“I want to try yoga, but I don’t know any of the poses.”

As the popularity of yoga across the United States increases, this is a statement I hear more and more of.  According to Forbes.com more than 37 million people in this country are practicing yoga, which is almost double the amount from 2013. Which means, almost 37 million people have tried out yoga in the last three years, and my guess is almost all of them had no idea what any of the poses were before they got started.

I will never forget the first time I tried yoga.

It was nine years ago.  I walked into my first yoga class in a gym in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ. I wanted to find a different kind of workout and I wanted to learn how to touch my toes.

I remember sitting in the middle of the room having absolutely no idea what to expect. The teacher lead us through a series of poses, the majority of which I could not come close to doing. She kept telling us to breathe while we held plank pose for what felt like 20 minutes.  Everyone seemed so peaceful, while I was ready to collapse to the floor.

It was hard. Really hard.

But it was also amazing. It was incredible to glance around the room and see people who actually did find doing plank poses peaceful. I wanted to learn how to do that.

BUT- I was wayyyy to embarrassed to go back to a class. So, I got myself a yoga video and did it every day at home for two months. And finally, when I felt like I knew a bit more about what I was doing, I went back to a yoga class.

The problem with this is that I developed some really bad habits because I didn’t have a teacher to point out how I could be practicing the poses more safely. These habits took me a very long time to break, and could have been the cause of injury.

Oh how wish I could back and give myself advice.

So, here are the 5 things I wish I’d known when I first started yoga.

1. Nobody’s watching you.

Seriously. They’re not.

There’s a lot to think about in a yoga class, and it takes an immense amount of mental focus to notice all them.  

When someone is standing on one foot behind you, trying to make sure their tree pose doesn’t go timber, all while counting their inhales and exhales, they’re really not focused on whether or not you look like a model on the cover of Yoga Journal.

Yoga is about drawing within and focusing on yourself. The majority of people in a yoga class are really doing just that. And if they’re not, who cares? You’ll likely be so focused on your own body and mind that you won’t even notice if someone looks your way.

2. Saying “Om” doesn’t make you part of a weird cult.

I’ll be honest- the “om” thing freaked me out for a little while.

Listening to a room full of people all chanting “om” made me think of some weird hippie cults that I saw on television shows as a kid. But, when you actually begin to understand why om is chanted in yoga classes, it makes a lot more sense.

Om has been defined in thousands of ways over the years. But, the definition that has always resonated with me is that it’s the sound of all things in the universe moving as one. Meaning, it’s the sound frequency of life and the connection of all living things.

When people share a sound of om in class, it represents the connection of our lives and energy to each other, and to the world around us. It celebrates that we’re all supporting each other as we navigate through the common human experience.

And here’s the thing, you don’t have to participate at first. Sometimes, it’s nice to just listen and then you can start oming when you’re ready. Fair warning though- once you start, it’s hard to stop.

3. You really don’t have to touch your toes.

This really was my main goal when I first stepped onto a yoga mat. I had never been able to touch my toes growing up, and it was something I always wanted to do.

Yoga will help you learn to touch your toes, and beyond that. It increases flexibility and releases tension in muscles you didn’t know you were carrying tension in.

But, you not have to be able to touch your toes, or be flexible, to do yoga.

One of the ways that yoga is different than other forms of exercise or physical activity is the focus placed on honoring your body where it is today- which is different from where it was yesterday and where it will be tomorrow.

So if today, touching your toes isn’t an option then you bend your knees. And then maybe tomorrow you can straighten your legs a little more. Or maybe not. Either way it’s ok.

Yoga is a tool to increase flexibility in the body but flexibility is not a requirement to practice yoga.

4. Your body will be sore in places you didn’t expect.

I have friends who are in amazing shape and are shocked when they take a yoga class and wake up sore the next morning.

Yoga is a full-body practice. It stretches and strengthens every muscle in the body simultaneously, which creates amazing changes but can also leave you feeling sore.

It’s completely normal to feel fatigue in your wrists, ankles, ribs, hips, and other unexpected body parts, as long as you’re moving mindfully and making sure that you’re not injuring yourself.

The more you practice, the easier it gets.

5. Yoga can be emotional.

I remember practicing yoga at home (using one of my videos before I was brave enough to come back to class) and coming to baddha konasana (or “butterfly legs” as I called it in elementary school).

I took a deep breath and started to fold over my legs and stretch my hips and immediately started crying. Like ugly-crying. I’m talking end of Armageddon crying.

I was completely freaked out and had no idea what was happening.

Our physical bodies are closely linked to our emotions. That’s why when we’re stressed, we often feel tension in the shoulders, neck, and hips. Our bodies hold onto those emotions and store them in our muscular, digestive, and nervous systems.

Yoga beings to release these stored emotions. It’s completely normal to begin to cry for no reason while opening your hips or your heart.

It can be scary at first. But if you continue to breathe through it and let things go, you’ll create space to fill the body with the positive emotions you’re practicing on the mat.

Ready. Set. Yoga.

Starting anything new can be scary and overwhelming. Just know that what happens on your yoga mat is totally up to you. You never have to try a pose that doesn’t feel comfortable or recite 108 oms in a row. Make it your practice and create a space for yourself to explore what arises for you.  

My #1 tip to starting yoga?

Photo Credit: FindOrion Photography