Beginners - FAQ

Do I have to be flexible to do yoga?

To say you have to be flexible before you start yoga is like saying you have to graduate before you start school.

In other words, doing it is what gets you there.

In fact starting out stiff is a good thing; forcing you to slow down, understand the pose, and use the breath.

As yoga master Richard Freeman puts it, "Blessed be the stiff, for they shall breathe into it."

So, embrace your stiffness – show it off – you're a yoga master in training.

Image: Courtesy of Julee Yew Crijns
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Isn't yoga just for people who want to take it slow?

Sure there's yoga that's slow and gentle, but there's also plenty for those who want to sweat, and for those who want something in between the two.

Use our StyleMatch to find the style that's right for you.

Image: Khristine Jones by Faern
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What should I wear to class?

Crushing this season's LuluLemon is not what yoga’s about.

Yoga is a ‘matocracy,’ a Peoples’ Republic of Yoga in which we’re all equal.

We leave our attachment to designers outside the studio door.

We walk with bare feet, we have mats of the same size, and we breathe.

It's that simple.

So, wear whatever makes you feel comfortable, enables you to move easily and doesn't reveal more than you intend. E.g. A vest top and leggings or a t-shirt and shorts.

Image: Courtesy of Julee Yew-Crijns
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Can I eat before a class?

Twisting and eating?

My friend, it gets ugly.

Step away from the pastries a full two hours before mat-down.

Step up your blood sugar with fruit, seeds, or juice.

Chow-down après yoga.

Image: Courtesy of Mark Ruthven
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Do you have to be a veggie to practice yoga?

Yoga's roots are as veggie as tofu.

Patanjali, author of The Yoga Sutras, was a Brahmin, the highest caste of Hindu. He advocated (amongst other things) the practice of ahimsa (compassion for all living things) and saucha (purity).

Plus, some yogis say veggie-ness makes their practice lighter – making it easier to zip-lock bandhas, jump back, open chakras...

But hey, fair newbie, one step at a time.

If your practice develops and you want to make some lifestyle changes there's lots of whole-life yoga styles to choose from.

For now, don't sweat it. The tofu can wait.

Image: Huzur Vadisi by
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I can't help but compete with the person on the next mat. Is this normal?

A green third eye? Congratulations, you're human.

If, after many years of practice, you still want to win gold, we recommend you to the New York Regional and National Yoga Asana Championship.

Meanwhile smile (it carries an extra ten championship points) and practice contentment with where you're at, knowing that this state of 'santosha' is one of Patanjali's niyamas, and the name of a great café where all the Ashtanga students in Mysore hang out.

See, you're an old hand already.

Image: Melissa Capezuto by Faern
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What's all the fuss about yoga teachers? Can't I teach myself?

You could, but even the greatest masters of all time had a guru – someone to lead them from 'gu' – darkness into 'ru' – light.

Don't get lost in 'gu.'

Use us to find the teacher that's right for you.

Image: Deanna Brolly by Faern
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Yoga's a girl thing, right?

Traditionally, when yoga was the preserve of Brahmins, it was taught man to boy, or man to man.

It all changed when Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (born 1888), a great reformer and the granddaddy of modern day yoga, agreed to teach Indra Devi. 'The first lady of yoga' taught in China and the Soviet Union before opening her Hollywood studio in 1947. Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Arden and Marilyn Monroe went to her classes and the rest, as they say, is a ratio. A 70:30 ratio to be exact.

Yep, the girls are back in town. But hey guys – come on in – the water's lovely.

Image: Courtesy of Robert Sturman
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Am I too old to start yoga?

It might feel like a long way to the floor but that's the point – to help you get there.

Besides stretching and strengthening muscles, yoga will also help you fight flab, improve joint flexibility and circulation, reduce blood pressure, even help you detox.

Search for Seniors yoga in our Style Finder

Image: Marina Luna by Faern
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I'm told to empty my mind, to focus on the breath, but my mind keeps on whirring

Welcome to the human race; we're all a heaving mass of mental machinations, known in yoga circles as chitta vritti.

Is the person on the next mat single? Is there milk in the fridge? Do I ask the boss for a raise? Did I leave the iron on?

These are the thoughts that stand in the way of cosmic bliss.

The secret? Don't try to empty the mind of all thought. Simply observe each thought, let it go and return to the breath.

Let's try it:

Did I leave the iron on?

Observe the thought. Let it go. Return to the breath.

Do I ask the boss for a raise?

Observe the thought. Let it go. Return to the breath.

Repeat as necessary.

Image: Melissa Capezuto by Faern
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My teacher says 'namaste' at the end of class. What the heck does it mean?

The Sanskrit origins of the word are 'Namah' meaning a 'bow', and 'te' meaning 'you.' Put them together and this is a salutation literally meaning 'I bow to you.'

In yoga world the word is often more romantically explained as 'the spirit in me honours the spirit in you', or 'the light in me honours the light in you.'

Hands in prayer position at the heart and a small bow will do the rest.

Try it now – makes you feel rather yogic, doesn't it?

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What is 'Om' and why do we chant it?

'Om' is described in the Upanishads (an ancient Hindu text) as the essence of Brahman – the state of the highest reality, in which we exist only as awareness, at peace with ourselves, with all beings, and with the universe, in eternal bliss.

Say what? Eternal bliss? We're in.

If eternal bliss is a stretch for you, think of it like this: chanting 'Om' at the beginning and end of class defines it as a time of reflection and peace, a time to recalibrate, to check in with yourself, away from the madness.

Image courtesy of Julee Yew Crijns
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How do I find the style that's right for me?

That one's easy.

Use our StyleMatch to find the style that's right for you.

Image: Courtesy of Julee Yew Crijns
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How does yoga work?

By taking some time out on the mat we are doing more than just stretching- the magic combination of physical postures (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), and relaxation is clinically proven to change our default position from flight/fight (panic) to rest/digest (calm) by strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system.

Because stress is basically the cause of all our problems, and has even been shown to be a root cause of disease, yoga’s role in stress reduction makes it an irreplaceable tool for modern life.

Sally Salmon teaching at Latitude Festival
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What if I’m injured or have an ailment?

Fear not, yoga isn’t like other sports where you have to ‘sit it out’.

Yoga teachers are trained to adapt postures for injuries/ailments, under the principle that yoga is for everyone.

However, if you have a particular illness or ailment such as fibromyalgia , high blood pressure or even insomnia, see YogaMeds for details on how yoga can help you, whatever is troubling you.

Santillan Yoga Retreat, Malaga, Spain
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What if I’m pregnant?


There is no better time to use yoga as you prepare your mind and body for one of the largest challenges you are likely to face!

A teacher with specific pregnancy training will combine physical exercises to prepare the body for labour with plenty of relaxation to reduce some of the inevitable anxiety of giving birth!

Image courtesy of YogaMama Pregnancy Yoga Training
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What if I don’t have a yoga body?

Don’t let Instagram fool you into thinking that you have to look like you just walked off the set of a health food commercial to do yoga.

One of the key principles of yoga is the art of non-judgment, both of yourself and others.

Yoga is not about how you look, it’s about doing what feels good, in the body you have now.

Image courtesy of Curvy Yoga
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