What is yoga and why should you begin a yoga practice?
Yoga is holistic health practice which acknowledges the interconnection of body, mind and spirit. It is an ancient Vedic system of practices which include (and are not limited to) physical postures, breathing and concentration techniques. The diverse practices are aimed at aligning you with your highest self through purification of the physical, mental and emotional bodies by freeing the 70,000 inner channels of energy called ‘nadis’ where the energy or ’prana’ flows.
The physical postures are aimed at strengthening, opening and relaxing. The postures and breathing techniques help to release toxins, tension and stress, improve the organ systems (circulatory, respiratory, digestive, excretory, nervous and endocrine), balance blood pressure and metabolism. All of these result in well-being through increased muscle strength and tone, increased flexibility, improved respiration, energy and vitality and weight reduction.
The concentration practices of meditation are designed to bring us into a state of focus, clarity and presence. In a busy world with endless amounts of stimulation and activity, meditation invites us to reverse our flow of energy inwards. Focusing your attention within has incredible benefits on the entire system and is vital for a holistic approach to yoga. Meditation increases brain performance in areas associated with learning and memory, regulating emotions, sense of self, and having perspective. All of these result in mental strength, resilience, emotional intelligence and loving-kindness.
The acknowledgment of spirit is a unique and very personal aspect of yoga. There are no ‘set’ practices to invite spirit, only the underlying philosophy of nonviolence, compassion and gratitude. Yoga encourages us to live in alignment with oneself, nature and all beings, which will inevitably awaken us to a collective state of union.
For many, yoga begins physically on the mats, and are drawn back after feeling the benefits in their body and mind, almost immediately. States of calm and connection can be felt after as little as 5 minutes of movement in coordination with breathing! Yoga doesn’t require any level of fitness or flexibility (if you can breath, you can do yoga!) — only the desire to transform through practices which are sustainable through engagement of your entire self in body, mind and heart.
Now that you have read what a yoga practice involves and some of the benefits you will receive, it's time to begin! Just as there many amazing yoga teachers/studios there are many unexperienced and unqualified teachers/studios. Below are my top tips on how to begin a yoga practice to receive maximum benefits...
1. Begin with a buddy: Many people can feel slightly overwhelmed or nervous when beginning something new. If so, try your first few classes with a friend or family member who are also interested in trying yoga.
2. Do your research: There are hundreds of styles of yoga from gentle to power. Try various teachers and styles to find something that you connect with. A class should be well integrated, incorporating poses, attention to breath, Savasana or 'corpse pose' at the end, and give modifications for all levels/injuries/limitations. A teacher should be welcoming, empowering and experienced both in the studio and outside of the studio. You should feel that the teacher is present and is willing to spend time to connect and get to know you as a student. No teacher should ever make you feel as if you are not 'good enough' or less than because you are a beginner. Although there are global standard qualifications for Yoga Teachers, teacher trainings are diverse in quality, so be sure your teacher has been teaching consistently for at least 2 years (a studio bio should give background info regarding the teachers experience) and is capable of supporting students.
* All beginners are recommended to begin a practice under the guidance of a teacher in person. Online resources are more advanced and are beneficial for practitioners once they have basic knowledge of the alignment!
3. Start slow but maintain consistency: Give yourself a simple and sustainable intention to begin your practice. If you can only take class 1 x week to begin then do that. Don't overwhelm yourself with unrealistic expectations, but do set an ideal number of times per week you will make it to the studio. Practicing consistenly will build determination
4. Build community: Do your best to meet people at the and studio and introduce yourself. Look for a studio which offers workshops or community gatherings outside of regular class times. This is a great way to network and integrate into the community.
5. Go with an open mind: Know that the system of yoga may be an entirely new form of practice than you are used to. Erase your memory (to the best of your ability) of all previous forms of exercise or discipline you have experienced and release your expectations. Let go of your ego (which may want to compare you to an advanced practitioner or check out someone's flashy yoga outfit) and enjoy the journey, exactly at this moment. Absorb what you can from the teacher and other students and know that with consistent practice you will see incredible changes — physically, mentally and emotionally!
6. If you are in need of financial support: Look for a studio that offers a 'karma yoga' program which is a volunteer program where you can help out with admin/cleaning in exchange for classes. Many studios also offer financial assistance with discounted rates, you simply need to ask!
7. Go on a yoga retreat: One of the best ways to begin something new is to immerse yourself in it! A yoga retreat is a blend of travel, daily yoga sessions with a progressive program, healthy food and community. Yoga retreats are offered all over the world with every style and program combination you can imagine! Retreats are mindful ways of travel and are truly transformational as they help to kickstart and sustain healthy lifestyle shifts. As with any class/studio, do your research. Read more about how to choose the perfect yoga retreat here.
Remember! You don't need to be flexible, strong or even in shape to do yoga! Any qualified teacher will give plenty of modifications for any level or limitation. All you need is the desire to begin and the ability to breathe!
LAUREN LEE E-RYT 500 is passionate about living with purpose, exploring the world, and empowering others to live as their most authentic, radiant Self. Founder of Raise Your Beat, dedicated teacher and forever student on the path of yoga, she leads transformational workshops, retreats and trainings to awaken the individual and collective consciousness. Read more about her here