The practice of yoga, which originated in India and began over five thousand years ago, has officially moved in and taken over the West. Even if you’ve never practiced yoga, you probably know someone who has. That person may have told you how it changed their life. They feel lighter, calmer, and they have more energy than ever before. Maybe this is when you started to think about trying yoga for yourself. Good for you! Just keep the following in mind:
With tremendous growth in yoga’s popularity, there has been a corresponding rise in the number of yoga teachers. But not all yoga teachers are created equal, and it’s important to know that you’re in safe hands. Look for teachers who have completed at least a 200-hour certification program through a registered yoga school. The training should be recognized by the Yoga Alliance and the teacher should have current registration, insurance, CPR and first aid skills. Look out for fitness and yoga enthusiasts who may have been practicing on their own for a long time, but are not qualified to teach others.
Yoga uses physical postures or poses to stretch and strengthen the body. These poses vary in their degree of difficulty, so it’s important to know what class you are heading into before you begin. Think of it like running a marathon: It wouldn’t be wise to run 26.2 miles on your first day of running, nor would it be a good idea to jump into an advanced yoga class with no experience. Remember: One size does not fit all; you can hurt yourself in a yoga class. Look for terms like restorative, gentle, therapeutic, beginner and basic for your first efforts on the mat.
Honor Your Body
Once you have found a qualified teacher and a class that best suits your needs, you’ll be ready to start. But remember that you know your body best. Always let your teacher know if you are experiencing pain or if you have an injury, so that he or she can offer modifications. Then it is up to you to do what feels safest in your body. Never let a teacher make you feel that you have to do anything you’re not ready to do. Your teacher is there as a guide, and the rest is up to you.
Hands On or Hands Off
Many teachers will offer hands-on adjustments. These range from mini massages to deepening a pose. They can also be used to help you find the right alignment in a particular posture. Assists should always feel good and safe. Never feel pressured to let the teacher assist you if you do not feel comfortable with this part of the practice. Let your teacher know before class begins if you prefer to not be assisted. A good yoga teacher will be more than happy to honor your request. Keep these tips in mind when beginning your yoga practice. Remember Helen Hayes’ famous words, “The expert in anything was once a beginner.” With a little time and research to find your best class and teacher, you can enjoy the many benefits of yoga.
Debra Darnell 200 CYT-RYT, NY Strength Master Trainer contributed to this blog post.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.