Yoga is good for you. It is also a booming business. There are a plethora of choices out there as to how you can go about developing and maintaining a practice: studios, gyms, online websites, DVD’s, private instruction, books, audio CD’s, and so forth. The sheer number of options can leave you overwhelmed and wondering where to begin. Here are 10 quick, easy tips to get you on your way.
1. Figure out how much you can spend per month on classes. The average going rate nationwide (USA) for a yoga class is $30. That may or may not be doable for you, but there are a lot of other options out there. Gyms, the local YMCA’s, non-profit organizations (for yoga or otherwise), local groups that get together, ads in the paper, and so forth are often cheaper than going to a studio. However, studios are great for getting the individual attention you may need and may not get from other groups, which may have very large classes. Do your research for your location, find out what’s most feasible for you. Practicing yoga with others is a lot of fun and can help build adherence to your routine. If you’re a beginner or have special needs, I highly recommend taking some classes in order to get feedback, even if you only go once a week and continue practicing at home the rest of the time.
2. Can’t afford regular classes? No problem! Check out online websites like Gaiam and YogaGlo, YouTube, DVD’s, and books–to name a few options. These are often far cheaper and can be used daily, weekly, monthly, however often you choose to practice. Once you’re familiar with the postures, you can mix and match to your heart’s content.
3. Invest in quality yoga equipment. Mainly, a good yoga mat (whatever your price range is), a block or two, and a strap. (If you’re tall, go with an extra-long mat; if you have a longer tailbone or joints that need extra padding, go with a mat that’s thicker.) Other things like bolsters and blankets can often be acquired over time or found in studio settings.
4. It takes time to find the right practice for you. Go to more than one instructor, more than one location, in order to find the practice that clicks with your needs. Try at-home choices at those at gyms or local clubs. Eventually, you’ll figure out what works best for you.
5. Move into practicing gently, with mindfulness. Injury happens when we push ourselves too hard into poses that we’re physically not ready for, and when we forget to breathe. Take the time to gently move into postures, using the breath as a guide and gauge for how you’re feeling today.
6. Let go of competitiveness. It’s easy to look at your neighbor who can twist himself or herself into knots and try to follow suit, but that’s not the goal of yoga. Stay focused on what’s happening on your own mat, how you’re feeling as you go through your practice, and how you feel at the end of it. The quickest way to feelings of defeat is to repeatedly try a posture before we’re ready for it. (Trying a posture to figure out where you’re capable of going is one thing, and you’ll know if you’re ready or not by whether it feels easy and comfortable (or not)–the only two requirements for any pose.)
7. Let go of antagonism toward yourself. In recent years, a lot of research has come out about thoughts and how they affect the body. Basically, you have two brains, one in your head and one in your gut. The one in your head takes your thoughts and creates neuropeptides from them. The one in your gut translates the neuropeptides and sends them into different parts of the body. When we have a negative thought about our shape, our physicality, anything at all, your body reacts by tightening, shortening, preparing to fight or take flight. Conversely, when we have a positive thought about ourselves, we relax, lengthen, soften.
8. Take your practice outside. Nature is known for its healing qualities, not only in the foods we eat but in the serenity it brings. Finding a nice location to practice in enhances both practice and mood.
9. Build tapas. Translated as “heat,” this idea is to develop discipline in our lives. Start by committing 1-3 days per week to practicing yoga and, barring any natural disasters or emergencies, do it, no matter how badly you’d like to be doing something else. You’ll thank yourself for doing so.
10. Be prepared for change. One wild truth about yoga is that when you begin practicing regularly, stuff shifts. Your body shifts, your emotions shift, events in your life shift, how you handle confrontation shifts. This isn’t religious mumbo-jumbo. It just happens. Embrace the changes. As we all know, nothing remains the same forever anyway.
One final word on aches and pains. It is common to have snaps, crackles, and pops when you start yoga. It’s your body loosening and opening. It’s also common to have muscle soreness post-practice. Provided that it’s not debilitating in any way, this too is fine. The aches and pains instructors (and you) should be most interested in are any that are sharp and biting, intense pulling on joints or muscles, sudden cramping that doesn’t go away after release and a quick massage of the area, tingling and numbness (some of this is normal but always check), or anything that results in dislocation, dizziness, or worse. If any of these things occur, always consult your physician and let your instructor (if you have one) know what caused it. Usually they’ll know how to modify it to prevent these things from happening again.
Yoga is not about twisting past your limits, physically or otherwise. It is about creating space in our lives for ourselves, finding a center within ourselves to help keep us steady when life gets crazy, and contentment, peace, and love. It’s about learning how to expand our boundaries, breathe and relax, and live as a human being, not a human doing.