5 Things Every New Yogi Needs to Know

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When I started practicing yoga several years ago, I must admit there was little thought to it. I was working shifts and yoga seems like the best activity to do after staying up all night at work. I’d tried running a few times and almost fainted. So I just chose the class in the gym nearest to 9am. Since those humble (and naive beginnings) I’ve become a bit more experienced, but I realize that when I started I had many misconceptions about yoga and what it was/was not.

Here are 5 things that I’ve learnt that I wish I’d known at the beginning of the journey.

  1. Go Slow

I think the biggest challenge for me was allowing the improvements to come slower. In running, you might take it up and six weeks later have lost all the weight, or improved your time by 20%. In yoga, the gains (seemingly) come slower. In reality, they probably come faster, but as it’s often difficult to gauge, it seems like it has taken you six months to get that one inch closer to your toes! I always tell friends interested in yoga not to expect miracles overnight. Along with the new surge of popularity in yoga and great results people get, some people expect too much, too soon. Be patient and it will come.

  1. Test, Test and Test

I tell new yogis to test different aspects of yoga before coming to a conclusion (like it’s not for them, or yoga is boring, or you don’t improve strength). We all come to activities with expectations and preconditioned beliefs about what we think is true, and this clouds our experience. I always suggest trying different styles of yoga, with different teachers—even if you really like the first one. This will give you perspective and a better platform to make a decision from. If you just go to one class and think, “Well that was too easy compared to what I’m used to”, then you are generalizing all yoga to that one experience. And this can have the power to affect whether you continue or not. Test teachers, styles, locations and formats. Then decide.

  1. The Mat is a Mirror for Life

What happens on the mat stays on the mat? Not really. How you perform on the mat is often a microcosm of your life. Are you scared to take a risk in that headstand? Are you concerned about what others think about your inability to do the splits? Do you constantly pick up on any errors you think the teacher is making? I once heard a speaker say, “How you do anything, is how you do everything.” And it’s often true. Are you always late and flustered for class? Do you think that it’s too easy for you and you have nothing to learn from it? Well, the mat is a mirror, so use it to get a better understanding of your own psyche.

  1. Find Out What You’re Sensitive To

It’s one of the seldom discussed aspects to yoga, but all that stretching, twisting and breathing can, well… release “tension” built up in the body, expelled through, well, you know where. And struggling to keep in a bit of flatulence is going to affect your practice. One thing I came to realize was just how what I ate affected my practice. So find out what might cause you to pass gas—typically it’s things like dairy, eggs, fried food, crisps/potato chips and many other products— for me it’s often almonds! Refrain from consuming anything that gets you going and you’ll be able to relax more.

  1. Make Mistakes, and Many of Them!

We heard it a lot as children. That it’s okay to make mistakes—as long as we learn from them. Well, somewhere in growing up we forgot that. But the thing is, in order to learn a new skill, we must make mistakes. The reason is that as we repeat certain activities, our neural connections in the brain get stronger. The more we do said activity or task, the more the connections strengthen. If you imagine the neural connections as copper wires that send information from one part of the brain to another, then the more you do something the stronger the signal becomes. However, a substance called myelin wraps around the ‘wire’ (like the insulating part of copper wires) and is important for keeping the signal in. And myelin grows and gets more insulating with deep practice. This is the kind of mindful practice where you make mistakes and then work to improve each time. So welcome the mistakes. Be conscious of where you go wrong and you will improve faster.



Finding the Right Yoga Class for Right Now: A Guide to Feeling Good Today

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As a yoga teacher, student, and all around believer of the power of yoga, I’ve invited my fair share of people to classes over the years. Regardless if the class is at a studio, in my living room, or outside at the park with kids playing nearby, there’s one thing I’ve come to expect: excuses. For so many people, there’s always some sort of reason to not practice yoga – sometimes to not even try it.

While I understand that time is short and each day is different, I’ve also practiced yoga long enough to know that no matter how you’re feeling, or how much (or little) time you have, yoga will always – always – make you feel better.

There’s no one perfect type of yoga. There’s also no one perfect type of yoga student. With a practice that has been around for centuries, it has come across enough people to learn how to adapt. In fact, if there’s one thing that yoga is – it’s flexible. Thankfully, you don’t have to be…or at least not physically. The only requirement for enjoying a yoga class is having an open mind and a flexible way of thinking, especially if you’re trying something new.

And, of course, you need to know how to find the right class.

Questions to Consider

For all of the woes technology brings, one of its biggest boons is the fact that you have access to literally everything you need exactly when you need it – including a great yoga class.

Like anything in life, in order to get the results you want, you have to know what you want. When you start looking for the right yoga class online, you have to start with an understanding of where you are right now and where you want to end up. Being really honest with this is the best way to learn how to fall in love with yoga. As I begin searching for the class I want to practice, I’ll ask myself a few questions to check in with where I am and what I need:

  • How much time do I have?
  • How much time can I make?
  • When is it the easiest to practice?
  • When do I need to practice the most?
  • How do I feel right now?
  • How do I want to feel when I finish?

Thankfully, the best online yoga studios and libraries have recognized the benefit of finding just the right class, which is why they have a variety of filters and categories that you can select for your search. A lot of days, I use these filters almost as I would a deck of tarot cards: Take a moment to shuffle and tap and then see what shows up.

A few scrolls later, I’m on my mat, in my class, enjoying something that feels like it was made just for me. (Note: It’s wonderful.)

What Feels Right for You?

When I’m helping a friend or student get started with their online practice, I usually point them in the direction of a selection of my favorite categories and let them know what they can expect from them. In time, these categories become like your favorite studio – there when you need them and with those special teachers you love dearly.

Morning Yoga

There’s rarely a better time to practice than first thing in the morning. Not only is this where time seems to be the most flexible (it’s just a matter of getting in the habit of waking up and getting up), but traditionally there are a lot of energetic and spiritual benefits that come from practicing with the rising sun. Case in point: the known-by-almost-everyone sun salutation. Morning yoga classes will greet you sweetly and then wake your body up from head to toe. Knowing that you’re just getting out of bed, teachers create classes that are gentle with the body, giving you time to warm up before getting your body moving. The intentions set in morning yoga classes help you create a container for your day, giving you the sense of balance and steadiness you need to move forward gracefully, confidently, and purposefully.

Energy

Yoga for energy style classes are another great way to start your day, but they aren’t just geared for mornings. I find energy classes particularly helpful for when you hit that mid-day wall. While some of these classes are the “regular” studio class length (60 minutes), there are several energy options that will be shorter, making them a great go-to practice for lunch breaks and bridging that gap between one part of your day to the next (i.e. from work to home, from home to school, from having the house to yourself to welcoming home family, etc.) Basically, when you think you could use a cappuccino, try reaching for one of these yoga classes.

Stress Relief

Who couldn’t benefit from a stress relief yoga class? Just the simple act of participating in daily life is stressful, especially when you add the constant inundation of technology. Stress relief classes are a great choice before you go to bed or after you finish a day of work (that includes the work stay-at-home parents do, too!) I have a few short stress relief classes saved to my library so that I can easily get to them the moment I start to feel my breath shortening, my shoulders creeping up towards my ears, and that all-too-familiar clenching that happens in my jaw when I’m feeling irritated.

Flexibility

While trying to “achieve” flexibility is never the goal, improving your body’s physical flexibility can help keep you comfortable and healthy – for decades. Yoga classes designed for flexibility will meet you where you are and help you find ways to lengthen the muscles in your body. Choosing a class for flexibility is a lot like choosing food that’s healthy – you can’t go wrong. If you know specifically that there’s an area in your body that’s tight, search for a class that’s geared to address that particular muscle or area. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel – especially if you return to a few of your favorite practices again and again.

Back Discomfort

Like stress, there are few people who haven’t experienced back pain in their life. And, for many people, back pain isn’t just a one-time occurrence, it’s chronic and frustrating. While some back pain is caused by an actual singular event, the majority of back discomfort is caused by years of tight muscles, stress, and bad posture. Yoga classes for back health will help relieve the discomfort you’re experiencing while also strengthening the muscles in your body necessary to help prevent some of the discomforts with time.

Instead of thinking about the class you “should” practice, get in the habit of finding the class you really need. Once you learn this lesson, a whole new world of yoga opens up for you – and it’s awesome.

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