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.
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.