A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga
The true journey into yoga begins with a desire to live a more peaceful life. Even though the average beginner yoga student may be totally unaware of that yearning, the thing that keeps every student of yoga coming back to their mats is the inner connection between breath, body, mind and spirit.
Yoga is a door to a state of harmony that would otherwise get lost amidst the buzzing of emails, video chats, text messages and another level on Angry Birds. This evolution into a full-fledged spiritual discipline often starts with a much more humble beginning.
Why People Return to Yoga Again and Again
Some people start yoga to get the thin, flexible yoga body, others to follow an attractive significant other into a hot steamy room with little clothing, and still others in pursuit of health or healing from injury and disease. There are also a few people who initially turn to yoga as an answer to the chaos and confusion of life and understand it viscerally to be a spiritual path. While all students of yoga do not start for the same reasons they stay with the practice for the same essential reason.
The thing that keeps students of yoga committed to what is sometimes an arduous path is the success of yoga as a spiritual discipline that leads the way into happiness, bliss and contentment. One important factor in a student’s journey into this inner realm is the guidance they receive during their first year. Like a child’s heart, a beginner’s mind is open, innocent and willing to trust, love and learn. It is the teacher’s responsibility to teach with integrity, wisdom, humility and compassion. This tender stage of a yoga student’s journey will often determine whether the student will treat yoga as a true spiritual path or just another physical activity to be thrown out when a new fitness trend comes through.
Crucial Points for a Beginner Yogi
The Goal of Asana Practice
If you are a beginner within your first year of yoga practice there are some crucial points to understand. The goal of yoga practice is to bring your mind into a deeper state of connection so that you can perceive the truth more clearly. This inner practice is actually more relevant than the attainment of the physical postures. If you set your mind to go deep within the adventure of the dark regions of your own consciousness will draw you further along the path then you ever imagined possible.
Trust in your own power to light the way and ask for help whenever you feel lost.
Relax Into the Process
Many new students get very inspired by the far reaching potential of the complete spiritual path of yoga and end up setting very high expectations for their personal practice. But this enthusiasm can sometimes lead to a totally avoidable low in the practice. Rather than starting off with an all-or-nothing attitude that demands a full transformation into a yogic lifestyle within a matter of months, it is better to relax into the process over a longer period of time.
Other students have a hard time accepting that they are yoga practitioners. These students often avoid buying their own yoga mat, dedicated yoga clothes or membership to a yoga center. At some moment being a student of yoga is a conscious choice that must be embraced within the heart of the student if the practice is to be truly effective. Yoga is a lifestyle more than an activity that can be compartmentalized into one area of your life. Instead of attempting to take on all the accouterments of the practice as a beginner, it is best advised to ease more slowly into the lifestyle changes as your inner awareness changes to suit these new behaviors.
How Often to Unroll Your Mat
If you are totally new to working your body you will certainly be sore for the majority of your first year of practice. Learn to enjoy it. A good goal to set when starting off with the physical practice of yoga is to unroll your yoga mat at least three (but up to six) times a week for at least the Sun Salutation A. This will give you a small, attainable goal that you can integrate into your life quite easily.
In fact, if you practice the traditional Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga method as a total beginner, your first practice will consist of the Sun Salutations for the first weeks and be perhaps only twenty minutes long each session. This small segment of practice can fit rather effortlessly even into the busiest schedule. With the interest in yoga growing, one thing that often hampers an inspired student’s ability to progress is the proximity to a qualified teacher. More students are practicing at home with online yoga classes, YouTube tutorials, books, DVDs and other resources. While this is certainly better than not practicing at all, self-study ideally paves the way for a meeting with a true teacher who will provide the concrete direction needed to move confidently along the inner path of yoga.
Find a Good Yoga Teacher
Once you have been practicing yoga for a few years it is easy to forget what it was like to be a total beginner. A seasoned practitioner can reignite the flames of inspiration by remembering their first yoga class and relishing the beauty and wonder of those first months of practice. There is so much that is taken for granted in the mind of even a modestly regular yoga student that can be consciously cultivated on a daily basis. I still remember the magic of my meeting with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in the small south Indian city of Mysore. It changed my life forever and it inspires me every day that I practice the Ashtanga Yoga method. One year of practice, even a decade of practice just scratches the surface. A whole lifetime of sincere practice of not just the physical postures, but also the inner spiritual work, reveals the depth and scope of the power of yoga.
3 Ways to Cultivate and Keep a Home Yoga Practice
Starting a home practice can be a daunting task. When I talk to students about starting a home practice, the same topics keep coming up: They don’t have the space or the time, they’ve tried but can’t stick with it or when they try, they don’t end up doing the type of practice they would like to. A home practice can teach you to follow your intuition and how to listen to your body. It will teach you to make time for yourself and it will allow you to reap the benefits daily practice can bring.
Below are my top three tips for starting and keeping, a home practice:
1. Keep a journal, calendar, or both.
Why? It keeps you accountable. By writing on your calendar that you are practicing that night, you’ll motivate yourself to practice so as to avoid staring at your missed commitment the following day. A missed practice can be a big kick in the pants.
I keep my journal on a shelf in my home practice space. When I was working on incorporating consistent practice into my life, having the journal there always got me to go to my practice area, even if I had told myself I didn’t have time, or was too tired to practice. No matter what, I could always convince myself that I had time to jot down what I was feeling in my journal. After a few instances of writing but not practicing, it started to feel ridiculous to be there and not practice. One new habit fed the other.
I have both a calendar and a health journal. I check my practice off on my calendar when I’ve completed it, and I write in the journal even if I don’t do a practice. Both keep me accountable and motivated.
2. Release your expectations. All of them.
Don’t worry about having the “perfect” space to practice. Don’t worry about how much time you were able to spend on your practice on any given day, and definitely don’t worry about the kind of practice you decide to do. Find a spot that’s big enough to roll out your mat and start there. If it helps, you can set up a special space where you can keep your yoga stuff. Try setting up an alter, but don’t let an imagined need for such a space keep you from starting your practice today. All you need is one space that is big enough to lay out a yoga mat. Period.
One of the issues I faced when I was starting my home practice was making the time. It seemed like a rare occasion when I had enough time to do what I would consider to be a practice; however, once I got serious about starting a home practice, this was one of the first beliefs that I had to let go off. Some nights I come to the mat exhausted and my practice is savasana, and only savasana. Whether you practice one pose or fifty, it doesn’t matter. I don’t judge and I don’t talk down to myself as though it wasn’t enough. I don’t wish I’d done “more.” I come to the mat with the time I have and I do what works for me on that day.
This goes for the type of practice too. When I started my home practice, I had this idea in my head that my mornings would be set aside for restorative and that I would rock a vinyasa flow in the evenings. I soon learned that I had to let go of what I thought I should be doing and just do what my body told me to do. If that meant doing restorative, I did restorative. If I felt energized, I did a flow. The same rules as above apply.
Don’t judge it, and don’t think it doesn’t count just because it didn’t meet an expectation you had set out for yourself. If you do, you’ll risk getting caught up in the downward spiral of feeling like you aren’t “really” doing a home practice, and once you’re there, it’s very easy to continue with those thoughts and eventually decide that your excuses and downfalls are more powerful than your wish to practice at home. This is where a lot of us end up. Don’t give up on yourself. Persevere through these thoughts.