I am not a yoga instructor and don’t consider myself a yogi. I definitely think of myself as a newbie. Yoga seems new and exciting and I’m eager to learn about it. I’ve been practicing regularly for a few months and in my exploration of yoga, I have found some great yoga resources online, but a lot of them seem to take for granted that you have a basic knowledge of yoga, probably because their target audience does indeed have that knowledge, and I’ve often wished for a yoga “common sense” post. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places.
There are no “yoga for beginners” workout links in this post, nor are there any “how-tos,” but I am sharing a few of the bits of knowledge that I’ve discovered in these early stages of my journey. If it helps you decide to take the plunge and head out to the yoga studio that all your friends have been talking about, then I’m happy to share.
- Honor your body. Your yoga practice is about you, and every body is different. Just because the instructor is guiding you to a particular pose or the person on the mat next you is touching her knees with her forehead doesn’t mean that that is what’s right for your body. If you have an injury or another issue, talk to the instructor before the class starts so that she can help you stay comfortable and physically safe throughout the practice. If you’re practicing at home, dealing with an injury can be trickier in terms of adapting your practice for your injury. You’ll want to focus on alignment, stay aware of what’s going on in your body, and stop if it hurts. Like I said, I’m not a yoga instructor or otherwise qualified to diagnose non-dental issues, so I’m just laying out my “common sense” guidelines.
- No one else is paying attention to what you’re doing in class. How often do you really notice what the other people practicing alongside you are doing? I occasionally make observations in passing, like, “Oh hey, that guy is doing a handstand,” or “That woman is having trouble with her balance today.” It’s not judgy. It’s more of an awareness of those around you. Most of the time though, I’m more worried about not falling over in eagle pose or luxuriating in the feeling of the twist I’m holding. Guess what: everyone else is also focusing on their own bodies and their own practice, too. Yoga is not about comparing yourself to others. That approach is something I’m trying to extend into the rest of my life, as well.
- Hot yoga is REALLY hot. Before I tried hot yoga, I was expecting that the room would be really warm, comfortably warm, and I would feel like I was on a beach in Hawaii. I was completely unprepared for the oven-like level of heat. It was a good thing that the first class I went to was a yin class and I was on the ground the entire time, because the intensity of hot yoga was overwhelming physically. After I a couple of classes and making sure I was well-hydrated before going, I grew to love the feel of the heat. It helps me relax, makes me feel like my muscles are looser, and is so comforting, particularly on cold, Canadian winter days.
- Child’s pose is always an option. Before I knew much about yoga, I was worried that if I couldn’t do what was being demoed, I would be looked down upon or, worse still, called out in class. Having been exposed to more yogic knowledge, my understanding is that my practice is about me and I need to do what’s comfortable and feels right to me. Sometimes yoga feels really hard and you lose your breath or you’re struggling to balance and need to re-centre yourself. Enter child’s pose, bum on your heels, head on your mat, arms wherever is comfortable. I like my hands stacked on top of each other, and then I rest my head on top. Child’s pose allows you to catch your breath and get back in touch with what’s going on on the inside so that you can continue your practice with focus.
- Breathe deeply. Breath is a big part of yoga, and honestly, at this point, my knowledge of breathing is very limited. I focus on breathing fully, I practice my ujjayi breathing, and that’s the sum total of my knowledge. The awesome thing about yogic breathing is that you can take it off the mat and practice your breathing when you’re in traffic or when you’re trying really hard not to yell at your kids or when there’s mega-stress at work. Breathe into your belly, let your shoulders drop away from your ears, and increase your sense of calm.
- A little is better than none. There are days when my to do list is unattainable and time seems scarce. You understand. You have those days, too. Sometimes all I can seem to fit in is a couple of down dogs and shavasana for a few minutes before bed, and some days I barely brush and floss and go to bed with my mascara on, forget about practicing yoga. That’s okay. Yoga will be there as my kids grow up, my priorities change, and I’m ready to devote more time to my practice.
- Do what feels yummy. Have you practiced with Adriene of Yoga with Adriene? If you have, you’ll recognize her words. I love her videos and how she encourages you to move and explore as you practice. This is what I want from yoga. I’m just scratching the surface of yoga and don’t consider myself informed about traditional practice, so maybe this isn’t how everyone practices. Here’s the thing: I just want to feel GOOD, so I aim for yummy.
- Home practice can be awesome. Most of the time, I find it hard to carve out 2 hours to make it to a yoga class. My solution is to roll out my mat at home and practice when I have the opportunity. My dream is to create a warm, quiet, calm space to devote to my practice, but for now, I’m in the living room in front of the TV, where I am guided by the likes of Shiva Rea and Rodney Yee. My favourite DVD so far is Shiva Rea’s Daily Energy.
What do you enjoy about yoga? What have you learned through practicing yoga? If yoga hasn’t resonated with you, what is it that doesn’t feel right to you?