The first principle of yoga that I want to emphasize, and should be emphasized in every yoga class you take, is that it is a very individual practice. You should do what feels good to you and never compare yourself to the rest of the class. If you need an easier or modified posture, than that’s what you should do and not worry about the person who can do a full handstand without even trying. Push yourself to discomfort, but never to pain. Yoga is about improving yourself, not reaching a particular milestone or standard.
The first thing they talk about in every yoga class and video I’ve ever seen is breathing. Yoga breathing is the base of everything else. Breaths are from the diaphragm and through the nose. it is a slow and determined breathing. As a singer and a swimmer before I started yoga, I found the slow deep breathing quite easy to catch, but if you don’t get it at first, just do what you can.
Types of Yoga
There are many different forms of yoga, and choosing the right form for you can be a very important part of enjoying yoga! Here’s a quick description of the major types you are likely to encounter and these and more can be found further described here.
Hatha: this is the practice of holding poses for long periods. It is excellent for meditation and stretching
Vinyasa: the word means flow, and these classes are often moving between poses in series. This can be done in a gentle or an aerobic fashion
Ashtanga: this is another flowing class, however it is a consistent series of poses and definitely a sweat-inducing yoga class.
Bikram: this involves a sequence similar to an Ashtango class, only it is performed in a heated room near 100 degrees F. Sweaty is an understatement.
Many classes are often called Power Yoga as well. This seems to be less of a specific type of class and rather a designation that the moves will be difficult and physically demanding. I often see Power Vinyasa classes as a descriptive. This is also my favorite type of class since you are in near-constant motion and working hard for it. I like yoga that pushes my body to force my mind off of life and into the movement and breath.
Yoga comes in many levels. When I first began, I could barely touch my toes or lift my legs. Even srivasana (the relaxation pose at the end) made my back hurt. Fortunately, I had good teachers who taught me how to effectively use blocks (if you can’t reach the ground) and straps (for the less flexible) and blankets (good under the knees and lower back) to help me out. Now, I can do a triangle without my block and with my legs really wide! I still bend my knees through most poses though.
The Practice of Yoga
For many people, yoga is more than exercise, it is a spiritual practice or a meditation. Don’t let this scare you away. I have never taken on the yoga “way of life” but have borrowed some of the principles. I regularly use yoga breathing to get through stressful times or difficult runs (I’m training for a half-marathon!). It really helps when holding a difficult pose, or fighting a tough boss, to focus on breathing. No, really. Try it. Also, the sanskrit can drive people a bit crazy. Sanskrit is the language that many teachers will use to name the poses. I like the sanskrit because it is like being in a secret club with an ancient language. It kind of makes me think of elvish, too. You know, like moon runes! You may pick it up after a while, I can rattle off surya namaskar (sun salutation) in a way I thought I never would be able to. Also, utkatasana (chair pose) is bad news, definitely need yoga breathing for that one!
Choice of Media
For many exercises, when you want to learn something new, you just buy a DVD. With yoga, that can work, but it can be difficult because yoga postures are hard to copy from a television screen without a little bit of help. However, there are some teaching DVDs that aren’t terribly bad and include modifications. My first video was from Gaiam, and I highly recommend their products. However, I also highly recommend finding a class, at least for a period of time at first, to be certain you are getting the postures correct. I took classes for about 2 years, and have been working on my own since then. Most yoga classes are 60-75 minutes. I have recently not had that kind of time and am loving these 20 Minutes Yoga sessions through itunes. If you have Wii Fit, they have a number of yoga postures that are not too bad for learning the basics, but that won’t give you any aerobic movement.
I feel like there is a type of yoga for everyone. Something for people who want calm and meditative and something for people who want to sweat and burn calories while improving strength and flexibility. Personally, I can’t even survive any more without doing yoga twice a week. Yoga is something that I like to geek out about, and so now I challenge you to give it a try and see if you want to geek out over it too!