As a certified yoga instructor, I am often asked by newbies (people starting yoga for the first time) what they need to be, do or have in order to begin practicing yoga. "Do I have to be able touch bend over and touch my toes?" "Do you have to be flexible?" "Will I be able to keep up with the more advanced yoga students?" I especially get this question from men.
My answer is the same: The #1 most important thing that a person new to yoga absolutely MUST HAVE... is an open mind.
That's it. You don't have to be able to bend over and touch your toes, put your foot behind your head, stand on your head, none of that. Aside from the usual props (straps, blocks, blankets, etc.), which are usually provided by a yoga studio, the only "tool" required to start one's yoga journey is an open mind and a willingness to learn and be coachable. (And, no, you don't have to keep up with anybody in class; you go at your own pace.)
I was pleased to have such a newbie in my class last evening. "Jim" (not his real name) is an entrepreneur who takes care of himself. He jogs, lift weights, and has a fairly active lifestyle. However, he's always wanted to try yoga, and mine was his very first yoga class.
Since he was the only student who showed up at the apartment complex where I teach (Last week I had seven students!), I was able to give Jim some extra one-on-one attention. In doing so, I discovered that Jim really needed to learn how to align his body properly in order to get the full benefits of the practice. As a result, I spent the majority of the class just breaking down Sun Salutation A with him, and focusing on the proper way to transition through Chaturanga Dandasana.
In particular, I spent time showing him to to achieve half-way life (Ardha Uttanasana): palms on shins or thighs, slight bend in the knees, hugging the belly in and up, squeezing the shoulder blades together, extending the crown of the head forward and the tailbone back, achieving his best version of a "flat back." Also, I worked with Jim on properly aligning his body in high plank (Dandasana), modifying by placing his knees down on the mat, spreading the fingers out wide, hugging everything in through his center line; then, we went through the proper way to lower into Chaturanga Dandasana (i.e. hugging his elbows in, lowering to a 90% bend in arms, etc.).
Then, once I felt that we had gone through enough of the basics, I ended the class with a five-minute meditation.
Once our class was over, Jim told me that he enjoyed it so much, that not only was he planning to returning next week, but he plans to bring three of his (guy) friends as well.
I didn't want to push Jim too hard or overwhelm him with a sequence of postures, cues and transitions that I knew he was not yet ready for. I met him where he was. He didn't need to be able to bend over and touch his toes, put his foot behind his head, or keep up with anybody else in the class (He was the only student in this case). He came to class with the #1 thing that he needed to have the positive experience that he did: an open mind. That he promised to bring his friends to next week's class let me know that I had achieved my goal.