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8 Things No One Tells You About Doing Yoga

06/06/2015 10:18 am ET | Updated Jun 06, 2016

The essential lessons every yogi should learn.
By Alison Feller, SELF

I have always been a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie. I was a competitive dancer through college, and once I got hooked on running and Spinning I was all cardio, all the time. But yoga? Never.

Then one night, just a few years ago, I was running late and missed my Spin class. I was already at the gym and the only other class left on the schedule was yoga. Ditching my sneakers for the mat, I ventured in and set up in the back of class, fully prepared to be beyond bored for the next hour.

But the exact opposite happened: I didn't expect to leave the studio so excited; I was already yearning to take another class. Turns out, yoga isn't all OM-ing and chanting. Actually, it wasn't at all what I thought it would be like. I've now been practicing yoga regularly for almost two years, and while I continue to discover more about myself (and my practice) with each class, these are the things I wish had known before spending more time on the mat.

1. It's called a "practice" for a reason.
I always thought it was weird that people referred to yoga as their "practice." It sounded so pretentious. But it makes complete sense. There's no end game in yoga; no big "race day," nothing specific you're training for. It's a constant work in progress, and you can almost always take a pose further or make it more challenging. (I also learned that calling it a "practice" alleviated a lot of stress or pressure during each class or pose. Didn't stick Crow today? Maybe next time!)

2. It's not just about stretching and being flexible.
Getting bendy is certainly one of the benefits of adapting a regular yoga practice, but a common misconception is that you have to be flexible just to show up, or to practice at all. Lies! You don't have to be anything to do yoga (except willing and open-minded). When I try to get my runner friends to join me for yoga, they always say, "I can't even touch my toes." Great! So come to yoga -- it will help you get there.

3. Using a block, strap or other prop doesn't make you a D-list yogi.
For the entire first year I did yoga, I would never modify my poses. I always wanted to do the "advanced" moves. To show that I didn't need any of that stuff. But then I eventually realized that using props -- like putting your bottom hand on a block instead of straining to reach the floor during Triangle Pose or Half Moon -- could help deepen the pose. And it feels way better, especially on those days when everything just feels extra tight.

4. You can take breaks whenever you need to or want to.
In most yoga classes, you'll be moving, flowing or in a pose from start to finish. Don't wait for the teacher to tell you to drink water or come into Child's Pose. Just try not to conveniently take Child's Pose or a sip of water every time Wheel Pose rolls around. It's not so bad. (OK, maybe it is. Whatever.)

5. Doing a handstand as an adult is not, in fact, impossible or just for yogis on Instagram.
But being willing to fall down is a huge part of yoga. It means you really went for something -- something daring and maybe outside of your comfort zone. Yoga is as much mental as it is physical, and there's a constant element of play. I was always terrified to kick up into handstand because I would consider all of the potential bad things that could happen ranging from disrupting class to actually hurting myself. I never considered the possibility that I could press up into the pose and actually stay there. Once I shifted my vision -- and gave myself permission to fall, wiggle and shake -- my entire practice shifted with it. Falling out of a pose in yoga, is not failing. It's learning.

6. The benefits extend beyond the mat.
For years, my fiancé has encouraged me to stop freaking out over things I can't control. But it wasn't until my yoga teacher preached the same words (sorry, honey) that I finally took them to heart. Yoga has taught me to be more kind and patient, and to accept the world the way it shows up for me. Sometimes you have a bad run, a bad race, a bad yoga practice--that's life. And that's OK. Instead of wasting energy on things I can't change or redo, I've learned to redirect my focus toward what's possible.

7. It's NOT easy.
There are many styles of yoga available, and while some are intended to be restorative, none of them are "just sit and breathe and feel the Earth." If a pose feels easy, ask for a modification to make it more challenging. I have yet to take a yoga class where I sit with my legs crossed and watch Saved By the Bell reruns. (Actually wait, does that exist?) There are high planks, low planks, deep lunges, backbends and tricky inversions. So the next time you think about bypassing your local studio because you're "in the mood for a hard workout," I challenge you to go inside. Guarantee you can't do everything. Again, TOTALLY OK.

8. You just might fall in love with it.
Yoga is an amazing workout that will help boost your performance, mood and health. It's great as cross training and is amazing at clearing your mind. But, you might also fall out of love with yoga at times as well. That's cool, too. As I've learned, yoga is a growing, moving, changing practice.

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