When Do You Stop Being a Yoga Newbie?

Beginning yoga class
Photo by Funky Buddha

When do you stop being a yoga newbie?

You’ve being practicing yoga regularly for six months or more, and want to know when you can join the “big kids” in the intermediate class. So how do you know when you’re ready?

To answer this question, we’ll have to consider two different issues at play:

The first one regards basic yoga logistics. Hopefully, your beginner class has taught you the standard standing, sitting, twisting and inversion poses, giving you the building blocks of alignment and breathing (pranayama) you’ll take into other classes. During that time you’ve probably started to remember some of the Sanskrit names for more common poses, and no longer panic when your instructor tells you to prepare for Utthita Parsvakonasna (Extended Side Angle Pose). Perhaps your super tight hamstrings aren’t screaming as loudly as they did the first time you tried Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold), and you can actually feel—and see—your body’s newfound flexibility.

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After several months of yoga, your practice should have increased your awareness of your body. Being more in-tune with your own strength and limitations is key for venturing into more challenging classes. Trust yourself to know when the time is right to move into more difficult poses, and a more challenging and vigorous practice.

If the above applies to you but you’re still feeling skeptical, ask your yoga instructor whether he or she feels you’re ready for the more difficult poses you’d find in an intermediate class like arm balances and deeper twists. You could even ask the intermediate instructor to observe a class before participating to get a better feel for the poses and pacing of the class.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Now comes the more essential question: Why do you want to go into that intermediate class? If it’s because the students in the other class look stronger or impressive and you want to strut your stuff too, then you may need to examine the basis of your practice. But if you’re intrigued by the challenge and feel genuinely ready to expand your physical and mental capabilities—if you’re truly looking to deepen your practice—it might just be time to take the leap.

Indeed, yoga teaches us to find that place where you simultaneously challenge your limits and respect where you are in a pose.

I’ve been practicing yoga for more than 20 years and I still feel like a newbie. I remember one yoga instructor saying that each time you step on the mat you bring a different body. I’ve carried that advice with me a long time. As I age, my body has changed and I’m simply not able to do some poses at the same level as I once did. But has my practice grown? You betcha.

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After all these years, I have learned that I also bring different levels of mental energy to each practice, and on any given day am more or less able to fully engage my mind in the subtleties of my body in a particular pose. Learning to quiet the mind and be receptive, to stay present, is as hard as any advanced asana.

So my advice? Try a different class or deepen your practice in the way that makes sense for you. But don’t judge yourself or others by their class level. And if you get hooked on those intermediate classes, stop in at the beginner class occasionally, as I do, and be a newbie again. Remember what it was like the first time you stepped on the mat. Yoga is an endless journey, and sometimes, to keep going, we just have to reset and start over again.

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