What You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Yoga (But Were Afraid to Ask)

I started practicing yoga in a community education class almost 20 years ago. This week, I will teach my first community ed yoga class.

As I prepare to go back to where it all began, I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience as a new yoga student. I have to confess that it wasn’t as immediately blissful as I’d hoped it would be. But since I was new to yoga, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I thought I was doing yoga wrong. It was this feeling that led me to walk out of the third session of that first series. Thankfully, I later found my way back to my mat and learned that I wasn't alone in my experience.

I often wish I could go back in time and tell my new-to-yoga self that my experience was completely normal. My yoga journey would have been so much easier if someone explained what was going on.

Since I can’t go back in time to give myself the insights, I decided to write this post. I hope it helps you know that if your yoga experience isn’t like you thought it would be at first, you aren’t alone. And I hope it encourages you to keep going. The good stuff comes with a little practice.

Monkey mind is real. Everyone has it.

There’s a myth that when you do yoga or meditate your mind should be completely thought-free. One minute you're thinking about what you have to buy at the grocery store and when you start doing yoga, your thoughts magically disappear. Not exactly. It might seem that way, but nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone is struggling with their own thoughts. Sometimes you'll have fewer thoughts. And sometimes your mind is like a monkey swinging from tree to tree. If your mind races when you practice, you’re normal. Bring your awareness back to your breath. Focus on the sensation of your body on the mat. Or ask your teacher for a technique that she recommends to ground you in the moment.

Toots happen.

No one wants to let one rip in a quiet yoga class. But I’m here to tell you that farts happen when you do yoga. For real. It only makes sense—you’re bending and twisting your body and that’s moving stuff—like air—around. While you might not want to eat a bean burrito and a beer before class, don’t stress too much an occasional squeaker. Keep doing the poses without apology and know that everyone in the room has done it or will someday. Better out than in as Shrek says!

You might fall asleep.

When you’re told to lie down in a dim room, and focus on relaxing your body and mind, it’s normal to doze off from time to time. If you do, your body clearly needs the rest. (During teacher training, I fell asleep—complete with light snoring—at the end of a yoga nidra class. Awkward, but I was exhausted.) If you fall asleep in my class, I take it as a compliment—you were able to relax and that's the point. If you fall asleep at the end of every class, your body is asking for more sleep. You could also try a different variation of savasana. Either way, know that if it happens, it's normal.

You might experience unexpected emotions.

I came to yoga thinking it was only a physical practice. Imagine my shock and embarrassment the first time I cried through a class for no obvious reason. Or when I left a class completely and unexpectedly angry when I had hoped to feel relaxed and at ease. Yoga can get stuck energy and emotions moving through your body again. Sometimes it can stir things up that you thought were long gone. This can be worrisome if you don't know what's going on. Notice the emotion and try not to hold it back. Stay with it as much as you can and let it move through you. Breathe deeply. I promise that the teacher will not think you're crazy and has had many similar moments during her journey with yoga.

What questions do you have?

I hope this blog has answered some of the yoga questions you've wanted to ask, but didn't think you could. If you have any other yoga experiences you've been wondering about, please let me know. I'd be happy to answer your questions, share my own embarrassing story, or find the answers you're looking for. The yoga journey is powerful, especially when we know we aren't alone.

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