February 15, 2018

The Practice of Yoga Begins Now

Beginnings are super exciting yet can also be paralyzingly scary. I get it! My mind loves to get involved (a bit too involved) before I even begin something. I want the excitement of something new, and the benefits that I envision RIGHT NOW! But, I get bogged down in the perceived details, the unfamiliar and the unknown, which sometimes prevents me from starting. This can happen when wanting to start a yoga practice. Having been approached for advice by a few people on how to get started with yoga, I've broken this beginning into three manageable steps.

  1. INFORMATIONSpend very LITTLE time in this stage! Yoga is a practice of experience, not thinking. I tend to research things to death, so I know how difficult it can be to let go of the thought process. However, there are a couple of things I believe it is important for beginners to know.
    • Yoga Asana
Asanas are the physical postures and are only a small part of the practice of yoga. I cannot stress this enough as in the west, yoga has come to be defined by asana. It’s ok if your sole intention to practice is physical (mine was in the beginning), but also know that you don’t necessarily have to do asanas to practice yoga. Maybe you try asana and find it’s not your jam, but you want to calm the mind, find stress relief, be more mindful, etc. Know that yoga offers many options besides asana to do this. I believe EVERYONE should practice yoga, but not everyone needs to get there through asana.
    • Many Paths
If you decide to explore the physical practice, it's easy to become overwhelmed with the number of different classes and videos out there. How do you choose? My best advice is to try different ones until you find one or a few that fit. The first time I tried a yoga asana class it was a six week series. I HATED it and concluded at the end that yoga was NOT for me. When I tried a modified Ashtanga class (a more dynamic style) five years later, it clicked. I fell in love and practiced Ashtanga for many years. Had I tried different classes and styles in the beginning, maybe I would have fallen in love that much sooner! Don’t be scared to try different classes, styles, studios, videos, teachers, etc. You may not find what you’re looking for right away, but you'll never find it if you don't explore. 

  1. ACTIONThis step can sometimes be the biggest hurdle. Take Nike’s advice and just do it!
    • Foundation
Focus on the basics FIRST. The stronger foundation you develop, the stronger and safer your practice will be in the long run. I spent many years practicing Ashtanga which has a set sequence. I got to know proper alignment for these main postures, but more importantly how these poses should feel in MY body. When I shifted towards the energetic aspects of yoga, I spent three months focusing on the foundation and the mechanics of the breath. By taking a longer time to experience the subtleties of the base poses and breath, I came to know the unique characteristics of my body, how to perceive my edge and limits and how far and when I can go a little past these. So how can you develop this foundation?
      • Practice (more on this later)
      • Private ClassesIndividual attention from someone knowledgeable can help you get in tune with how poses should feel in YOUR body. Private sessions are well worth it, but I know it may not be doable for you. Get creative! I bet you know someone who has taken yoga teacher training that is wanting to share. Can you work out some kind of trade? 
      • Books or Videos: There are plenty of books and videos specifically targeted for beginners. I don’t have specific recommendations, so try a few. What resonates for you could be completely different than what works for someone else. 
      • Group classes: First classes are intimidating! However, leaving your comfort zone, observing your reactions and eventually letting all of that go is part of the practice of yoga! You may or may not enjoy these first classes, resonate with the teacher or like the vibe of the place, but there's a unique energy of practicing in a group. Try different classes, teachers, and spaces. You might discover you prefer practicing on your own, or you may just find a class, teacher, or space that fits!  
    • Be Open and Give It Time
Was my first six-week session with classes once a week enough time for me to conclude yoga wasn’t for me? NO! I didn’t even have enough time to become familiar with poses, the lingo and the feeling of asana. A good friend of mine describes her first year practicing in a studio as feeling easily discouraged, like she wasn’t getting it, and didn’t belong. What kept her coming back? She felt in her heart that this practice was right for her, but it took her head and body longer to realize that. I’ll admit that is a level of dedication and stubbornness (her words, not mine!) that I didn’t have in the beginning, but yoga is a practice in patience. It has taken me YEARS and a steady practice to attain my current strength, flexibility, postures, breath and awareness. And, there's still so much more I can discover. This leads to the final step . . . . . 

  1. PRACTICEPractice and all is coming.” Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
You won't feel “good” when you start. You may shake in poses, experience sensations you have never felt before, and feel confused, discouraged and frustrated. But if you continue, one day the postures will become steady, you’ll understand the terminology, you’ll develop a new relationship to your body and mind, and you might even notice that you stand taller and just generally feel better even when you’re off your mat. There’ll be days that you can’t wait to get on your mat and others where it takes all you have to drag yourself to your practice. But I promise, whether you choose asana, meditation, mindfulness, pranayama, etc. as your main vehicle in the practice of yoga, the more you do it, the more it will alter and enrich your life.

The yoga pose is not the goal.

Becoming flexible is not the goal. Standing on your hands is not the goal.
The goal is to create space where you were once stuck. To unveil the layers of protection you’ve built around your heart. To appreciate your body and become aware of the mind and the noise it creates. To make peace with who you are.”
-       Rachel Brathen

Congratulations on taking your first steps to practicing yoga. If there is any way I can help to support you, do not hesitate to reach out. I wish you all the best on this amazing life long journey. ❤️ 

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