How to… Begin a yoga practice

The yoga “world”…

From the outside yoga and its world can seem daunting. There are so many different styles, so many people telling you they have the answer and so many thin, flexible, white women bending about in their beautiful yoga clothes.

But yoga is available to everybody. At least it should be. All you need for a fulfilling and beneficial yoga practice are your body and your breath. If you can breathe you can yoga.

Begin by beginning…

The key to beginning yoga is to start. Just start. Go to a class, try out different styles. Find out if you love really dynamic flow, or a gentler approach, or hatha style classes, or meditation or pranayama based classes. Maybe you’ll love all the different styles at different times and on different days.

Even better, if you can afford to, is to take some one on one classes with a teacher that you like. In private classes you can really get down to the nitty gritty of how each asana – pose – feels in your body, the correct alignment for you, the correct breath work.

If going to public classes feels too overwhelming at first and private classes are not on your radar at the moment, there are some amazing teachers on YouTube. Learning the basics of how to move and breathe in the privacy of your own home is a wonderful way to be able to start. I would recommend though, going out and finding a teacher to work with who is able to talk to you and help you with postural alignment.

Come as you are…

Don’t worry about whether you have the right body or the right stuff for yoga. The right body is your body. Stuff wise all you really need is yourself. It’s nice to have a mat if you are practising on a hard floor, but other than that you don’t need any special props or clothes. As long as you can move comfortably and keep your breath you have everything.

Of course if you want to use props- blocks and straps and anything else, then by all means, do that. Never feel shamed out of using a prop if it makes you more comfortable in your practice.

Different strokes for different folks…

Once you’re out there going to classes and you’ve found a style that makes you want to practise, try classes from a few different teachers of that style. Find someone you connect to and who challenges you to move out of your comfort zone without pushing you into physical or spiritual pain.

Listen to your teacher. Strive to understand what they are sharing and what that means to you in your body and your practice. If something raises questions in you, then ask. Be with a teacher who is approachable but don’t expect them to have all the answers. Use what you learn in class to explore your body, what you can do, what you want to do, and what are your personal idiosyncrasies and limitations – because we all have them.

Find the class and the teacher and the practice that light you up. Then do it as often as you can. Begin to look into other areas of yoga and explore them while keeping your main focus on those things that keep you coming back to your mat.

Be gentle with yourself …

At every stage of beginning yoga, and thereafter, be gentle with yourself. Don’t expect to be doing full wheel pose after two classes if you’ve spent most of the past while sitting in an office chair. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t sit in meditation for half an hour, don’t worry if you can’t keep up with fancy pranayama without getting out of breath if this is the first time in your life you are really focussing on how your breath moves.

Allow your breath to guide you in your physical movement. For me, this is the single most important foundation of yoga. If your breath gets shallow or laboured, back out of the pose a little or slow down your flow until your breathing becomes comfortable again.

Practise as often as you can. Work towards maintaining a home practice. That doesn’t have to be an hour-long practice structured like a class – just 10-15 minutes of moving with your breath, done as often as you can, will maintain your practice. Remember that practising a little bit, but often, is more beneficial than having a long and intense practice once a week.So don’t be afraid to start yoga. Listen to your body, listen to your breath, and just start.

Home pranayama practice

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