Self-Care, Yoga Practice

A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga

So many have thought about doing Yoga but just don’t know where to start. Completely understandable as there seems to be a zillion teachers and programs all saying different things. On top of that add on the zillion excuses that we can come up with as to why we actually haven’t tried, the “I’m not flexible enough” or “I don’t want to look silly” etc.. But listen, Yoga has been around for thousands of years, gaining popularity in the western world over the last twenty; there must be something to this. One very big secret: everyone can touch their toes, you just need to bend your knees enough!


What I often say to my students is that Yoga finds you when you need it the most. Along with that, Yoga brings us back to our bodies. When we step on to our mat, before anything else happens, we are feeling our bare feet, gently flexing our muscles, rolling out our shoulders or neck a little bit. We are already stepping outside of our day and back in to our body. When we start to breathe a little deeper in and out of our nose, a calming sensation will immediately come over us and we will find ourselves deeply rooted into the present. This sensation, almost like coming home; this feeling, no movement required, THIS is why so many people continue to come back to their mats again and again.


The first time I practiced yoga I was bored out of my mind, I will fully admit it. Yet something drew me back so I could try again. Once I understood and really started to feel the effort needed by my body to hold the poses the practice began to change for me. Most general yoga poses such as Warrior 1 or Warrior 2 are in essence very easy for most people to hold, it’s the dynamic tension that is often missing. Actually contracting our muscles and creating the work inside the pose, that is where the real heart of the practice is.


When to breathe? Just always, Yoga breathing is meant to easily flow in and out throughout the practice. So let go of the worry as to when we should inhale or exhale and just allow your breath to feel natural. Generally as this happens we will find that we will want to inhale as we open up into poses or expand our chests, and then exhale as we close in or relax down into a stretch. In the Yoga Sutras, the oldest known written book on Yoga Philosophy there is one line only about the physical practice of yoga, which is that all poses should be steady and comfortable. Breath is the best way to measure this. If we can breathe comfortably than our pose will be comfortable. If our breath is labored or shallow chances are that our pose is also feeling strained and we should adjust as needed.


Of all the different styles out there, start with one that looks appealing. If you love a challenging workout and love to sweat try a version of Hot Yoga or Power Yoga. If you prefer something calmer or quieter try Yin Yoga or Restorative. Most Yoga Studios will list descriptions of their various classes or the general style of their teachers. Most Yoga offered at fitness clubs or community centres tend to be more generalized to appeal to a broader market. The word Hatha refers to all physical Yoga and often in a class format to poses separated by either Mountain Pose (standing still) or Child’s Pose (resting on the floor). The word Vinyasa refers to a flowing style of Yoga and is taught with poses joined together generally by a Plank, Crocodile (held tricep push-up) Cobra (small back extension) and linked back to Child’s Pose or Downward Dog.


When it comes to alignment for the poses themselves, and this is for all poses, it is most important to listen to our own bodies. We know our bodies best. As we practice Yoga more and more we will start to become more in tune with the subtle nuances and shifts in how we feel from day to day, but ultimately we are in charge of our own practice. Trusting ourselves in this process is one important way to avoid injury. Along with this, is using alignment principles that we have always studied and know are safe, such as joint alignment, spinal alignment and core stability. Just as in nearly everything we do in fitness training, a strong core is needed to support nearly every Yoga pose. It is difficult to receive an acute injury in Yoga, however chronic injuries from in-proper alignment are common. Trying Yoga in a class environment where the teacher is able to watch and offer corrections through the practice is ideal. If you are home, try practicing by a mirror so you can take those quick alignment checks as you go. However again, trusting ourselves through the process is key.


Finally, when it comes to trying Yoga, try more than once. Try a few different styles and teachers until you find the right fit for you. In any city you will find women only, men only, beginners classes, athletic classes, even naked Yoga – something for everyone! But just like figuring out your favourite cardio workout, it might take some time, so have patience in the process.


We are only as strong as we are flexible. We should be working on our flexibility/stretching 4-7 times per week (that’s pretty much everyday) so adding Yoga is a very easy solution to this. Yoga alternates stretching and strengthening in every pose through the class. With a regular practice, your range of motion will improve. Along with that your balance, coordination, clarity of thoughts, more restful sleep, more energy throughout the day, less stress and a generally calmer and more focused demeanor. The benefits to Yoga are endless, what are you waiting for?

Check out my current teaching schedule:

I also run retreats around the world as part of my company Sangha Wellness Retreats – Yoga experience is not required to come, just an open heart and some comfy clothes to practice in ❤ 


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