5 Things Every New Yogi Needs to Know
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Urdhva Dhanurasana: Upward-Facing Bow
Urdhva dhanurasana (OORD-vah don-your-AHS-anna) is often mis-translated as full wheel pose (chakrasana). Upward facing bow pose is a deep backbend that can cultivate flexibility, strength, and patience. This posture is worth the effort with its long list of benefits, including an energy boost and thyroid and pituitary gland stimulation.
- Urdhva: upward
- Dhanu: bow
- Asana: pose
- Expands chest, lungs, shoulders.
- Stretches hip flexors, muscles of the abdomen, wrists.
- Strengthens glutes, hamstrings, lower back muscles.
- Promotes courage and compassion.
- Enlivens the chakras.
- Increases energy.
- Bridge pose | Setu bandha sarvangasana
- Reclined hero pose | Supta virasana
- Upward facing dog | Urdhva mukha svanasana
- One-legged upward facing bow | Eka pada urdhva dhanurasana
- Wheel pose | Chakrasana
- King dancer pose | Natarajasana
- Half lord of the fishes pose | Ardha matsyendrasana
- Head to knee pose | Janu sirsasana
- Reclined hand to foot pose | Supta padangusthasana
- Blocks on the wall: Place two blocks on the floor against a wall, about shoulder distance apart. Place your hands on the blocks as you move into urdhva dhanurasana to help elevate your upper body and better engage your shoulder blades.
- Strap: Use a strap around your upper arms to prevent the elbows from splaying as you press upward.
- Block: Place a block between your thighs to keep your lower body engaged.
- One-legged: Try out eka pada urdhva dhanurasana by lifting up one leg at a time.
- Lie on your your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor, like you’re moving toward bridge pose.
- Place your palms on the ground beside your ears, fingertips facing your shoulders.
- Press into your feet, especially the big toe ball mound.
- Exhale to lift your tailbone and hips off the floor. Squeeze your thighs toward each other so your knees point straight ahead.
- Press into your hands to bring the crown of your head to the ground. Pause here for a breath.
- Draw your shoulder blades down your back while keeping elbows in line with shoulders. Press into your feet and hands equally.
- Exhale to straighten your arms and lift your head off the floor.
- Squeeze your inner thighs toward each other and down toward your mat (internal rotation). Lengthen your tailbone toward the back of your knees.
- Drop your head all the way back if comfortable.
- Hold the pose for up to a minute with a steady, long breath. Lower down and rest, option to repeat.