name just a few: Class is too big, the teacher does not have adequate skill/training, it is impossible to follow along, the terms and cues make no sense, the pace is too fast or too slow. Or, most frustrating of all – there is no personal feedback – how do you know if your downward dog is correct, safe, or looks more like a dreadful dog?
What May Help:
• If you are new to the practice, let the instructor know before you start. Nearly every adult beginning a yoga practice has some physical issues – best to tell the instructor before the class starts!
• Remember – every pose can be modified! It may be useful to schedule a private session to become more familiar with the terms used and learn safe options for getting in and out of a pose. Additionally, while online instruction is convenient, it may not be the best first step for those new to yoga. It is nearly impossible to both look at a screen and put yourself in the pose. However, if you choose an online option, best to watch it first before starting to follow.
Expectations: They run all over the place… but mostly it begins with “I can’t do yoga – I’m not flexible.” If you are a beginner and attend a more advanced class, then chances are you will be totally lost – which will immediately result in a failed experience.
What May Help:
• Do your homework. Whether you attend a gym or private studio, look for a beginner level class. Consider popping in and meeting the teacher first. Ask to make sure that this really is a beginner’s class. If you have any injuries or limitations, ask how they would help you.
• There are all kinds of yoga classes out there. I personally recommend a class that focuses on your physical alignment. This will generally be called an Iyengar or Iyengar-based class. Other popular styles of yoga include Vinyasa flow, hot, Hatha, restorative, etc. (a great description for all of these class types can be found here). Ultimately, your comfort and positive experience will determine which type of class you follow regularly.
• We have all been beginners at some point, and rest-assured that any given yoga pose is never really perfected. There is always something new to learn, and all of your efforts matter.
• Find a qualified teacher! There are no actual licenses for yoga teachers – but there are many different types of certifications. I highly recommend finding a teacher with certified training approved by the Registered Yoga Alliance. The various classifications indicate the teacher has achieved supervised training and study consistent with strict and consistent teaching standards. For example, a Registered Yoga Teacher 200 (RYT200) will have over 200 hours of supervised training and teaching experience. Yoga Alliance’s website provides more information about the various levels of certification and a tool to help you find a qualified teacher in your area.
Personal Perception: It is no fun when everyone in the room seems to get this – except you. And when you are practicing next to that skinny, uber flexible gazelle on the next mat, it can feel embarrassing and defeating when comparing your practice.
What May Help:
• Keep in mind that a beneficial yoga practice isn’t just about performing every pose perfectly. There is a saying that yoga is not so much a “work out” (although it can most certainly be physically challenging) – but that it is more of a “work in.” Which really means we use the mind, the body, and the breath together to find the poses. No matter your stage in yoga – paying attention to what you are doing, being mindful of your attitude and letting go of self-judgement are the key wins in a successful yoga practice. But, that said, proper form does matter, so you need proper instruction. All yoga poses require great attention to detail and you need direct feedback on how you are doing.
It’s never too late (or too soon) to start! Here’s to hoping you won’t give up!
Beth Passehl, MS, ERYT-200, RYT-500, YACEP, works on WebMD’s editorial staff and serves as the team’s resident expert in yoga and mindfulness. In addition to her Yoga Alliance certifications, Beth is a Level 1 Usui Reiki Practitioner. She has been teaching yoga for over 15 years and is passionate about creating a balanced life and sharing those lessons with others.