Over the many years of being a yoga instructor, I encounter one thing over and over again - the nervous, anxious new student and how they all arrive in my studio with similar questions or concerns. The “F” word is almost always their first concern …. flexibility, closely followed by not having ever practiced yoga, their fitness, they can’t do a handstand, can’t do a headstand and the list goes on. I’ve pulled together here my attempt to answer these, and other questions.
Do I have to be flexible to practice yoga?
The simple answer is no. If you are not flexible, then over time yoga is a great way to become more flexible.
What are the benefits of doing yoga?
The practice of Yoga is a very holistic approach to health. It includes practices which focus on the wellbeing of the body, mind and soul. Initially the benefits are very subtle but over a period of time, when it becomes a way of life, the benefits are very obvious.
How Do I Find A Good Yoga Teacher?
Finding a good teacher is important. This holds especially true if you are just beginning to practice yoga. Ask around among family and friends who practice yoga. Make sure the yoga teacher you’re interested in is trained by a reputable organization.
A good teacher will deliver clear instructions, they will prioritize student safety and make adjustments for students as needed. Most importantly they should make you feel welcome and comfortable.
Why do Yoga?
Today’s world is full of stresses, deadlines and a multitude of demands on our time and peace of mind; too often we sit too long staring at screens or cursing traffic. Without an outlet for these stresses, the pressure can very quickly accumulate and cause physical and mental ailments and dis-ease within our bodies. Those symptoms can be anything from aches and pains, migraines/headaches, insomnia, digestive disorders and depression to name just a few. Yoga asana gives the body an outlet to release this pressure and stress, not just for the body but also the mind and spirit. A reset to how we live.
Yoga focuses on balancing the mind, body and spirit, bringing relief, calmness and contentment. With yoga’s unique combination of physical exercise (Asana), the science of breath (Pranayama), relaxation and meditation, you will find yourself living a much happier, healthier and contented life. Your yogic practice will follow you off the mat into your world and help you deal with the pressures of daily life in a more mindful and positive way.
Which is the best time for practicing yoga?
The best time to do yoga practice is early in the morning, when your stomach is empty, and you have a minimum number of distractions. Morning practices keep your enthusiasm and energy levels higher during the day, and evening practices help you get rid of stresses and tensions accumulated during the day – refreshing you.
Can I Eat Before Yoga Practice?
It is best to wait an hour after eating before practicing yoga, but a small snack before your class is perfectly alright. Observe your body to learn how much time you need to digest your food before practice.
How Many Times A Week Do I Have To Practice?
It is good to practice once a day, even if it’s just for 5 minutes in the morning when you first roll out of bed. Feel free to take up a yoga class as often as you’d like, whether it’s once a week, or once every day. But remember – you can practice yoga anywhere. Practicing in your living room is no less beneficial than taking a class!
I am a beginner. What do I need to know?
Be patient and kind to yourself, do not try and compete with others in the class. Everybody is unique and no two people will ever perform a yoga posture exactly the same way. Feel your way into the posture and listen to the cues of the teacher, always assume they are talking directly to you!
Your limitations and physical abilities will change from day to day, accept where you are and breathe.
Yoga will relax and re-energize you; it will make you stronger and more flexible.
The most important thing you should know is that you should never do anything that hurts. Learn to recognize the difference between muscular discomfort and a warning pain that could lead to injury, when in doubt always err on the side of caution and safety.
Never push through, over stretch or strain into a posture, release your ego, if the breathing becomes ragged and forced you are working too hard, ease off.
The pose you are practicing may not be right for you right now or there could be something wrong with the alignment of your body. Either way, when your body tells you to stop, listen to it and act on it!
Your yoga teacher cannot help you if they do not know what your challenges are.
Ask questions, the only stupid questions are the ones not asked.
If you have any previous injuries or medical conditions, please inform the instructor before class and don’t be afraid to remind them of it every week.
What if I can’t do a pose?
Yoga is about baby steps; we must crawl before we can walk and walk before we can run. Ask the instructor for a modification if one is not offered. Every single one of us is unique and no two people will ever do a pose the exact same way.
If you are finding something particularly difficult or just don’t feel like doing that particular pose for whatever reason, come into a resting pose like child’s pose or savasana and wait for the next pose to be introduced.
Yoga asana is not a competition, let go of the ego and really tune into the needs of your body, make the practice your own; honouring your body and doing what is best for you, not forcing yourself into a shape that you aren’t ready for, or maybe will never be ready for because your unique anatomy does not allow for it.
Every day is different and what works well one day may not be accessible to you the next. Be prepared and willing to adapt to the changes, be kind to yourself, release your ego and listen to your body. Then you are truly practicing yoga.
What is the etiquette in a yoga class?
Arrive 5-10 minutes before the start of the class so you can feel relaxed and focused before you start your practice.
If you arrive late, please be as quiet as possible as you enter and set up, or wait outside till the opening focus session has ended before you join the class.
Respect your fellow students space and practice.
Switch off your mobile phone.
Don't take yourself to seriously.
Is it okay to leave during a class?
In order to keep disruptions to a minimum, please plan to arrive on time and stay for the entire class. If for some reason you need to leave early, please let the instructor know in advance. You are, of course, always welcome to enter and exit the studio (quietly) during class to use the bathroom.
I don’t like savasana can I skip it?
If you don’t enjoy savasana this is an indication that you most likely need savasana the most!
Please do not cheat yourself out of the relaxation aspect of your asana practice. This is the MOST important part of your practice; it is the time when you start to feel the subtle changes taking place in your body. Your whole system uses this quiet time to integrate the benefits of the postures and reset the body and mind.
What Does Om Mean?
Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe. What does that mean?
Somehow the ancient yogis knew what scientists today are telling us—that the entire universe is moving. Nothing is ever solid or still. Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of Om. We may not always be aware of this sound in our daily lives, but we can hear it in the rustling of the autumn leaves, the waves on the shore, the inside of a seashell.
Chanting Om allows us to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves—the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As we chant Om, it takes us for a ride on this universal movement, through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy, and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.
What should I bring to class?
Just bring yourself, in appropriate clothing (see below), and maybe bring a bottle of water.
What should I wear?
Some people wear baggy, loose fitting bottoms or shorts and a t shirt. Other people wear tight, stretchy leggings and tops. The only thing that matters is that you wear comfortable clothing that you can easily move and stretch in. It's good to have clothes that keep you cool when you are active in yoga.
Do I need a yoga mat?
Most studios will provide mats for beginners but it would pay to check. If you prefer to bring your own yoga mat that's fine too. If you want to also practice at home then having your own mat is a great idea. If your practice requires blocks/bolsters for more support in asanas and you like a blanket for savasana, contact the studio to be sure these are available.
What style of yoga should I practice?
There are so many different types of yoga out there, whether you want a more physically demanding class or an easy, relaxing, meditative class.
With each style being a bit different from the others, you'll find variations depending on the teacher. Giving a few styles and teachers a try before settling on your favourite will enhance your overall yoga experience and challenge you to break out of your comfort zone. While lineages (styles) aren't as relevant today as they once were, if you're looking for a traditional style, this guide will help you understand the basics before diving into a class.
Vinyasa means "to place in a special way" and, in this case, yoga postures. Vinyasa yoga is the often considered the most athletic yoga style. Vinyasa was adapted from ashtanga yoga in the 1980s. Many types of yoga can also be considered vinyasa flows such as ashtanga, power yoga, and prana.
In vinyasa classes, the movement is coordinated with your breath and movement to flow from one pose to another. Vinyasa styles can vary depending on the teacher, and there can be many types of poses in different sequences. I personally teach an alignment-based style of vinyasa and choreograph new flows every time, but I also like to hold some of the poses a bit longer after warming up.
The Sanskrit term "hatha" is an umbrella term for all physical postures of yoga. In the west, it simply refers to all the other styles of yoga (ashtanga, Iyengar, etc.) that are grounded in a physical practice. However, there are other branches of yoga such as kriya, raja, and karma yoga that are separate from the physical-based yoga practice. The physical-based yoga is the most popular and has numerous styles.
Hatha yoga classes are often best for beginners since they are usually paced slower than other yoga styles. Hatha classes today are a classic approach to breathing and exercises. If you are brand-new to yoga, hatha yoga is a great entry point to your practice.
Iyengar yoga was founded by B.K.S Iyengar and focuses on alignment as well as detailed and precise movements. In an Iyengar class, students perform a variety of postures while controlling the breath.
Generally, poses are held for a long time while adjusting the minutiae of the pose. Iyengar relies heavily on props to help students perfect their form and go deeper into poses in a safe manner. Although you won't jump around, you will definitely get a workout and feel incredibly open and relaxed after an Iyengar class. This style is really great for people with injuries or those who need to work slowly and methodically.
This is equal parts spiritual and physical. This style is all about releasing the kundalini energy in your body said to be trapped, or coiled, in the lower spine.
These classes really work your core and breathing with fast-moving, invigorating postures and breath exercises. These classes are pretty intense, and can involve chanting, mantra, and meditation.
In Sanskrit, ashtanga is translated as "Eight Limb path." In Mysore, India, people gather to practice this form of yoga together at their own pace—if you see Mysore-led ashtanga, it's expected of you to know the series. Vinyasa yoga stems from ashtanga as the flowing style linking breath to movement.
Ashtanga yoga involves a very physically demanding sequence of postures, so this style of yoga is definitely not for the beginner. It takes an experienced yogi to really love it. Ashtanga starts with five sun salutation A's and five sun salutation B's and then moves into a series of standing and floor postures.
Hot (Bikram) Yoga
Originally named after Bikram Choudhury, Hot Yoga features a sequence of set poses in a sauna-like room—typically set to 40°C (105°F) and 40% humidity. Choudhury faced lawsuits in the U.S. and fled to Mexico in 2017, and is a clear example of someone using yoga as a means to control and take advantage of others – contrary to all yogic principles. Many studios that were formerly Bikram now practice hot yoga, in an effort to disassociate with the founder.
The sequence includes a series of 26 basic postures, with each one performed twice. Many of these poses are focused on proper alignment. If you're interested in yoga with the heat turned up, look for studios that offer hot yoga classes.
A slow-paced style of yoga with seated postures that are held for longer periods of time. Yin can also be a meditative yoga practice that helps you find inner peace.
Yin is a great class for beginners, as postures can be held for from 45 seconds to 2 minutes. The classes are relaxed, as you're supposed to let gravity do most of the work.
Focuses on winding down after a long day and relaxing your mind. At its core, this style focuses on body relaxation. Restorative yoga also helps to cleanse and free your mind.
You spend more time in fewer postures throughout the class. Many of the poses are modified to be easier and more relaxing. Like Iyengar, many props are used and are placed just right such as blankets, bolsters, and eye pillows. All of the props are there to help you sink deeper into relaxation.
Carefully adapted for "moms to be" and is tailored to women in all trimesters. Many have said that prenatal is one of the best types of exercise for expectant moms because of the pelvic floor work, focus on breathing, and bonding with the growing baby; prenatal yoga also helps mothers prepare for labor and delivery. I also practiced my own form of prenatal yoga during both of my pregnancies.
During this practice, you'll use props in order to modify your poses and ensure stability—in this class, it's way more about stability than flexibility.
Anusara is a modern-day version of hatha yoga, most similar to vinyasa in that it focuses on alignment, but with more focus on the mind-body-heart connection. It was founded by John Friend who created a unique system called the Universal Principals of Alignment. In 2012 he withdrew from the yoga world after serious accusations inappropriate behaviour and financial mismanagement but has since partnered with Desi and Micah Springer to teach the Bowspring method.
Anusara focuses on spirals and how each body part should be moving, and it's also known for its emphasis on heart opening. Expect to often stop in class and gather around a student as the instructor breaks down a pose.
Jivamukti was founded in 1984 by Sharon Ganon and David Life. Jivamukti is mainly vinyasa-flow-style classes infused with Hindu spiritual teachings. At its core, this style emphasizes connection to Earth as a living being, so most Jivamukti devotees follow their vegetarian philosophy.
A series of chants usually open the beginning of class followed up by a series of poses that align with the five tenets of Jivamukti yoga and Philosophy.
Most of all have fun, be inquisitive about your being in yoga. Yoga will relax and re-energize you; it will make you stronger and more flexible. Yoga asana is not a competition, let go of the ego and really tune into the needs of your body, make the practice your own; honoring your body and doing what is best for you, not forcing yourself into a shape that you aren’t ready for, or maybe will never be ready for because your unique anatomy does not allow for it. Honor you journey through yoga.
Nama means bow, as means I, and te means you. Therefore, namaste literally means “bow me you” or “I bow to you.”
Namaste is also translated as “I honor the divine in you.”
We bring our hands together at the heart chakra to increase the flow of Divine love. Bowing the head and closing the eyes helps the mind surrender to the Divine in the heart.
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