by Stephanie Thurrott: It’s never too late for your first downward dog…
But something stops you from actually trying yoga yourself.
You might think: Go into a studio full of strangers? Who are all wearing funny pants and leggings? No way. What if you hurt your back? Pulled a muscle?
What if you looked stupid? What if it’s just too late?
For whatever reason you might list, the 55-year-old has an answer.’
“It doesn’t matter what age you are, what kind of physical condition you are in, or what special concerns or illnesses you have,” she says. “Yoga can help.”
And if you’re afraid that everyone else in the class is staring at you because you’re new, you’re probably not alone in your fears.
“You will likely be surprised that you’re not the only new person in the class—nor the only person your age!” says Stacey Pierce-Talsma, an osteopathic physician and certified yoga instructor based in Vallejo, Calif.
“I no longer say, ‘my knees are bad,’ or ‘my back is bad,’” Colón adds. “Yoga taught me to honor my body and the aging process and to honor the fact that I got to this stage in life.”
Ready to give it a try? Here is a step-by-step process to introduce yourself to a practice that could make you feel better.
Look for a class designed for beginners
Catherine Tingey, a private yoga instructor in Los Angeles who’s been practicing yoga for 24 years, suggests calling or emailing a local yoga studio and asking what classes they recommend for someone your age. Let them know if you have any health issues.
There’s no universal terminology when it comes to yoga classes for people new to the practice. Words like beginner, hatha, basic, easy, gentle, restorative, foundations, or intro signal easier, more welcoming classes.
Multiweek courses designed for beginners can also be good options.
Avoid ashtanga, power, or hot yoga classes until you gain some experience. If you try a few beginner classes and find them slow or easy, you can move up to these more advanced classes..
Ask about the teacher’s experience
“It is important to choose a teacher who is up to date with the most recent developments in the yoga world. You can choose a teacher with 20-plus years of experience who has not evolved and got stuck on the practice that was the norm 15-plus years ago,” says Huma Gruaz, a certified yoga therapist based in Irvine, Calif.
Find out if you need to bring anything
Most studios provide mats and the props—blocks, straps, blankets, and bolsters—that make it easier to get into certain poses. You might feel more comfortable bringing your own mat if you’re worried about germs.
Show up early to your first class.
Introduce yourself to the instructor. Let them know if you have sciatica, arthritis, flexibility issues, or any other conditions that might affect your ability to bend, move, or twist.
“Teachers love this,” Colón says.
They can share modifications for poses that aren’t right for you.
Your instructor should be asking everyone about injuries or health issues at the beginning of class, but you might not be comfortable sharing your health issues with the whole group.
Tingey says you should like your instructor, and feel like you’re safe and you can relax. “A good teacher will welcome you from the minute you set foot in that class,” she says. “They will make it feel like it’s a gift for them that you’ve chosen to attend that class.”
Find a spot in the back of the room
That way you can follow along with more experienced students as well as the teacher.
Suspend your inner critic
Don’t compare yourself to the other people in the class. That’s especially true for men, Tingey says: “Men’s and women’s bodies are very different anatomically. Yoga is big on hip opening, but unless they were dancers or gymnasts, men are just not going to have the same range of motion as women.”
Don’t worry about flexibility
Judy Dombrowski, a 64-year-old Boston-based yoga instructor, debunks a myth she often hears—that you have to be flexible to do yoga.
“You don’t have to be flexible at all,” she says. “Yoga will help you be more flexible.”
Tune into your body
“Sensation is good. You want to feel a stretch and that a pose is giving you an effect, Dombrowski says. “But as soon as that crosses over to pain you need to back right off and do something else.”
Doesn’t feel right? Don’t do it
“In yoga it is absolutely OK to say something is not working for you, or to not do a pose that doesn’t look right for you,” Colón says. “Nobody else inhabits your body.”
Try a different teacher
“Yoga in the modern world is like a buffet,” says Tingey. “Even if you live in a small town, there are so many different things to try out, and every teacher’s style and energy is so different.”
She recommends trying seven to 10 classes with different teachers until you find someone you connect with.
Dombrowski agrees. “Some classes are much slower, and some teachers are much quieter. Some are very much into gymnastics, while others are more into a concentration on breathing and slow movement.”
Consider private lessons
With private lessons you can focus on what’s most important to you. That could be balance, flexibility, or strength. Private lessons are also a good choice for people who are shy about working out in front of others.
Look into chair yoga
In chair yoga you perform the poses while seated or standing and you use the chair for support. Chair yoga eliminates the need to get up and down from the floor.
“Doing classes at home can sometimes help people become more comfortable before attending an in-person class,” says Pierce-Talsma, instructor-osteopathic physician based in California.
“But it can be hard to know exactly what you are doing, or if you are doing it correctly, when you follow a video. That’s why I like a mix of home practice and attending classes,” she says.