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