If you are new to the world of yoga and are thinking about or have just started a new practice, here are three crucial things to keep in mind and on track.

Breath is Key

Many people approach yoga with the pose as their goal. This is not suprising given that the postures are the outward physical representation of a much deeper inner process which can’t be photographed. Poses, on the other hand, are frequently used to depict the practice of yoga. Extreme postures are celebrated in photography or found peppering the pages of instagram. But the pose, especially some idyllic pose of perfection, is secondary to something else…the breath.

If you move your way into a pose and forget to breath on the journey, let alone can’t breath when you get there, you’ve lost your yoga. I’m not referring to breath practices commonly found in kundalini yoga where the breath is intentionally held; I’m talking about every other time when the breath is meant to continually function in an integrated manner.

If you’re holding your breath, it’s a definite, clear signal that A) you’re distracted for any number of reasons, possibly because you’re learning something new B) you’re trying too hard and overexerting yourself and/or C) you’ve lost your connection to yourself and are not in your body. In any case, bring your attention back to your body, ease off the pose, restore comfort, reconnect to the breath, and then repeat as often as necessary until the breath can move freely and easily. And hey, it’s a practice. Even seasoned yogis need reminders.

I like to tell my students to be greedy for oxygen…that this is one time and place where greed is okay.

Emotional Release Can Come Out of Nowhere

This one can be really disconcerting for newbies. Our bodies hold onto tension and stress that we haven’t fully processed. As we move our bodies, in new ways and old, and breathe more fully, that tension and stress can finally find its release. Emotions can unexpectedly rise to the surface as we practice, making us feel tender and vulnerable, anxious or self-conscious. Whatever happens, let it flow! Tears are not all that rare in yoga classes. No one will be shocked or rush to your side to embarrass you. In fact, yoga class is a great safe place to let it out. And you’ll feel much better, too.

If something is too much for you, you can also stop and rest. You can leave the room, too. Do whatever is necessary to comfort yourself, have space and feel safe.

I often share my own story of the first time I ever practiced kundalini yoga. I was doing a movement in frog pose and just started bawling. It came as a complete and somewhat bewildering shock. I didn’t even know why I was crying. Something just got released. I felt great afterwards and fell into love with kundalini practices from that point on. This may have been the first such experience, but it wasn’t the last. It’s just something that happens sometimes.

What Feels Weird Now (or Good) May (Not) Feel Great Later

Our bodies are in constant flux. What we can do one day we may not be able to do the next. Likewise, what we couldn’t do today may actually come easily another day. This is so important to understand because otherwise, you may think you are losing ground when you’re actually just experiencing a natural ebb and flow.

There are things I could not do when I first started practicing yoga. For example, I remember the first time a teacher told me to spread my toes as I stood in Tadasana/Mountain Pose. I looked over at his bizarre feet, gaping space between each toe, and then at my own…no space. I kept trying to get my toes to move apart. Nothing. Not even a fraction! Today, I can spread my toes without much thought.

Then again, when I was much younger, doing Urdhva Dhanurasana/Wheel Pose was a piece of cake. These days, I have to do a lot of preparatory fascia work before I can attempt what is these days a somewhat deflated wheel! It’s essentail to honor your body where it is each and every day and enter into your practice as if for the very first time.

In fact, it’s okay not to do certain poses if you are feeling fragile or unsure about them on any given day. I’ve been in classes where I’ve quietly done a completely different posture than the one being taught because I felt a little weak or “off”.

Yoga is an amazing journey, but it can be unnecessarily difficult if one approaches it from the wrong angle, causing a myriad of problems or bad habits. Be smart from the start. Let your breath be your guide. Lean into the emotions and feelings if may stir up. And above all, honor and listen to that amazing, complex organism of yours. It’s the only real guru in the room!