Yoga is becoming more and more popular here in the western hemisphere and rightfully so. When מורת יוגה is done correctly with centering, breath work, asana, and final relaxation otherwise known and Sivasana, we learn to relax and let go of stress as well as tone and stretch our muscles, loosen and make space in our joints, and create a more healthy body and mind. Through the physical practice of yoga, or asana, coupled with conscious breathing, we learn to be less reactive and more deliberate and aware of our actions. The more diligent the practitioner is about their practice the more they are able to bring the discipline and principles they learn on the yoga mat, into their daily lives.
Most first time practitioners are surprised at how difficult yoga can be when they begin the practice of yoga. First, we must learn to slow our thoughts down and be present in the moment. This in itself is a feat, which is why all yoga classes should start with a few minutes of centering before the physical part begins. Sit quietly with an erect spine or lie on the floor on your back and consciously release the thoughts and tensions of the day. Be sure your phone is turned off. Just allow yourself to be in the moment. Feel your weight touching the floor and consciously examine what it feels like to be in your body. Enjoy this.
As you become more aware of yourself relaxing, begin to notice your breathing. Feel the air fill your lungs. Notice as the rib cage expands and contracts with each inhalation and each exhalation. Consciously relax your shoulders, chest, arms, and upper back. See if you can slow your breathing and allow the breath to move down into the lower part of your torso as you breathe. Slowly and gently fill yourself with air. Feel the belly and the rest of your torso rise and fall with each breath.
Be completely focused on what it feels like to breathe. If other thoughts float into your awareness, and they will, instead of trying not to think about them, just focus more on the breath. The more focused you are on the breath the less power other thoughts will have to distract you from your practice. Once you are relaxed, centered and focused, you are ready to begin the asana part of your practice. There are other breath techniques and exercises used in the practice of yoga. These are best learned in a class with an experienced teacher.
In asana, we find ourselves in all sorts of new shapes and physical configurations. Some of these shapes are difficult and may require using muscles in ways they have never been used before. As you become more familiar with the poses of yoga and the correct way to attain these shapes, asana will become easier for you. Remember to be aware of what the body is feeling in each pose. Remember to keep the breath moving in a comfortable, relaxed way through the body as you practice the poses. Remember to work at your own physical level. If you take the poses too deeply and are feeling pain, you are working too aggressively. When we work too aggressively we have the possibility of injuring the body by tearing tendons, ligaments, and muscles. This obviously is counterproductive since injury will only slow down ones progress and put them out of commission for the time it takes to heal. Pay attention to the breath as you move through the poses of yoga.
If the breath becomes strained, choppy, or if you become breathless, you may be pushing the body into places it is not ready to go yet. If you are pushing your practice too hard, you will feel it in the body as well. If this happens, don’t overreact, back out of the pose a few inches, take a breath, examine what you are feeling, realign the body, and see if you can move toward the pose again. Unless you are experiencing real pain, this technique will usually get you back on track. Of course, if you are in real pain, take yourself out of the pose completely and consult an experienced yoga teacher for advice. When yoga is practiced with respect to the body, the possibility of injury is minimized and the potential for progress is increased.
The Yoga experience is unique to each individual. If you are a seasoned yoga practitioner, you already know the benefits of having a personal yoga practice. If you are a beginner, I think it is best to start your yoga journey under the tutelage of an experienced yoga teacher. There are many wonderful yoga videos on the market but most of them do not give instruction on how to get into and out of the poses safely. An experience yoga teacher will also benefit his or her students with knowledge and advise that would otherwise not be available to them. Whether you are a veteran yoga practitioner or just starting your practice, counsel from an experience instructor is always valuable.
– Wear comfortable clothes that will move with you, like bike shorts or close fitting sweats and a tank top or tee shirt and no shoes or socks. Clothing that is too loose with get in your way. Clothing that is too tight will be constricting. The asanas of yoga, or yoga postures, will bring your body into many different configurations. If your shirt is too low cut, you may fall out of it in forward folds. Remember to wear appropriate undergarments with shorts, especially if you prefer loose-fitting garments.
– Proper hydration is important when doing any strenuous physical activity. Be sure to hydrate before and after class. Muscles stretch and work better when they are appropriately hydrated.
– Empty the bladder and bowel before class starts. If you need to relieve yourself during class, take a bathroom break whenever it is needed but be sure to leave the studio as quietly as possible.
– Arrive to class on time or a little early so that you have an opportunity to get centered and let go of the thoughts and tensions of the day. If you start your practice centered it is easier to stay there throughout the class.
– It is always best to have your own essentials for yoga like yoga mats, yoga blankets, straps, and blocks. Most yoga studios have equipment for loan but many people may have used the equipment before you. There may be bacteria and possibly rashes, viruses or other skin disorders present from those who have used the equipment before you. These maladies can transfer to you. Make the commitment and buy your own essentials.