Yoga isn’t about looking good, it’s about feeling good. When you move your body intentionally (i.e., taking note of how specific shapes and movements feel in the body), you’re strengthening your mind-body connection. This kind of awareness can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, while simultaneously increasing self-confidence, overall health, and patience. Plus, bringing an unencumbered awareness to yourself lets you see your truest potential. Don’t be intimidated by bendy models in expensive spandex. Yoga is for everyone and every body—here’s the lowdown on how you can start your own practice.
One defining aspect of yoga is that you can do it anywhere—a hotel floor, someone’s backyard, your friend’s basement, and the local gym. All you need is some space and comfortable clothing. Aside from those basics, here are a few things that can help.
Aside from helping your hands and feet stay put, a yoga mat can also help center your practice. Think of it as a safe, personal island—a clean place you can move around, let it all go, and just do your own thing.
What matters most when choosing your yoga clothes is range of motion. You want to be as unencumbered as possible. There’s nothing wrong with old high school t-shirts and gym shorts, but if you’re for looking an excuse to revamp your athleisure wardrobe, starting a yoga practice is the perfect excuse.
Especially when you first embark on your yoga quest, props can be your best friends. Think of blocks as a way to bring the ground closer to you, and straps as a way to extend your limbs. Generally speaking, the more connection you have with the ground and the more space you can make with your body, the safer and deeper the stretch.
Start slow. This doesn’t mean move at snail’s pace in between poses; rather, it’s important to realize that there are many, many poses that take consistent practice over many months, or sometimes years. So, start with the basics and build a strong, resilient foundation that will support your body as you slowly incorporate more complex postures. Little by little you will get wherever you want to go.
On top of this, every body’s anatomy is different. Take this to heart and don’t judge your performance based on others. Maybe your hips are narrow or naturally tight, while someone else’s arms are longer or more flexible. The best measuring stick is smiling at yourself in the mirror every once in a while and just noticing the power of discipline and determination.
- Make the time. If you are practicing at home, block out the time in your schedule and treat it as though it were a very, very important meeting you 100% couldn’t miss. If you’re going to a studio class, prep ahead of time and make sure you have enough time to get there without rushing.
- Find your space. If you’re at home, choose a quiet area with minimal distractions and natural light, if possible. This’ll help your mind prepare to enter the moment and leave the rest of the world outside your mat.
- Choose your session duration. Start with 15 or 20 minutes and gradually build up from there, or adapt the time to your daily schedule. If you feel comfortable listening to your body—knowing when it wants to keep going or when to cut it short—then let how your body feels dictate how long you practice.
- Commit. Use your phone for music or your computer for an online class, but then set it to the “do not disturb” mode. That way you won’t be tempted to check text messages or emails. Yoga “vacation time” is most rewarding and rejuvenating when uninterrupted.
- Finish with intention. Seal your practice with a sense of gratitude. Your mind and your body are working hard! Say thanks to yourself.
- Stay consistent. Everything in life takes practice, so doing even a little bit everyday will continue to build upon the hard work you’re putting in.
- Don’t expect #gains and #goals so soon. Yoga is a lifelong practice meant to lengthen your time on earth and deepen your experiences.
- Connecting with other yoga lovers is a great way to stay energized and inspired, while learning and sharing new poses or philosophies.
Above all else, listen to your body. You can recognize the difference between something that is difficult and something that is painful. If your knee is telling you something, listen. But if it’s your mind just talking up a storm, know how to trust your body and turn off the self-doubt. You are strong. You are capable. You are your body’s expert.
As a general rule, it’s important not to stress your joints. Don’t hyperextend your elbows or knees. You want the stretch to feel concentrated in the muscles, not behind the knee or in your armpit.
Most of the yoga that we practice in the U.S. has been adapted from centuries-old Indian traditions. Depending on the studio you frequent or the online resources you browse, some postures or key phrases might be in Sanskrit.
- Aum — a sacred sound, or mantra, in Hindu religion. The exact meaning can vary, but generally speaking it represents the finest essence of all beings. It’s often chanted at the beginning or end of a class, and is a powerful way to connect with other beings through sound vibrations.
- Asana — roughly stands for “pose;” you’ll notice this at the end of many Sanskrit names for postures, such as “Savasana” (corpse pose), “Tadasana” (mountain pose), “Adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog).
- Namaste — this is typically exchanged at the beginning and end of a yoga practice as a way show gratitude for another’s presence and energy. It’s a Sanskrit salutation and can be translated to: “The light in me sees and honors the light in you.”
Different schools of yoga and yoga classes:
- Ashtanga — this is known as a more classical style of yoga, where traditional poses and sequences are repeated and perfected over time. Alignment and breathwork is a big focus here, as well as translating what you learn from the physical yoga into everyday life.
- Bikram — popularized in the ‘70s by a man named Bikram Choudhury, this style of yoga is a fixed set of 26 postures that typically takes place in a studio heated to around 100°F. You’ll get sweaty no matter what, and do the same poses every time you go.
- Hatha — this is a more-or-less general term for the physical practice of yoga. According to Indian philosophy, the physical asanas are just a fraction of a full yoga practice, which encompasses ways to live a healthy, full, and righteous life.
- Kundalini — this is a breath-intensive form of yoga. The primary task will be using short, sharp breathing methods to awaken dormant energy in the body.
- Power — while this can vary from studio to studio, a power yoga class will capitalize on poses that help build strength, like chair pose and warrior poses. Prepare to flow a lot, and sometimes feel like you’re getting a cardio workout in, too.
- Vinyasa — this will typically be a flow-based class that focuses on linking postures by matching one breath to one movement. Expect more full-body movement and less static stretching.
- Yin — this will be a calmer, more grounding class. Prepare for more static stretching and holding poses for longer periods of time.
Find a routine, online content, or a studio that resonates with you.
You don’t have to pay for studio classes to continue deepening and improving your yoga practice. Find your own routine, whether it’s 15 minutes in your living room every morning or following a YouTube video before you go to bed. Hold yourself accountable. You are more than capable of rolling out a mat and at least lying on the floor, undistracted for half an hour. Don’t forget 30 minutes is only 2% of your entire day.
There is a lot of quality content online (some free and some available for purchase) that makes it convenient to do yoga in your own home or while traveling.
That said, practicing with a group of people can be very energizing and inspiring. Capitalize on the “free first weeks” or discounted first months that most studios offer. Don’t shy away from trying out a variety of classes, instructors, and studios. Just like every body is different, so is every class. Finding the right studio, class, and teacher is just as important as finding the right size of running shoes. Keep trying them out and when one sticks, don’t give it up!
- Gaia.com — your place for online yoga videos that cover practice sessions and philosophy.
- Elephant Journal — a website with thought-provoking articles about everything in the world of yoga.
- Yoga With Tim — a YouTube channel with a robust selection of free classes, from beginner to advanced.
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