Whether you're coming to yoga to reduce stress, gain flexibility, or expand your social scene, starting a yoga practice can be intimidating. However, with the right studio and instructor, you may just find yoga less scary and more fun than you imagined.
Clearing a path to your perfect studio will allow you to begin your journey toward health and fitness in mind, body, and spirit. Follow the tips below to help find the best place for your practice.
Clarify Goals & Motivation
Be honest about why you'd like to start yoga. Maybe you want to get in shape, or perhaps your doctor recommended it for stress control. Maybe you're pregnant or rehabilitating an injury. Or maybe you don't know why — but you're curious and want to check it out.
Clarifying your motivation can help narrow down your choices. If you're looking for Pre-Natal Yoga or Therapeutic Yoga for rehabilitation, for instance, you've already done half the work!
If you don't have an explicit reason or simply don't know where to start, your best bet is a Yoga 101 or Yoga for Beginners class. These introductory classes are geared toward students who have no experience with yoga — and who may not even know what questions to ask. A good teacher will be able to anticipate your questions and ease your fears with basic information to help get you started on the right (correct) foot.
As of 2005, there are an estimated 70,000 Yoga teachers in North America alone. No matter what your motivation, there's bound to be a teacher who can help you fulfill it!
There's a strong chance you know someone — even casually — who practices yoga. Talk to your friends and coworkers. Ask around at your local recreation or adult education center. Chat up the cashier at your local health food store. Do they have a teacher they love? What style do they practice, and is it appealing to you? Do they speak highly of the other students at the studio?
It's important not to confuse other people's opinions with your own, but talking to a variety of people can be a great way to learn about studios and styles that you might never have considered otherwise.
Do a Background Check
We're not suggesting stalking or harassment! But it can be helpful to learn about the studio before you go. How long has it been open? Do they have a mission statement? Are there student testimonials on their website? Does the studio owner also teach?
As for the teachers, ask about their training and experience: Where have they studied and with whom? How long have they been teaching? What is their personal teaching philosophy?
Yoga Alliance is the main registration organization for studios and teachers in the U.S., and although it's not mandatory for studios and teachers to be registered with Yoga Alliance, the non-profit is the standardizing body for yoga in America. The alliance encompasses a vast diversity of yoga traditions, while ensuring that registered teachers and studios maintain certain professional and educational standards.
A registered yoga teacher (RYT) has a designation of 200 or 500 hours of training, which includes education in asana (physical practice), anatomy, philosophy — sometimes much more. An experienced yoga teacher (E-RYT) has at least 1,000 hours of teaching experience. And a registered yoga school (RYS) maintains the Yoga Alliance quality standards in education, experience, and teacher training.
Yoga teachers at gyms and health clubs may also be required to have CPR and First Aid certifications. These are all things to consider when you're looking to find a teacher.
Check Out the Studio in Person
Many studios won't allow you to sit in on classes because it disturbs the practice. But you can always stop by and talk with the receptionist, a teacher, or even the owner. Trust your gut — do you feel comfortable and welcomed? Are you okay with incense and Hindu imagery? Is there music in the classes or are they silent?
Notice the students coming and going. How big are the classes? Will you be able to get individualized attention? Major studios in large cities can have 100 students or more in popular classes. These types of classes are better suited for experienced practitioners.
Read the class schedule and check out the prices. Do they offer classes at your experience level? Do the times suit your needs? Can you afford the classes? Do they offer a new student special? What about less expensive community classes, or even donation-based ones?
If you prefer a male or female teacher, make sure they offer classes at your level with the gender of your choice. Some studios even offer male-only and female-only classes, if you'd rather practice in a single-sex environment.
Consider Private Lessons
If you've searched around and simply cannot find a studio you like, you may want to consider investing in private or semi-private lessons. These are usually more expensive but you will get personal attention and can practice at your own pace. Private lessons usually range from about $25 for new teachers looking to gain experience, but can even exceed $100 for seasoned teachers.
The most important thing when you're starting is to find a teacher you connect with. The right teacher can make all the difference — and the wrong one may turn you off yoga forever. Don't be afraid to try many different teachers, or to visit a studio once and never return.
You'll know when you've found a teacher you click with — he or she will be patient with your lack of experience, open to your body's limitations, and should love teaching yoga as much as he or she loves practicing it.
For your first class, don't worry so much whether you like the teacher or not — just do the class. By the end, you will have a good understanding of whether or not it was the right class for you!
Easy Does It
Searching for a new studio and beginning yoga classes can be a stressful process, but it doesn't have to be. Keep an open mind and don't be afraid to ask lots of questions. Doing something new will help you grow and become more flexible in body, mind, and spirit!