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Posted on 10-05-2015

How to start doing yoga


I think yoga might be good for me but I don’t even know where to begin

At least once a week, I get the opportunity to talk to someone about starting yoga. Frequently it’s a situation where they don’t even know what to ask. They don’t know what they don’t know. Everyone has heard about “yoga” and some may think they might benefit from it, but when it comes down to it, most people don’t really know what “doing yoga” really means. So, what I’d like to chat about in this little post are the basics of what you can expect from a yoga practice and how or where to even start.

To break it down, yoga, as a word, means “yolk”(like what you put on a farming animal) or “union”. There are many thoughts on what this pertains to, so I can’t even attempt to give the definitive answer here. In one aspect, it relates to the relationship of the teacher and student. Historically, were ‘yolked’ together in the learning process since the student would typically live with the teacher or guru. It can also mean the union of body, mind and spirit. The union of breath and concentration. And so on and so on.

It was “created” 5000 years ago by a man or multiple people known as Patanjali. There are 8 main aspects of yoga; ethical disciplines, self observances, postures (originally sitting postures), breath control, sense withdrawl, concentration, meditation, and, finally, hopefully, a state of joy, oneness or peace. Yoga, overall, changed quite a bit when it came to America over 100 years ago (as does everything, of course), but I suppose that is to be expected. These days, you can find a type of yoga for everything.

There may be spiritual aspects to the type of yoga to try, but just know that you can bring your own god, gods, spirituality or lack thereof. It is what you make it.

So, how do you know what kind of yoga to try?!

My best suggestion would be to actually talk to a yoga teacher about it. Reading about all the different kinds of yoga becomes overwhelming and might actually turn you off entirely. Before you have this conversation, though, it would be helpful for you to know what yoga can actually do for you. Then you take that information and figure out what you feel you need. And then a teacher can help direct you to the right class and/or teacher.

What can yoga do for you?

That’s actually a very loaded question because there are so many benefits to yoga, it’s really hard to even list things without running out of space. But here’s my best list:

  • Improve and increase breathing function and lung capactiy (ex-smokers, athletes, people who just don’t breathe deeply enough anyway)
  • Increase flexibilty (do you sit all day? Your hips could benefit. Do you lift weights? Your shoulders would benefit. Are you an athlete? Are you just alive? You could benefit.) A flexible body moves better and functions better.
  • Tone and strengthen (crosstraining, athletes, recovering from surgery/illness)
  • Improve balance, usually by working on strengthening, but also by working on focus and breathing. (Elderly or people who age, golfers who are unbalanced due to a one sided swing, young whipper-snappers who think they have great balance).
  • Raise blood pressure, lower blood pressure.
  • Improve blood sugar levels.
  • Weight management.
  • Increased bone density.
  • Improve brain function and memory.
  • De-toxify the body.
  • Sleep better.
  • Helps regulate digestion and elimination.

Basically my question to you would be, “What aspect of your life and/or body needs work?” And then we could talk about the ways yoga can help with that.

There are some that make grand claims that yoga cures diseases and all that. I mean, to the extent that living a healthy lifestyle will have a positive impact on your life, then yes, I suppose it could, but not in and of itself.

So, I’ve got things to work on. Now what?

Let’s say you tell me that you’re a 43 year old man who has gained more weight than you should have. You’re out of shape. You want to start running. You want to feel better. And you want to lower your cholesterol. And you’d like your significant other to look at you the way they did when you were 23.

I would tell you to either find a beginner’s hatha yoga class or schedule a private lesson with a yoga teacher. I would tell you NOT to get the first yoga DVD you could find. And don’t just look for Beginner’s yoga on You Tube. You need a real person putting your body in alignment and telling you things you either do or don’t want to hear. Most importantly, you want to not hurt yourself.

How do you find a yoga teacher to talk to?

Google. Yelp. The internet. The phone book. Drive down the main street in your city and look for studios. Call them up and ask to chat in person.

As a teacher that does private lessons, well, hell, as a teacher that works with groups of people in front of me, I want to see your body while I’m talking to you. How do you stand? Do you slouch? Look at your hips and shoulders. Look at your feet. Your posture. Your belly (sorry! Just being honest, here). I find out what you do for a living (which tells me what you do with your body for 9+ hours a day), and then what you do for exercise or in place of exercise.

Some folks LOVE yoga classes where they are either part of a small, friendly group or just a number in the crowd. Some people are nervous about being in front of strangers for all sorts of reasons. I’ve either felt personally or talked to others about nearly every reason why you might want to take a class versus schedule a private session.

Personal notes: Don’t worry about the way you look or dress. As long as you are comfortable and your shirt won’t go to your ears in Down Dog, wear what you want. Also, this isn’t a fashion contest. No one wins yoga class. Your yoga teacher isn’t there to fondle you or oogle you. You may have hands-on adjustment or be told verbally to move your body parts. Your yoga teacher sees you as a person that has something to work on, but then they pretty much see you as muscles, ligaments and tendons on bones. Form, function and safety. If you don’t get that vibe from your teacher, then move on. You want to feel welcomed and spiritually nourished, but you don’t want to feel as if your either being made fun of or being sexualized. As with any profession, there may be a few bad apples, but overall, we’re a good lot.

Just as your yoga teacher isn’t there to judge you, try your best to be open minded about your teacher. Just because he or she is younger or older than you doesn’t mean they’re not going to undertand or be able to teach you. However, you want to feel comfortable and confident with your teacher. I’ll be honest, I’m not big on the high energy types, so I don’t go to those teachers’ classes. It’s a relationship, and I want to feel good about it. Also, it is yoga. There may be a lot of things about yoga you’re not sure you want to try (like chanting, for example) but you never know unless you try. I have to say that a good OM is a great way to start and end your day.

Some final points

If you’re new to yoga, don’t buy a package right away. Go to a few differet beginner’s classes with different teachers. Then, once you find a teacher/studio/class you like, get the 10 class pass, or whatever. Again, it’s a relationship. You go on a few dates before you get married, right? No difference, here.

Maybe do a couple private lessons if you think you’re not getting some of the poses. Maybe you’ll end up preferring the one-on-one sessions. These can also help you create your own at-home practice.

And, buy a good sticky yoga mat. Borrow one from the studio at first, but then drop the $60-$100 on a good mat that has the stick to it. You don’t want your hands and feet slipping around while you’re trying to figure out how the hell to put your sit bones on the ceiling.

In closing, let me sum up what yoga is for me.

I do yoga because it keeps me at my preferred weight. When I don’t do yoga every day, I can tell. When I’ve skipped it for more than two weeks, I have gained 5 pounds. No joke. It keeps away my migraines. When I don’t do yoga for more than 3 days, I will feel it. It helped my breathing when I started running. It strengthens my legs for running. When I don’t do my yoga, my knees hurt when running. I do yoga as a moving meditation. I have to focus on the pose or I’ll fall out of my balancing pose. It keeps me regular. It makes me feel good. I can do a slow or fast paced practice dependig on what I need. And, I can do it at home. Dirty little secret of mine? I don’t like classes. I prefer yoga by myself. So much so that I’ve had a yoga room in my house for the past 8 years.

It truly isn’t a marketing ploy to say that everyone can benefit from yoga. I can honestly say that it is true. But, the reason is that there are so many aspects to yoga and so many types of yoga. It’s really like saying anyone can benefit from eating.

If you have questions about starting yoga, reach out to me. Even if you’re in a different state and we’ll never work face to face, that’s fine. I’m so passionate about yoga, I could talk about it all day long.

Oh, and…Namaste. I bow to the spirit in you which is the spirit in us all…That’s one translation, at least. It’s a greeting that holds a lot of meaning, and is primarily a sign of respect.

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