The physical practice of yoga has become a worldwide practice, with new practitioners joining everyday. Doctors, therapists, and even your best friends are recommending yoga as a way to heal from injuries, calm your mind, and bring you into a state of more awareness. But with the increasing introduction of the practice coming from social media, where do you start? What are the images you see? What’s your initial perception of yoga and does that make you feel as though it’s not for you?
When you set out to begin a yoga practice, save these 5 tips in your back pocket so you learn, from the start, that your yoga practice is your own!
Know your formats - It’s important to understand that different styles of yoga will serve you in different ways and different seasons of your life. There are different types of yoga practice from vigorous flows to being still and focusing on relaxation. So where do you start? What will you choose? To put it in easy terms here are a few examples:
Do you get exhausted easily? A power yoga class may not be the best option. Also, if your working hours are stressful and you want to take yoga to relax you, a power yoga class will likely also make you stressed out instead of relaxed.
Do you have a racing mind? A slow, meditative practice like Yin or Restorative may be what you need to help chill. However, if you struggle to relax, it might be more supportive to take a class that has more movement which can aid in calming your mind - as it’ll give you something to focus on.
Recovering from an injury? Restorative classes will help to calm your nervous system, especially if you’re in pain. Pain will keep you in a Sympathetic state (fight, flight, freeze). Since your NS doesn’t recognize what is or isn’t a threat, yet, you have to teach it what is and isn’t a threat, thus giving you the chance to relax. Restorative classes will help you do this.
Embrace props - For so long, blocks and straps specifically, were thought of as props that you needed because you couldn’t achieve a movement in class. Maybe it’s touching the floor or reaching for your foot. That idea of ‘not being able to do something’ permeated the yoga industry and students felt ‘less than’ or ‘not good enough’ when the teacher says, “Use a block if you need to.” Therefore, students stopped using props because they didn’t want to feel like they couldn’t ‘do’ a pose. So let’s think about props differently:
Props enhance your practice. Instead of thinking, “I need a block because I can’t reach the floor.” Think, “This block brings the floor closer to me!”
Can't reach your foot? Loop your strap around your foot and hold onto the strap instead.
When you replace “can’t do’ language with words such as ‘these props will help me enjoy my practice’ you’ll change your relationship to them and won’t view them as a threat and force your body into positions that aren't supportive.
Listen to your body - What would you do if you were sitting and felt an unpleasant sensation? Naturally, you’d change positions. So if you’re in a pose in a yoga class and you feel a sensation that you didn’t like, why would you stay there? Sometimes people need to just hear permission that it's ok to shift around and find what feels good. Here’s that permission:
If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it. You can rejoin the class after that pose is finished.
When you’re in a pose, shift around your foot, hip, or arm placement and take note of what variation feels better for you. You know your body better than anyone else, so you choose. And yes, you’ll be doing it right, because you’re doing it right for yourself.
Vary your workouts - You might think that having a sustainable yoga practice means you have to practice yoga a certain amount of times a week or that you should only practice yoga. Quite the contrary, yoga is a wonderful practice for your mind and body, but it includes many repetitive movements and misses some movements like pulling and strength building. Therefore, incorporating yoga with other workouts is your best bet! Cardio, strength training, resistance training, and joint mobility work will help your body experience different types of movements and your body needs this.
Don’t be a people pleaser - Oftentimes, when a yoga teacher asks students to do something, many will try to do exactly what is being asked. If you’re taking an in-person yoga class, comparing yourself to other students in the room is commonplace. But if your goal is to create a sustainable yoga practice that you can enjoy over many years, you have to make yourself the priority. Meaning, you have to put your needs first. If you prioritize others before yourself, you suffer. This is a huge life-lesson as well. If you’re a people pleaser outside of yoga class, pay particular attention to how this is serving you in class. Do you leave hurting? Do you feel stressed? Do you feel like you just have to try harder? That’s not the goal of the practice. The goal is to leave with more compassion and awareness of self, to feel at peace and at ease with what is.
Now that you have some tools in your back pocket, I hope you realize that you are the owner of your practice and you get to choose what works for you and what doesn’t. You should feel empowered to make choices that will help support the goals you want to achieve from practicing yoga.