A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga
things to consider when practicing…
Yoga meets each individual exactly where he or she is. If you’re new to yoga, there are many things you can do to make every class enjoyable and appropriate for your body and your needs. Remember, the MOST important point is to ENJOY your practice while practicing safely and mindfully.
Talk to the Teacher BEFORE Class
Let the teacher know if you are new to yoga or if you have any injuries or medical conditions that might affect your practice. (If you have concerns, be sure to talk to the instructor ahead of time.)
Practice at Your Level
Leave your ambition at the door and don’t try to outdo anyone. Avoid overstretching, straining, or competing with others. Yoga is NON-competitive, so be sure to rest when needed. There is no end to your yoga practice, no goal to reach, no pose to conquer… in fact, you will never be *done* with a pose. Yoga is a practice that will keep you interested and challenged for a lifetime. There will always be ways to take it deeper, to refine the alignment (there will always be people who are more flexible than you or can hold it longer – it doesn’t matter!). So, ENJOY the journey – forget about the destination! Look to improve on your own level. Give yourself permission to do less and/or rest, as needed. Take care of your own needs in class, whether that’s by taking a break, observing instead of doing, or modifying a pose to make it more comfortable. (You can use Child’s Pose, Savasana, or another resting pose to focus on your breath and rest the body.)
Every action in yoga should be intentional, so take the time to understand the pose or movement and approach it at your own pace (it’s perfectly okay to be the last one into a pose). By paying close attention to your alignment and action, even challenging poses will eventually become possible. Try to focus your mind on feeling the physical effects of each posture while concentrating on your breath. If your mind starts to wander, which it inevitable will do, simply notice that you’re distracted and bring your attention back to your breath – over and over and over again. If there are outside distractions, try to concentrate on yourself and ignore what is going on around you. While abiding in your pose, allow your attention to flow through your body, searching out places where you store tension and tightness – then encourage those muscles to relax so that the energy can flow more effectively and efficiently. Listen carefully to your body and mind dialogue with out judgment or expectation.
Understand the Difference Between Pain & Sensation
Anything that causes acute, sharp, shooting, or sudden pain should be stopped immediately. (NEVER PRESS INTO PAIN.) Most of the time when we’re practicing various postures we’re searching for “sensation,” which can be described as a pull, a tug, prickliness, heat, ache, tingliness, tenderness, numbness, shakiness, vibrational, or whatever else it is that brings your attention to a specific area in your body, that is not actual pain). By practicing consistently and working mindfully with your body and respecting its limits, you’ll restore flexibility and create strength and stamina, while stretching your limits. Be patient and move into your poses with care, precision, and intention. Over time, your original range of motion will return and you’ll feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Give Importance to Your Breath & Use It As A Guide
This is an extremely important aspect of practicing yoga and in most cases, it is even more important than the actual asanas (postures). In general, we inhale when we stretch upward or backward, expanding the body – and exhale when we bend downward or forward, compressing the body. If you cannot breathe smoothly and deeply while in a challenging posture, you may be working too hard or could be at risk for injuring yourself. Stretching safely while applying appropriate effort usually deepens the breath. In contrast, strain of any kind (including working too hard or pushing too hard in a stretch) is usually accompanied by shallow or forced breathing. (Better to ease up a bit, re-establish your breath, and then re-approach the posture with deep mindful breaths while working your edge.)
Give the Teacher Feedback During Hands-On Adjustments
If you prefer not to be adjusted, let the teacher know before class. Sometimes adjustments are for alignment purposes and safety; other times it’s about deepening the pose. If you receive an adjustment, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything wrong… on the other hand, and if you don’t receive one, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it right either! Listen to the instructor’s feedback – it’s one of the most valuable benefits of attending a yoga class. Most of us are so used to our physical habits that it often takes an observer to point out how we create stress in the body.
Patience is key. If you really want to heal, transform, or develop your body, try to practice regularly (3-5 times per week is ideal (you can practice at home too!). Practicing regularly helps increase your level of understanding of the postures while giving you insight as to how you deal with difficult or challenging situations. In any given class, some poses will feel good and others will not; some movements will feel exhilarating, and others won’t… always honor your needs and notice what feels right for YOUR body, your mind and your heart on any given day, as every day we’re different. You may find that as your life changes, so will your practice. As you explore different classes and/or instructors, try to stay open to all your experiences. There are many different interpretations of yoga – some are more meditative, some are more cardiovascular, etc. As you build a regular practice, you may find that poses, practices, and classes that you didn’t enjoy at first will become your favorites. (You can begin to include these practices in your everyday life, when you can’t make it to class.)
Take Responsibility for Yourself
YOU are your own best teacher… your safety, health, and well-being is YOUR responsibility – no one elses. (Nobody knows you better than you!) If you have a recent injury or other condition that might affect your practice, seek out a smaller, slower-paced class, so the teacher can provide more individualized attention. Remember that if something doesn’t feel right for you, it’s best to do a modified variation of the posture until you develop greater strength, stamina, flexibility, or understanding of the pose. (If you’re unsure whether a specific pose or movement is right for you, ask the instructor for guidance or try to create a stretch or movement that reassembles the essence of the pose in a way that feels safe and right for you.)