There are also plenty of people whose first (or second) introduction to yoga transforms their lives. This is the experience that I want for everyone, especially for those who come to my classes. Yoga should not be scary. Nor should it be elite. Yoga is truly for every body. And it really is magical.
But not everyone can get to a class and finding the right class isn’t always easy (and sometimes we don’t even know what we’re looking for!). This is one of the reasons why I am sharing some introductions to yoga here and on my YouTube channel. These videos offer a standing warm-up series, a lying warm-up or cool-down series, and a seated stretch series. These videos can be used individually or linked together. They can also be broken into the pieces that work best for you. However you use these videos, there are a few important things to keep in mind for safety and effectiveness. This blog offers a few important things to know about yoga in order to get the most out of your practice.
For me, and for many others, yoga has been transformational, personally and professionally. I hope to bring this powerful form of breath and movement to as many people as I can. I teach three classes a week and reach a lot of people there. I have been asked by many people to provide some introduction to yoga and these videos are my attempt to reach beyond my studio and classroom. Even for experienced yogis, these basics are important to remember.
The advice below is meant specifically to introduce my video instruction; however, these ideas are even more important if you want to go try a yoga class or a yoga DVD or video. The more you know about these basics, the more you will get from the yoga you do.
First, a few myths to dispel. There are a lot of different kinds of yoga and a lot of different variations on those kinds. Yoga is not “just stretching” and it is not a “religion.” Yoga is a mind/body form of exercise in some spaces and a system of philosophies in others. Yoga is something that anyone and everyone—all sizes, ages, and levels of ability—can do. Yoga is about how you feel, not about how you look. You should choose the yoga that you like, try the yoga that might be a bit out of your comfort zone, and leave the yoga that does not appeal to you. Yoga can be weird and scary when it is unfamiliar, but it can also be a positive force when we commit to a regular practice.
Now, before we begin a physical practice:
Yoga—and any other form of physical fitness activity—requires the advice that you should consult with your physician before trying yoga. This is good advice, but what I offer here also mitigates the need for such permission. If one is truly practicing yoga, the risks are quite minimal. In other words, if you follow these principles (below), this practice is safe for most people.
Conscious breathing is the simplest form of yoga. There are several different breathing techniques taught in yoga. The simplest form is just to breathe in through the nose… and out through the nose. We try to take full, deep breaths that last about the same amount of time on the way in as they do on the way out. We might think about expanding the lungs, the ribcage, and the belly as we inhale and emptying the belly, ribcage, and lungs with the exhale (also known as a three-part breath). Breathing in this way, and being aware of this breath, is doing yoga.
Listen to your body. If something hurts, don’t do it. While this is always good advice, it is especially important in yoga practice. In some classes instructors do not offer a variety of levels and variations and people who are new to class (as well as people who attend regularly) often feel that they have to do exactly what the instructor or the other participants are doing. If you can’t do something, and especially if it hurts, you should not do it and a good instructor should be able to give you an option or variation. But it is important to know the difference between discomfort and pain. Discomfort helps us push past plateaus; pain causes us injury and mental and physical harm. Each time you do yoga it is your breath, your options, your flow, and your practice.
Yoga is a lifelong process that is different from day to day. It is not necessarily about progressing from the “easier” options to the more “advanced” options. There is no linear trajectory; the process grows in many directions. Yoga asks us to “let go of competition” with ourselves and with others, to listen to our bodies, and to make the best choices for the particular moment. (A good life lesson as well.) When we let ourselves be in the moment, we can make more of those moments. You should never force yourself into a pose. If the pose isn’t working for you, move on and try it another time.
Yoga is movement and flow—one breath per movement. While yoga is a set of poses/postures that are often practiced in isolation or in a linear progression, my aim in my classes and practice is flow. I work to create a series of movements that flow together, allowing for more relaxation and attempting to link breath and movement. Keeping in mind the one breath per movement principle helps to foster flow. Inhale up and exhale down, for instance. Flow in yoga describes our physical movement, but can also describe our psychological state of being fully in the moment when we are “in the zone,” so to speak.
Props are tools, not crutches. When my classes are small enough I use the few props I have available where I teach. I think a lot of people think that using a prop means that they can’t do the yoga poses the “right” way. Since there is no “right” way, there are many ways that blocks, blankets, pillows, straps (or resistance bands), stability balls, tennis balls, and walls can be used to enhance our practice. These props make some poses more comfortable and other poses more challenging. Using a block can help to find new aspects of poses and can also help us to enhance the mind/body connection. I demonstrate some use of props in my videos, offering techniques that can be used whenever needed. But really, props should be used to make you feel more comfortable when needed.
So, now that we have some basic ideas for our minds to ponder—and maybe we ponder these ideas again and again—we can experience the transformative power of yoga in our bodies. To get started, check out my first introductory video.
As you get comfortable with the basics, these might be enough to make a positive impact in your life and physical, mental, and spiritual health. Or, perhaps, this is only the beginning of a life-long journey.
These ideas and videos reflect my personal teaching style, which has been fostered through my level 1 through 4 trainings with YogaFit as well as self-study. I have also attended a variety of yoga-related workshops (the most influential ones with Bo Forbes) and I have taught yoga classes 2 to 4 times a week for more than a decade. But my style and experience are only one approach to yoga. And there is always more to discover when practicing yoga!