I want to walk you through my yoga how-to guide, based on my own experience with yoga. This is going to be a post from a guy who is in his mid-40’s and took up yoga later in life. I started my yoga journey to help with my back problems, so I have that going for me too :). So, here I am a middle-aged guy with back problems starting to practice yoga. Anybody with me?
So, this is my introduction to getting started, sharing the things I have learned along the way. I have become a huge advocate for yoga and I want to encourage other guys my age and even older to take up the practice (women too). Check out my post about the benefits of yoga for beginners.
Now for starters, I am talking about the physical yoga, which is more focused on fitness in many classes that are offered. If you are looking for more spiritual, that may be more difficult to find.
Go to a class or do it a home?
Ideally learning yoga techniques form a qualified instructor is a great way to go. This would usually mean going to a gym, or yoga studio. My experience has been in a gym (transitioning to home, more on that later). The problem is many classes offer little or no instruction. I have witnessed this first hand. I have spoken to instructors before or after class to get pointers, because they do not always have the time for each person individually, at least not so much in a corporate setting. I do believe it is important to learn poses and alignment, so you do not hurt yourself. Teachers can be a bit apprehensive to correct people also because they can get sidetracked helping people, or even embarrass them.
Honestly, you may be better off with a video, as you can learn from an excellent instructor, teaching a carefully thought out session and not just whoever happens to be teaching during that class time. Not all classes or teachers are created equal.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you, but you may want to try a class, even though it can be intimidating. Try it see if you like it. I have been doing yoga at home, with youtube videos, just for efficiency sake. It saves me the commute to the gym. Classes are only offered certain times, and the ones I can attend are not convenient after work.
So rather than fighting more traffic to get to the gym after work to “relax” with my yoga practice, I have started at home. That said I do have at least some idea how to perform some poses. I am still new to this, so I have a lot to learn.
Do I need to be flexible?
No, that is part of the reason why a lot of people, myself included, start practicing yoga. One of the reasons I practice is to improve my flexibility. Years of back problems have left me very tight, so I am trying to undo years of tight muscles. Especially on my right side, since that is where I have been dealing with sciatica for many years. I am finally to the point where twisting my body is an okay thing to do, so I am really enjoying the challenge that is ahead of me.
What kind of equipment do I need?
I would definitely recommend using a yoga mat and some blocks for starters. That may sound a little strange, I recommend using a yoga mat. The reason I say that, is if you are starting out, hard floors, are, well hard. Some people practice without a mat, and I have tried, but I will not be going that route. My butt and ankles tell me I need a mat. Carpet offers different challenges, so if you have a hard surface and a mat, that is a good place to start.
As far as mats go, we have tried many and wrote a post covering the best yoga mats. These are some good references to help you get started. When I started, I would use the mats at my gym. They actually have some nice Manduka mats at my gym. The problem was, I would see other people using them (and sweating on them) and that kind of made me want to get my own mat.
So, check out those other posts for information on purchasing your own mat. If you are going to start at a gym and you are a beginner, I would recommend just using the mats they have available until you choose to commit. That way you are not out the money if you decide this is not for you.
The thing I like about the yoga sets that I am calling “beginner” sets is that most of them come with a mat, blocks, a yoga strap, etc. Therefore, they pretty well set you up with what you need, so that is a great place to start. As you advance in your yoga practice, you may decide these mats may not offer you enough cushion or might be too thick for you. If that is the case when you might want to invest more in a higher quality mat itself, rather than a kit, but the kits are a great way to start.
In my eyes, yoga blocks are a necessity
They are awesome for helping you out, especially for those poses where you are not quite there yet. I have used the blocks for many poses, and the more I progress, I use them less for the basic stuff. They are kind of a bridge to help you with poses that are basic but difficult if you have not done much yoga. More advanced folks will use them to increase the intensity of their practice, but I am not at that point yet. So I use them to help me out when I need some extra support.
I have not used a yoga strap at this point, so I cannot comment on that. The thing I do know is you can get a deeper stretch with the strap, so if you need to go that route, those are usually available in the yoga set, or as a stand-alone item.
If you sweat a lot and depending on the type of yoga you are practicing you may want to consider a yoga towel. This can help absorb sweat and keep you from sliding around. I always sweat a lot when I take a class at the gym. Then I realized that even though it was not a hot yoga class, the instructor kept the room pretty warm. I have to use a towel in that case, because even with a good mat, I was sliding quite a bit. So a yoga towel might be a good investment for you.
What to wear
Dress comfortably. I wear the same clothes I would when I work out. Some sort of compression shorts under my regular work out shorts and a long sleeve shirt or t-shirt. Typically, I would wear long sleeve shirt to help wipe away the sweat when I was taking a class at my gym. When I practice at home, its short sleeves. The compression shorts are for my own self-consciousness. When poses require my legs to be in the air, I do not want my ultra-white upper thighs to be visible to everyone. Well, maybe I need to invest in a pair of yoga pants…NOT HAPPENING. Wear whatever makes you comfortable.
Some people wear yoga socks, I just go barefoot, I think most people do that. Some guys take off their shirt during classes at the gym, I am not one of those guys.
What type of yoga?
There are many different styles of yoga, too broad for this discussion. You have hot yoga, restorative, flow, just to name a few. I have tried both restorative and flow classes at my gym. I feel like many of the classes offered are designed around fitness.
My gym, for instance, offers these three styles and I was not sure what I needed, so I asked. I spoke with the instructor of one of the classes beforehand, told her my history and she was able to point me in the right direction. That is how I started on a restorative and a flow class. It might be different for you.
Do not be afraid
I am writing this as a man in my mid-40’s. I had never done yoga previously and it can be very intimidating. See, I tend to be very competitive and I want to do well at whatever I am doing, especially things that are physical in nature. When I started, I kind of thought of yoga as a sport and I wanted to be “good” at it. Well, I have since learned “good” is very subjective.
What I have learned is that you are not competing against other people, you are each an individual, collectively trying to advance in your practice. It does not matter what the person next to you is doing, he or she may be twisted and contorted in ways you didn’t know the body could twist and contort, while you are doing a very basic pose.
My primary goal with yoga has been to improve my flexibility, balance and core strength. These are three areas, which have been a struggle for me since dealing with back problems. I am definitely making improvements in each of these areas because of yoga.
Yes, most of the people in the class are female; at least that has been my experience. Yes, it is intimidating for me to walk into this type of environment, go back to my competitive nature. However, you just need to check the ego at the door and give it a shot. Again, this is not a competition, it’s about bettering you.
What I am currently doing
I have recently been working on a 30-day yoga challenge and it’s been great. Once I am done with that, I plan to do more yoga online and practice about three days per week. I prefer longer sessions, and some of the sessions on the 30-day challenge have short. I think the sweet spot for me will be about 45 minutes three times per week. Now I just have to make the time to do that. I may occasionally take in a class at my gym as well. I just need to find the right fit for me.
At times, I am definitely sore afterward, or the next day, depending on what area I worked. For instance, one day was mostly abs, bicycle crunches, and stuff like that. It was a great workout and I had to take a break. I consider myself in pretty good shape and it was really hard.
After a yoga session, there are times when, I will not say it is painful, but I definitely know I worked some of my more sensitive areas. 99% of the time when I wake up the next morning, the hurts are gone and I know that I can push myself more.
So that is my take on getting started with yoga. I really hope you found this post helpful. I think so many people can benefit from practicing yoga and it is just a matter of getting started. It can be intimidating, but don’t let it be.
Let’s get other people engaged in the conversation about yoga. Please leave a comment below or send me an email if you have any questions or anything to add.
What do you think, do you prefer yoga at home, or in a studio or classroom setting?