There's many things that would have been helpful to know in hindsight when starting a yoga practice.
It can be so, so very confusing coming to a class for the first time. Looking around at everyone in their fancy leggings and expensive mats (I'm also guilty of buying the expensive mat), and instantly get this idea that "oh, they must make this a lot easier".
They dont. Well.. maybe a good yoga mat could be arguably beneficial.
Before I went to a class, I'd practiced solely off of an app on my phone. I rolled out a towel in my bedroom, and followed the instructions. I took it slow, got extremely frustrated a lot of the time and asked myself countless times if I was doing it right.
But I never once thought about getting "appropriate" garments to aid me, or a mat at this point, I only bought a mat after going to a class.
Back in days gone by, yoga wouldn't have been practiced on a mat anyway, but that's another story for another time.
This leads me to my first point.
Tip 1. Fancy clothes and mats don't make you "good" at yoga.
Yes, it's heartbreaking that you can't just "pay your way" to success in yoga.
It's not also about being "good" at it. The story runs much deeper than that, but on the face of things, how would you know?
If you're going to a regular class, depending on the teacher and style of course, it's hard to get a grasp on what yogas really about.
As it made its journey to the west, a lot of its spiritual aspects got toned down as they simply weren't allowed to be taught over here at the time.
B.K.S Iyengar for example, wasn't allowed to teach about philosophy or even pranayama at the time. It was simply a physical practice to help with ailments of the body and to gain tone and flexibility throughout the body.. to put it simply. It's much more complex than that still.
To get a good understanding of what yogas about, you have to know if it's roots, it's history, it's philosophical contexts, the methodology, and it's sister philosophical school of Samkhya.
..you're definitely not going to understand that from an hour yoga asana class.
This is what puts some people off I believe, is all of its history. Some people just want to do the physical practice and strip the rest behind and leave it in the dirt. You can't. You simply cannot superset yoga from its spiritual context.
You can try, but it is no longer then yoga, you're just stretching and lying about what you're doing.
So, back to the point. If yoga is about stilling the fluctuating states and thoughts of the mind, to uncover the pure awareness that lies at the root of our very being, then we cannot be "good" at it. It is not merely a practice, and a lifestyle...so your £120 leggings won't help you im afraid.
Tip 2. Don't push through pain.
When you're new to yoga, you're likely to have aches and pains. Hell, even experienced practitioners can have aches and pains, it's normal.
Being able to discern what's good for us is an extremely helpful tool, and it can be quite simple.
If it's painful, it's not good for us.
This can lead on from having a deeper understanding of what yoga is really about. If we know it's not all about the shapes, then we won't try so hard to fit into them, will we?
If we know from the get go, that it's about developing our awareness and gently pressing against our edges of discomfort, then we might hold back a little.
Here's something also.
Discomfort is not equal, to pain.
Discomfort can show up in terms of mental resistance, such as not wanting to show up to class, or trying to hard to stop thoughts from coming instead of allowing them to come and go, or through physical resistance i.e a stretch or tension throughout the body.
Pain is there to help keep us from hurting ourselves, but it can get rather complex. Pain is extremely complex, we can hold memories of it within our tissue, so even if we aren't going to hurt ourselves by doing something, our body might stop us from going that far anyway, because of what it remembers within the tissues.
My advise, is to speak up about any ailments you have, so the teacher can cater to your individual needs. And secondly, if pain is persistent, seek a medical professional, for example a physiotherapist.
Leading onto my third point.
Tip 3. You can speak up if something doesn't feel right.
A lot of us don't like to speak up, and that can be of detriment to ourselves. I used to be so bad for this, that even if I had ordered something online and the wrong thing came, I would just make it work and accept defeat. I hated to "inconvenience" people with my issues. Oh, the irony.
The yoga world shouldn't be like this, so let's speak up if something isn't right or feels a little of.
This can come in a myriad of ways, but i'm just going to focus on the practices at hand. If you get cued into a posture that just feels, wrong, or painful, you can come out of it and ask for an alternative, the teacher won't get mad at you, and if they do.. well, maybe find another teacher. There's a number of postures that can make us feel a certain way, some can put us into very vulnerable feeling positions, which its okay to not like and ask for something else.
Similarly, if something, for example, a pose with a lot of external hip rotation is causing you pain, ask for a toned down version.
There is absolutely no shame in asking for help or for a different posture or meditation or pranayama practice.
Personally, it shows a lot of intuition. You're listening to your body, and that's great. Isn't that what we, as yoga teachers are trying to inspire you to do?
Tip 4. You can't hide from your problems.
This tip might seem a little obvious, but in the yoga world, there's a lot of spiritual bypassing that goes around. What that means, is that we avoid dealing with the situations that are troubling us and causing us pain or suffering, by hiding or construing a spiritual practice to make it seem like we can just "let it go" for one example.
We can walk out of a yoga class and instantly the air might smell better, the sun is brighter is brighter in the sky, birds suddenly land on our shoulder as we've became one with nature..we let out a big sigh and we think wow.. this is fucking fantastic. We then return to our home, back to our problems until reality gets too much again, and we return to a class.. completely avoiding the root of the issue, and just avoiding it all together.
I've been guilty of it, and i'm sure we all are in some way or another.
The harsh and bitter reality is, that we can't hide from our problems, and that's not what yogas for, so please don't treat it that way, or one day, you're going to be facing an unclimbable pile of shit that you've been avoiding.
Tip 5. There are different "forms" of yoga, and it is a good idea to try them out.
There are so many types and forms of yoga, ranging from Kundalini, to Ashtanga, Yin, Restorative, Iyengar, Vinyasa, Hot yoga, Mindful yoga, slow yoga, Hatha Yoga, and the list goes on.. and on, and on.
When I first started out on my little yoga app, it wasn't a style, it was just poses and practices laid out for me, but when you looked at local classes, they all had a prefix added on to the word yoga, leaving you thinking what the hell does that mean?
It's okay to ask, which is actually the best thing you can do. Ask the individual teacher what style they teach, and how they teach it.. ie. is it fast, slow, dynamic, or chilled out and more calming. Each teacher has their own unique ways of doing things and sharing things, so just because you've been to one Hatha or kundalini class with one teacher, doesn't mean you will experience the same class with another teacher.
I only discovered Yin yoga on my teacher training several years ago, and it completely changed my outlook on my practice and how I'd approach teaching it. Yin is very passive, slow, and meditative. I was used to fast, dynamic classes with difficult postures and challenging sequences, so this was otherworldly to me, and I hated it at first to be honest.. which got me intrigued, and now, i'm obsessed.
The lesson here, is that it's good to try out other forms of practice. Ask around, see what other people like, and if it sounds up your alley, it might just well be. Lets not pigeon hole ourselves into one form, there's a plethora of practices and teachings out there for us, so go out and find them.
You never know, it might just change your life.