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Beginning a Yoga Practice

I'm about to launch a new class for people who are new to yoga. This got me thinking about how someone begins a yoga practice.

I regularly speak to people who say "I've always meant to try yoga" or "I think I should try yoga, it's meant to be really good for this" (insert- flexibility, mental wellbeing, resilience, or other benefits). Actually getting the chance to try it seems to be quite hit and miss.

Some people are put off by stereotypes (you have to be thin, flexible, female, etc) that are strongly perpetuated online (an issue worthy of addressing in a future post). Others are pressed into the first yoga class by friends, relatives or partners and then go on to develop their own practice. Some come to try yoga as the result of a life event or other external stimulus.

I considered my own experiences alongside those of four others who now have a regular yoga and/or mindfulness or meditation practice.

What prompts us to start? What are early yoga experiences like?

My own journey with yoga started when I was about 15 or 16 in the early 2000s. It was a time of optimism about global culture and exploring esoteric ideas was, to a certain extent, de rigeur.

Although I lived in a small town in rural mid-Wales, together with the open-minded guy I was dating at the time (who is now in fact an international Kundalini yoga teacher) I managed to explore attitudes towards consciousness and spirituality, including shamanic journeying and my first official yoga class. I was already aware of yoga- my mother and I had a VHS of a couple of svelte middle-eastern yoga teachers in leotards with whom we'd followed sun salutations every weekend for a few months- but this was my first introduction to the practice of yoga nidra (a type of guided meditation also known as "yogic sleep") and more involved pranayama (breath) practices. I loved it- I found the asana (postures and movement practices) relatively straightforward, but the inner work of yoga began to fascinate me. After a year or so, our yoga teacher moved abroad and we stopped practicing weekly, but the principles I'd learned stuck with me and I returned to them later in life when I really needed them.

Ellen, an occupational therapist based in Leeds, West Yorkshire, also came to yogic practices, in this case meditation, through a sense of curiosity.

"From around 2011 I was teaching about aspects of Buddhism in secondary school and this included meditation. In 2013 I decided really I should have a go at what we were talking about and experience it for myself!

I kind of went straight in, and went on a residential retreat with the London Buddhist Centre at a venue in Suffolk (I think). That was my proper introduction to 2 meditations, and lots of practise. Since then, I have pretty much done a meditation of some sort every day!"

Others may find themselves at their first yoga class through a more physical orientation. Jenny (@jenny_omnia_yoga), a yoga teacher based in Otley and Leeds, connects her dance background to her initial interest in yoga:

"I came to yoga a little over 20 years ago. I joined a gym and saw that they offered yoga classes, so I started going to them. It seemed natural for me to gravitate to yoga. I had been a trained dancer, and when I decided that I did not want to pursue it professionally, I moved to the beach and took up surfing. Yoga gave me the structural discipline that I was missing from dance, and it complimented the physical and mental demands my new-found passion."

Experiences at early yoga classes might differ widely. I loved mine, it was exciting and a bit esoteric but I was comfortable as I went with someone I knew well.

Danny (@dannylidyardyoga ), a community yoga teacher in Manchester, had a similar experience:

"I first started yoga because my wife was going and said I should try it...

My first class was a power yoga class and I loved it!"

Not everyone is so fortunate, however. Doug, a climbing business co-owner in Leeds (@theclimbinglab) told me that his first experience with yoga actually put him off:

"I went with a friend to a yoga class in Leeds because I wanted to get more flexible, to help with my climbing. I thought, yoga helps you to get more flexible.

The first class was very very busy, there must have been about 50 people in the class and it was not a nice experience! As someone who hadn't done it before, I felt completely lost. In a room full of loads of people, and the teachers were a little bit militant, and I didn't go for another few years after that. "

Going to your first yoga class needs a reason, whether that's curiosity, someone saying "come with me!" or a specific goal. It also needs easy access to a class and a teacher, although these are much more abundant now in the age of online yoga.

Enjoying your first yoga class requires you to feel a sense of connection for the practice.

Ellen was reluctant to try classes focused on yoga postures as she didn't feel a connection.

"Yoga [asana/movement practices] kept coming up in my adult life – on retreat, at the Buddhist Centre, with other people I was getting to know, at the leisure centre. But honestly, I thought it looked boring. I felt I had exercise that I liked, which was mostly quite intense stuff, and then I had meditation and quieter things. I also thought it seemed like something that had become fashionable for a time. But, here and there I agreed to try bits – at a retreat, as part of trying out classes at a new leisure centre for example. Somehow I started finding videos of types of yoga and tutors that I liked."

Even if students don't find a connection in their first yoga class, there is a chance they will try it again in the future. Doug and Ellen tried several teachers and styles of yoga over the years before they found something that worked.

It's more ideal however for the first yoga class to be tailored to your needs, which leaves less room for disengagement.

Setting up my new class for beginners, I'm aiming to create an environment where students will feel welcomed and engaged, with a small enough class for me to give attention to everybody and for students to engage with each other should they wish to. The practices will be inclusive and varied, so everyone can join in and (hopefully!) find something they connect with, whether that's breathwork, yogic sleep, mindfulness or getting a hamstring stretch.

Want to join the beginner's class? Visit to sign up now (class runs until mid December 2022).

Emmalene is a 300hr qualified yoga teacher based in north Leeds, West Yorkshire. She teaches yoga primarily from the perspective of connecting the body and the mind in order to increase awareness, manage stress and become more present. Her classes are influenced by yoga approaches and techniques including traditional pranayama, yog nidra, breathwork, ashtanga yoga, yin yoga, mindfulness, and kundalini kriya yoga. Let Life Flow!

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