Although I was really nervous before my Miss World pageant, it was nothing compared to the near nervous breakdown I experienced before joining college. Mount Carmel College was, in my naïve convent school mind, the Paris of all colleges. Here, fashion ruled and coolness was mandatory.
It even had its own runway or, in other words, the drive! The drive wound up from the road to the main building and was always lined with “vela” students dedicating their time to judging each individual passing by. Give me 10 judges and three “world peace” questions any day.
I soon learned that it was not as “hep” as I thought it was – there were girls wearing socks with sandals and my army boots were considered to be quite cool in their own way.
Walking into your first yoga class can be like walking up that drive. You arrive wondering if you are wearing the right clothes and not knowing where you are supposed to put your mat. You trip over yourself trying to ignore the unhelpful gazes of experienced yogis as they chat knowingly or warm up with movements which you are sure will dislocate your joints.
I personally have been guilty of grimacing at the newbie who spread their mat on the floor with a disturbingly loud slap, or whispered instructions to her maid on the phone, or began a conversation about a party she went to last night. (All, by the way, big yoga no-no’s). This article is an apology for that bad behaviour and a guide to new yoga students.
How do I choose a yoga class?
These days there seem to be as many schools of yoga as there are yoga asanas. And this question will possibly have as much meaning to you as, “What’s your poison?” to a teetotaler. I would suggest you try a Hatha class. All physical yoga is Hatha yoga, the different schools (Iyengar, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Shivananda etc) have emerged from the dedicated work of various gurus who have added their emphasis and learning to different aspects of the Hatha Yoga system. Hatha is the best way to learn the basics before exploring other styles of Yoga.
Home practice vs studio
Very often students will want to start with a teacher who comes home and teaches a one-on-one class. I personally would strongly recommend a group class when you are starting. I can hear some of you coming up with excuses already, so let me try and answer them before you mail them to me along with large frowny faces below.
I don’t have the time. I don’t have flexible hours. Make the time. Yoga is a discipline and this is a part of the discipline.
I need personal attention. Personal attention is over rated. If your knees are near your ears when you sit crossed legged, no amount of tips and tricks are going to bring them closer to the mat in your first few yoga classes. Only “tapas” - dedicated practice - over a period of time will do that.
The others intimidate me. I laud the honesty in that excuse and I completely empathize with it because after practicing for 10 years, I also get intimidated. There will always be a yogi who is better than you; there will always be an asana that looks unattainable. Great learning can emerge from this sense of inferiority - as we face our fears in the Yoga class, we learn to face our fears in life. We learn that we can move from weakness to strength, from ignorance to knowledge and from fear to joy.
I have responsibilities at home. I am sure you do, and I have the deepest respect for women who juggle homes, families and careers. But this is the exact reason you need to go to a Yoga class. We define ourselves by the many roles we play; yoga is about breaking away from all those roles and finding your true inner self. It’s harder to do when others who rely on you to play those roles in the next room. When you walk into a yoga studio it is possible to switch off (along with your mobile phone) all these roles and truly have some me-time.
How to choose a Yoga studio
Today, there are many studios offering multiple classes with really talented teachers. Find a studio that is accessible. In the beginning commuting through peak hour traffic to that beautiful studio in the middle of town will seem exciting. When the thrill is gone, excuses will pile up with ease, and watching Yoga on Youtube might become the replacement for your class.
Try to get a package that is flexible with its timings. Although an early morning yoga class is ideal, experiment in the beginning and find what works best for you. Once you find a timing that suits you, stick to it for a few months. This will help you form the habit of practising yoga, until one day, like me, you will feel like you have forgotten to brush your teeth if you miss a yoga class.
After experimenting a little, if you find yourself drawn to a particular teacher, then stick to that person. From a teacher’s perspective, having a regular student allows me to understand the limitations and capabilities of that student. With this knowledge, the teacher can then motivate, push and help the student tackle more challenging asanas. However, with the rapid growth of the yoga industry, finding a capable yoga teacher, who pays enough attention to his or her students, can be challenging.
Next time: What qualities define a good yoga teacher? Hint: allowing you to lie down in savasana for half the class is not one of them.
(The writer is a former Miss India who traded a glamorous life in front of the camera for an adventure behind it, before finally finding her home on the yoga mat. She has been practicing yoga for over 10 years and teaching it for three years)