• Gillian McGhee

Tips for Beginner Yogis



We’ve all been a beginner at one time or another – even Bendy Wendy was a beginner once! Yoga is an amazing way to look after your body and mind and has so many health benefits from stress reduction and lower blood pressure to stronger bones and more flexible muscles.


Your first time walking into a yoga class can seem intimidating at first, trying to understand the strange words or teaching cues and seeing other practitioners who already seem to know how to do everything, but soon you’ll be just as at home on your yoga mat as everyone else! In this blog, I share some tips for what to expect when you first walk into a yoga class.


Go Slow, Learn Fast

Years ago, when I was practicing a lot of martial arts, I was so eager to be able to do every single movement, block and hold perfectly first try. I would do all the movements super fast first time as if that magically made them look and feel perfect when, in reality, my technique was sloppy and I was probably on route to injuring my partner or myself! One my karate instructor was observing this method and he said this phrase to me:


“Go slow, learn fast.”

I’m going to say it again to let that sink in – go slow, learn fast. He explained to me that it was important to learn the foundations of good technique first and then build up the speed and strength. And, over a decade later, this mantra has still been my guide and mentor for many things in my life – including yoga! When we first walk into a yoga studio, we can see all sorts of advanced yogis doing all kinds of advanced versions of postures. While it can be extremely tempting to copy their movements, I invite you to adopt a “go slow, learn fast” mentality.


Take the time to really feel the posture before attempting to move deeper. Listen to the guidance that your teacher has to offer and take the modifications that they suggest. Not only will this help you progress your practice, but it will also help to keep you safe from injury too! Most often injuries in yoga happen because we dive deep too fast. So, take my advice – go slow, learn fast!


You’ll Focus on the Breath – Like a Lot!

Who ever knew that you could spend so much time focusing on the breath? Asked every yoga beginner ever. The breath is usually a function that we just do automatically, right? Well, this often isn’t the case in yoga! In a yoga class there is usually lots of physical movement and postures (sometimes called asanas) and meditation practice of some sort. However, a third element is also often included – breath work. This is sometimes referred to as pranayama practice and there are a variety of different types of breathing techniques to explore.


When we first start our yoga journey it can be very easy to get caught up with the movements, the teacher cues, the internal noise of “am I doing this right?”, that we forget the most important part of the practice – the breath. Usually, yoga is the first place where we’ll actively tune in our focus to the breath, a function that we have probably given little attention to before.


Our breath is an automatic function that we almost always take for granted – you’re probably reading this blog right now without giving it much thought at all, right? Our breath is literally our life force and while our body is clever enough to function without our mind having to actively cue ‘breath in’ now ‘breath out’ it’s good to give the breath a little bit of attention every now and then.


This is where yoga comes in. The practice of yoga through a combination of movement and deep breathing can help us journey towards a more relaxed state.


Don’t Skip the Hard Postures Just Because They Feel Hard

The postures we find most difficult to do are often the postures that we can learn the most from. When I first began my yoga journey, I would avoid doing postures that I found hard – namely forward folds or anything that involves my adductors! I would so easily become frustrated that I didn’t have that “perfect” posture or that it just felt plain hard to hold! But here’s the bare truth – if you don’t practice these tricky postures, you’ll never improve at them!


While your physical ability may develop slowly – or maybe even not at all, and that’s ok! – your mental attitude to these postures will change. For me, forward folds are still a daily challenge, especially first thing in the morning where I need to bend my knees deeply until my hamstrings are fully warmed up. But, here’s the thing, I now love doing forward folds! I enjoy the sensations they bring up in my body and mind and gradually, bit by tiny bit, I might see myself getting a little bit deeper. My forward folds definitely aren’t picture perfect but I will practice them every single day.


The postures that we find most difficult are the ones that help us grow as a yoga practitioner. They help to give us an ego check, to engage the breath more, to build up a sense of dedication during our practice. They make us completely present in our body. What’s more, practicing these postures will help to bring balance throughout your body so be sure to include some of the more challenging postures in your practice.


You’ll Hear a Lot of Yogic Terms and Bizarre Teaching Cues

Sorry, you want me to zip up my inner thighs? Shine my sit bones up to the ceiling? Kiss my toes to the floor? Have you ever gone to a yoga class, be it in person or online, and heard any of these seemingly bizarre phrases? Don’t worry you’re not alone! No matter the style of yoga or who your teacher is, odds are you’ll come across some yoga phrases that may not make sense at first.


The more you practice, the more you’ll have a deeper understanding of the subtle changes you can control in your body. Which means “lift and spread your toes!” will come more easily and naturally. Remember to ask your teacher if you’re unsure of anything they have said, they are there to help you get the most out of your practice, and most teachers enjoy any feedback that can help improve their classes too.


If approaching your teacher to ask them to explain some of the phrases seems a little too intimidating at first, don’t forget we live in the magical age of Google where any yoga questions can be answered by a few taps on your mobile!


All yoga traditions come from an extremely fascinating heritage, asking questions will not only help you gain a deeper understanding of your practice, it will also help you to uncover yogic history.


Don’t Forget the Enjoyment of Being a Beginner!

I think there is something wonderful about being a beginner at anything! There is so much to learn, explore and be curious about. Never, ever be embarrassed of being a beginner or not knowing how to do something – remember we have ALL been a beginner at something at one time or another!


So, next time you have a glance over at Bendy Wendy throwing some incredible shapes in the corner, remember that she has probably been practising for years and that even she was once a beginner too! Here is your opportunity to ask for help and tips from more experienced practitioners, and your teacher too of course!


If you’re ready to start your yoga journey, check out some of my Flex & Flow Yoga classes! My yoga classes are welcome to all – no matter your level of experience.

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