New to yoga? You might have a few questions. I’m breaking it down for you and keeping it real. I’ve found over the years people can get all historical, proper, and lineage-specific about these questions below. But if you’re just looking to start a yoga practice, this is what you need to know.
If you go just about anywhere else they’ll say, “Yoga means to yoke, unite.” [True Statement] Then there’s the question, “unite what?” Well, some will say, “the body and the mind.” Others will say, “body and the breath.” Some will say, “movement with breath.” And another deeper choice is “the koshas” (If you’re new to yoga, don’t worry about what they are, it’s not important. If you’re not new to yoga, I’ll probably talk about that in another post down the road). Honestly, if you’re just starting yoga, or even if you’ve been practicing for a long while, does it REALLY matter what it unites? Probably not. What matters is how it makes you feel.
Yoga, in general, is the 8-limbed path as laid out by Patanjali in his yoga sutras: Yama (interaction with the outside world), Niyama (interaction with self), Asana (poses), Pranayama (breathing), Pratyahara (withdrawal), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (integration/enlightenment).
When we’re talking yoga in the modern/western world, we’re usually talking about yoga asana, aka the poses. Most teachers integrate both basic breathing practices (pranayama), and as well as forms of meditation/withdrawal/concentration (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana) into every class. So, expect to move, breathe, and try to be still and quiet for a few minutes (at the end of class).
I’m oversimplifying this (and I’m sure there are plenty of people that will want to argue about this), but you can break down the styles of yoga into 2 basic types: active and passive. Active yoga practices will include increasing the heart rate through muscle engagement in postures (i.e., ashtanga, vinyasa flow, Hatha, kundalini, forest, Jivamukti, etc). Passive yoga styles will lower the heart rate and blood pressure and focus solely on the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) activation (i.e. yin and restorative yoga). There are all sorts of names for both of these yoga styles. It’s best to try a few to see what you like. Who knows! You might like them all!
Well, there’s always YouTube (yup that takes you to my page). This can be hit or miss, so if you try a class and you don’t like it, try another class by the same teacher or a similar style by another teacher. If you belong to a gym, they might have group yoga classes you can take on-site. Several on-demand platforms offer yoga (some are yoga only), and many offer a free trial. And last, but definitely not least, check out a local yoga studio.
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You might not need anything more than yourself. Depending on the style and where you’re practicing, you might be able to get away without even a yoga mat. But for most practices, a yoga mat is nice to give you a place of reference, a little bit of padding, and sometimes a little grip. Props are nice (and sometimes required) for safety and enhancement of the practice. For passive yoga styles (like yin or restorative), props allow you to be supported to help facilitate relaxing and letting go. If you’re doing a passive yoga style at home, grab some pillows, blankets, and a belt. For active yoga styles using a book, or dumbbell, can be used as a block to help bring the floor up to you.
Ideally, go in with as few expectations as possible. I know that’s easier said than done, but when we have expectations, and it doesn’t live up to them, we’re more likely to be disappointed. Oh, but what should you expect to do in class!? Well, it can vary – a lot! In general, show up a few minutes early. Some classes are super relaxing, some are intense and fast-paced. All of them end with savasana (aka relaxation pose). Please, please, please stay for savasana. If you find it difficult to lie still for a few minutes, try counting your breath, and be curious as to why it’s so difficult to be still. Lastly, the class finishes with a “namaste.” Namaste means that what I see inside myself I see inside of you. It’s like a reflection. And we honor that we’re all humans.
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