How to Begin (and Sustain) a Yoga Practice

Friday, January 1, 2016

Hi everyone!
I'm recommitting to SantoshaSounds as a goal of mine for the coming year. I intend to continue to write accessible and useful posts about living as a yogi in the modern world and embodying the full breadth of the human experience.

Since it's the first of the year and many of you will be interested in self-improvement and healthier living, I thought it would be useful to provide some tips to finding a yoga that's right for you.

Sometimes (more often than not) people go to a class that they don't like and think that yoga is not for them. Maybe they didn't jive with the teacher, maybe it was too hard or too slow or maybe it just wasn't up your alley. PLEASE try again. There is a yoga teacher and a yoga style out there for everyone. My teacher Theresa once said that if you wanted to buy a car and you didn't like the first one you test-drove, you wouldn't give up your search for a car. Right??

There's no need to be intimidated by yoga. Everyone was a beginner once and they had to start from square one too. The best approach is to take a class geared toward beginners. That way you'll be able to do most of the poses and see some benefits immediately. After a Basics class or two, you can decide if it's the appropriate level for you or if you're ready to move on to a different style/level.

Also, the argument that you ARE NOT flexible does not groove with me. That is precisely why you NEED yoga. To become more flexible. And not just loose in your muscles. Yoga helps to release long-held patterns of tension in the body and breath, rigid points of view, and the notion that we are separate somehow from our fellow human beings. This practice can ultimately be a way for us to be malleable and open in our day-to-day lives.


                                                                                 1. WHAT ARE YOUR OPTIONS?
baddha konasana

If you've never done a yoga class before, you may feel intimidated and overwhelmed by the vast options available. There are classes at yoga studios of course, but there are also DVDs, online classes, package deals, yoga at the gym, etc.
So, where to begin? Things to consider at this first stage are your current finances, how much time you have to devote to regular practice (twice a month, once a week, three times a week?), the type of practice you're interested in (yoga for health, yoga as fitness, meditation, breath instruction, etc), and the level of seriousness you're looking for. The most disciplined and traditional classes will likely happen at yoga studios, though you occasionally find them at the YMCA or your gym.



2. CHOOSE YOUR FORMAT

vigorous virasana in anjenayasana
If you are planning to begin from a DVD or online courses, you have a multitude of available resources. I started with Yoga for Beginners with Patricia Walden and found it really useful.
Here's a link: http://www.amazon.com/Gaiam-Yoga-Beginners-Patricia-Walden/dp/B003H3BRQI She is a renowned Iyengar instructor who's been teaching for decades and has a practical and soothing approach to alignment-based yoga.
There are also many well-known yoga teachers who teach classes online. One particular site is called YogaGlo and features not only yoga classes but also meditation and work beyond your mat. I would particularly recommend classes from one of my teachers Tias Little. He has a deep reverence for yoga philosophy and an alignment-based approach to posture. I think he's brilliant.
Here's a link to the YogaGlo site: https://www.yogaglo.com/our-teachers
Benefits to practicing at home are that you can do your practice whenever you have time and it is quite affordable. In my personal opinion, this is a great way to spark your interest, but eventually a teacher can help you improve your form and take you deeper into your own path and practice through their knowledge. If you're especially interested in understanding the tradition and philosophy, a teacher will be indispensable.


restorative salamba halasana

3. CHOOSE YOUR TEACHER

It's quite challenging to be discerning about a yoga studio, teacher or class if you have no point of reference. But if you are leaning toward a more serious approach, I recommend looking thoroughly through the website of a studio/studios. In fact, I would say check out the websites of all the studios in town. Read each studio's philosophy and history, read through the class descriptions and read through the teachers bios. You may find something that intrigues you or something that turns you off. Pay attention to your intuition. Many studios have a "new person special" designed to give you a couple weeks to do a studio tour and take several classes. You should totally take advantage of these deals to try out multiple teachers and class styles.


4. CHOOSE YOUR STYLE

What type of class to choose?
Earlier in this blog, I wrote some guidelines for picking a class or practice that's right for you.
Here's a link to that post: http://santoshasounds.blogspot.com/2011/12/yoga-is-for-everyone.html

Hatha yoga refers to what people in the West typically think of as yoga. It includes postures and breathing, and occasionally has a meditative component. Within the Hatha distinction, there are many styles of yoga class to weed through. Here are just a few common ones to clear up:

Vinyasa yoga is typically faster moving with a breath focus. If you're looking for something more aerobic, this is likely the class for you.

meditation practice counts as yoga
Hatha classes are usually prop-heavy (don't be afraid of props! they help you get deeper into poses and sustain poses longer! I use them EVERY SINGLE DAY!) and are alignment focused with long holds to really learn each posture.

Yin yoga features long (really long) holds and is usually all passive stretching. It's designed to lengthen your connective tissue and build pranic energy within the body. Some people find it extremely soothing and relaxing.

Power Yoga is a vigorous style which will build strength and endurance. Usually includes abdominal strengthening and a loud soundtrack.

Restorative yoga is a highly supportive style designed to calm and relax the body and mind.

Wall Ropes classes use a system of ropes and hardware to create traction in the spine. The ropes allow for longer holds and create great spacial awareness.


wall ropes 
 *IN SUMMARY*

1. Choose your format (class/DVD/online course).

2. Find a teacher/teachers.

3. Choose a style.

4. Commit! Decide how often you can sustainably practice per week and stick to it. The benefits of yoga will unfold over time with diligent practice and detachment from the outcome of your practice.

5. Have FUN! While there is a certain reverence to the practice and the tradition, it's also supposed to be a dang good time.

If you find a teacher and class (or classes!) that fit your needs, and attend regularly, you are bound to see the fruits of your practice. These benefits are what keep me coming back to the mat day after day and year after year. You will likely see changes in your physical body, your mental state and your interaction with the world. And as a result, it'll be a challenge to keep you away from your mat.

**If you're in Omaha, come and see me! I teach a variety of classes at One Tree Yoga, including 2 beginners classes per week. http://onetreeyoga.com/schedule.html




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