Sunday, August 26, 2018

Yes, You Can Do Yoga, Too: Tips to Help You Start Your Beginner Yoga Practice

Attending your first yoga class can feel intimidating. 

Even trying yoga out at home, shielded from judging eyes, can feel scary. I understand. 

You may have an image in mind of what the ideal yogi looks like and you don’t think your body fits the bill. Perhaps, as my mother did, someone in your life caused you to perceive yoga as a religious activity devoted to elephant-headed gods that will cause a rift between you and Jesus. Maybe you think you can’t afford to take a yoga class. Or maybe you just don’t think you’re physically capable. And so, even though you think yoga looks fun or like something you’d like to try, you let fear and insecurity stop you.

It’s okay that you feel that way. I understand. Before I first began yoga many, many moons ago – and even when I came back to my practice last year after a long hiatus – I shared many of those limiting beliefs. Now, I want to share with you why you need to change how you see yoga and yourself. Then, I’d like to offer some tips to help you launch your own beginner yoga practice.  

Around a year ago, I pulled my yoga mat out of the closet and eased my way through a series of sun salutations to calm my mind and work my body. It was too hot to run that day and I had used up my introductory membership at Pure Barre. And honestly, I was getting a little bored with that anyway. So, I returned to the one workout I have kept coming back to over and over again for 20 years. A workout I could do in the privacy of my home, without expensive shoes, workout gear or special clothes, or a gym membership. 

I'm not even embarrassed by the mistake in my tree
pose from September 2017. We all must learn.

I came late to the fitness game and was in my 30s before I fully discovered that physical exercise calmed my mind and made me feel happier.

I started yoga in my early 20s, but just to get the kinks out. I never let myself dive fully in to learn about the spiritual properties of yoga or to see what it could do for my always-busy mind until after having kids. Even as I tried various fitness activities including running, weight-training, interval training, and Zumba, I intuitively felt yoga’s draw and continued to come back to my yoga mat. Yoga didn’t simply give me a workout, though. When I practiced yoga, it slowed my racing mind and connected me to my body in ways I simply didn’t get through other physical practices. When I pulled my mat out that day in 2017, I needed that reconnection. Fighting the depression and malaise that set in following my family’s move to a new place where I hadn’t found a job and was having a hard time finding my center, committing to a yoga practice seemed like a safe way to ground myself and give my wounded heart space to heal.  

As I explored and expanded my home yoga practice, I found myself wanting to document the journey and to share it with others. Instagram offered a way to both track my progress as I posted photos of specific asanas or poses and a way to connect with others who shared my growing passion for yoga and self-care. Sharing my efforts so publicly was also an exercise in letting go of my fear of being judged because of how my body looks. I spent a lifetime feeling ashamed of my body because it was too fat, too squishy, too thin, too much this or that for my mother or kids at school or men. I felt like the only way to learn to love my body was to stop hiding it and to start celebrating how it serves me and how it changes from day to day. I also felt like doing this, even though it scared me, I could serve as an example that you don’t have to look like Gwyneth or a Lululemon model to practice yoga. What I discovered, by and large, was a loving, supportive community of yogis guided by an ethos of non-judgment.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to find a way to help women rediscover their passions and identities that get lost to life’s disappointments, sacrificing their own wants and needs to raise families, the lies others and our own insecurities feed us. As I felt happier, healthier, and more confident myself, I realized yoga could help other women learn to love or appreciate their bodies and find their own path to health and self-worth. Of course, I also thought why would anyone care what I think since I”m not a professional.

As I shared my experiences, though, I began to have friends tell me that because I shared my joy and enthusiasm for yoga, they had decided to get back on their mats. Many other friends reached out to ask for advice on getting started as a beginner. So, finally, after many months of sending out individual messages to friends, I’ve decided to compile my favorite books, videos, websites, and professional yoga teachers to help anyone start their home yoga practice. I’ve also included a couple of my favorite studios for anyone living in Atlanta or Chattanooga. As much as I love my home practice and it allowed me to grow and dive in at my own pace, stepping into a yoga class with a compassionate and knowledgeable teacher can allow you to deepen your practice and check in  to ensure proper alignment and hear cues that remind you to adjust your form in order to avoid injuries. 

For those of you who battle a self-conscious nature like me, here are some great ways to start practicing yoga at home, on your own or with friends. Always remember to listen to your body. If something feels like it’s straining, burning, or hurting, back off and look for a modification to the pose (If the source you’re using doesn’t already offer one, Google can lead you to many great resources if you simply search the name of the pose with modification.). There’s no shame in using a modification and experienced yogis use them due to existing injuries or chronic pain or a lack of flexibility in a specific area. Oh! And I’d be remiss not to mention props! Props like blocks, bolsters, blankets, straps, and even walls can be of great aid in helping you practice various asanas (poses). If you don’t want to break the bank, many of these props and affordable workout clothing can be found at TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Target or even Wal-Mart. (Don’t feel like you need special workout clothes. A few of my favorite Instagram Yogis even practice in their PJs.)

Okay. Here are some of my favorite resources for learning yoga as a beginner:

Yoga with Adrienne: Foundations of Yoga - If you’ve never done yoga, start here for a primer of all the basic poses and yoga nomenclature to get off on the right foot (so to speak).

Yoga with Adrienne: 30 Days of Yoga - Another great series for the beginning student. Adrienne Mishler breaks down the poses, gives excellent cues, and her cheery attitude keeps you motivated. 

Ali McGraw Mind and Body - available on DVD. Taught by Eric Schiffman with lots of supportive cues and encouragement.

Venice Beach Yoga: Balance & Flow 1 - Available on Amazon Prime video. A great, easy flow.

Kurt Johnsen American Power Yoga on YogaVibes  - A more intense vinyasa-style power yoga practice but with great modifications for beginners. Kurt is my all-time favorite. I love is no-nonsense, everything is good, be where you are now attitude.

In the app realm, there are dozens if not hundreds of great apps that provide clear instructions, soothing music, and easy-to-follow images or videos.

My favorite thing about apps – duh – is how easy it makes it to take your yoga practice on the road. I’ve only used a few but of those here are the ones I loved that would work well for a beginner. Keep in mind, most fitness apps operate on a paid subscription or offer short workouts that may be great for beginners or as a warm-up, but require, in-app purchases for complete workouts. You still may find it worth it to subscribe since that typically costs less than attending classes at a studio. 

Aaptiv - This is actually a comprehensive fitness app with all types of workouts. Aaptiv streams audio-based fitness classes giving you a more convenient way to stay on top of your fitness game. I’ve actually only tried the yoga sessions, but they have all been phenomenal! 

YogaStudio - YogaStudio offers hundreds of workouts including a beginners’ series with world-renowned yogi Rodney Yee. They also include chair yoga for those who might struggle with balance, suffer chronic limb injuries, or be unable to do floor exercises. 

DownDog - I like DownDog, but I’m not ready to say I love it yet. After going through a couple of beginner workouts and an intermediate workout, there were not a whole lot of differences. And I felt like they went too fast in describing the movement of each pose. I was also put off by the fact the app only used still photos to illustrate each asana. That issue has been fixed in a recent update and now video is also an option. All that said, there’s a generous amount of free content so I cannot completely write off this app. 

If you use Instagram, you can explore endless posts on yoga.

While I have made many wonderful friends and acquaintances who post beautiful poses and provide lots of inspiration, I’m going to leave it to you to discover your favorites to follow. But here, I want to share some of my favorite Instagram accounts that offer tutorials to help you better understand poses and correct alignments. Enjoy exploring these:

And for those looking for a studio to help you get started in Atlanta:

Vista Yoga

Kashi Atlanta

Sacred Chill West

For Chattanooga yogis and soon-to-become yogis:

Southern Soul Yoga

Toes Yoga

This woman feels thrilled by the progress she made in 
her bow pose from a year ago when she couldn't reach her feet.

Lastly, I will leave you with this tip. Yoga is not about strengthening or tightening your body, although that can come as a delicious side-effect. Yoga is about calming and strengthening your mind. The Sanskrit word for breath, “prana,” also means life and ancient yoga masters viewed breath as the connection between body and mind. By controlling your breath as you work through postures, you begin to have amazing effects on your nervous system and brain. So, don’t forget to tap into and regulate the rhythm of your breath as you flow through your yoga routine.

Every breath can be a practice. With the inhalation, imagine drawing in pure, cleansing, relaxing energies. And with each exhalation, imagine expelling all obstacles, stress, and negative emotions. This is not something that req.ires a particular place in which to sit. It can be done with in the car on the way to work, waiting for a stop light, sitting in front of the computer, preparing a meal, cleaning the house, or walking. 

- Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

If you have questions or want to know more, please send me a message or leave a comment and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. And if you're a yogi yourself and have more information to share or want to add your thoughts, I'd love to hear your comments, too. Namaste, sweet peas!