Starting out a yoga practice can be overwhelming. As simple a step as picking the studio and the teacher to start your practice with can already be daunting. The choices are simply endless! And in the end, these might not even matter. Here are four simple points that, I believe, are TRULY important when starting out (and sustaining) a yoga practice. Great news: they are all within your grasp and under your control!
Pay attention to any and all sensations (if they come up)
Sensations can teach us many things. It is the language of the body and can often reveal a whole lot, if only we know how to listen and pay attention to them. Often times, when we begin our physical practice, we get overloaded with different sensations. It can be overwhelming at times that our immediate reaction would be to shove them all aside. It is in those moments when they come up, however, that we need to focus our full attention to what we are doing. Take the time to pull your yoga teacher aside after class to discuss these sensations so that he/she can help you navigate through them, specifically which sensations you should welcome and which you should avoid. A caveat: resist the urge to constantly seek these sensations out every practice as they might lessen over time and consistent practice. Let them simply unfold naturally.
Learn to breathe (and relax)
We often forget to breathe while we practice. Our mind can act like a child sometimes; it tends to wander around and pull our attention away from what we are doing now. In which case, it will serve us to actually bring our awareness back to our breathing so that we can refocus our attention. On the other hand, forgetting to breathe can also be a consequence of working too aggressively in a pose. In which case, it will serve us to breathe so that we can relax. Yoga is meant to be practiced with both effort (work) and ease (relaxation) in mind. We have to find that balance, and the breath is the link between the two.
Build and expand your movement vocabulary
I recently came back from a 100HR Teacher Training with Maty Ezraty. Every morning practice, for the first week, we would work on roughly 10 poses for 3 straight hours. Repeated them at least twice, held them for good (and long) amount of time. 10 poses. 3 hours. Not to worry; this will most likely not happen in regular classes and hopefully never in a class that you as a beginner will attend. She did that to teach us and our bodies vocabulary. What should my feet and legs be doing when I am standing straight in Mountain Pose? What should my arms be doing when they are outstretched in Child’s Pose? And like pieces to a puzzle, how those two can be applied in Downward Facing Dog. Most physical yoga practices will ascribe to a form or set of alignment cues. They are there to teach us how to move our bodies efficiently, effectively, and safely into the poses. It will serve us well to remember them because they will enable us to advance our practices.
Always think, “this is a lifelong practice”
You will not be a beginner for very long, true. In saying that though, resist the urge to advance too quickly in your practice that you end up rushing the entire process. Stay longer in the foundational classes until you feel confident enough and fully prepared to dip your toes into the intermediate levels. If you must (and I strongly suggest that you do), find a teacher who works similar to the pace that you know you can sustain. Find a type of physical practice that works well with what your body can adapt to. Forcing your body into poses that it is not ready for is simply asking for an injury. Comparing yourself to other practitioners in the room does you no good and just bring about deeper self-loathing. Yoga can be fun so long as we have the right perspective about the practice. What I feel is important is to step on the yoga mat thinking that I am beginning a lifelong practice. I have ALL the time in the world to discover about my breath, my body and what it can do, my thoughts and how they affect how I live my life, and many other beautiful things. If it does not happen in one practice, there will be more practices in the future.
Yoga should be a practice you look forward to. It is not a practice that we should be dreading or a practice that we use to prove what we can do with our bodies. It is a practice towards finding the deepest expression of ourselves. And that takes time.
Ron currently teaches FNR, Vinyasa Flow, partner yoga in Urban Ashram Manila and an instructor at Ride Rev. He’s spent most of last year taking teacher trainings with Annie Carpenter or SmartFlow, Maty Ezraty and has taken other trainings in body anatomy and mechanics. Follow him @ronhabla