“I did not come to yoga to stretch. I came to live.”
~Maya Breuer, Kripalu Yoga Instructor
This article is a repost from our old blog – originally dated June 2008.
Coming to Yoga
As we age, we embrace new things, we evolve and grow in wisdom and strength. This is not always so, but it can be, if we maintain an openness to new ideas and accept life’s challenges gracefully, as difficult as that may sometimes seem.
In my own evolution I have recently embraced a challenging new thing, one that actually facilitates my ability to accept other challenges with grace and strength. That thing being yoga.
I do not know what originally drew me to yoga, especially as the attraction began a few years ago when I was in the worst physical shape of my life. Still, yoga had an unknown appeal and I began reading and learning about it. At that time I did not incorporate it into my life, but that door remained open.
Brief dabblings in yoga over the last year have shown me that it’s not easy but that it is fun, and it remained very appealing.
Now, having been vegetarian for nearly nine months, and having shed over 40 pounds towards reclaiming my college/high school weight, I just suddenly incorporated a practice of yoga into my life.
The impulse was my thirty-second birthday at the end of March. I received an organic yoga mat as a gift from my fiancé, Serge, and he also paid for my first two yoga classes at the local ashram. Those classes were in the Sivananda style of yoga.
Though the classes didn’t work out, as the instructor was like a drill sergeant, I adopted a home yoga practice that has really done something good for me.
In the very beginning I did not believe that I would be able to stick to a regular yoga practice, and doing it every day seemed like a chore. I felt silly mostly, there was hardly a single pose that I could manage to do in a full and proper way.
As a result, there was no consistency to my yoga, it was done sporadically, without much focus. For whatever reason though, my focus is sharper now, just a couple of months after that rocky start.
Yoga is not the first thing that I do in the morning, but it is always done before breakfast and before I get pulled too deeply into my work for the day. I have been doing it everyday, except Sundays, for a few weeks now and I love it!
Why do Yoga?
It is difficult to explain why people do yoga and it is just as difficult to explain even my own reasons for doing yoga. All that I can say is that it changes my life, if effects the quality of my day.
I suppose the best way that I can explain the benefit that I derive from it is: I have better flow. Both my life and my energy seem smoother and more vitalized.
What is startling about yoga, when you first come to it, is how challenging it is. Glossy yoga magazines and television workout programs all make it look so glamorous and graceful. But the truth is that those people, who can look either graceful or glamorous doing it, have been putting their effort and focus into developing their yoga practice for years.
You and I will most likely look more wonky, wobbly and somewhat pained when we begin practicing yoga. But that is okay, most kids can’t do a cartwheel when they first walk into a gymnastics class and yet, after a bit of practice and stretching, they learn how to fly through the air with ease.
Perhaps the most rewarding, and life-changing, aspect of yoga is the shift in your focus that occurs with regular practice. You learn, mayhaps more than in any other area of your life, that it is really all about the journey and in time you begin not to focus on the destination. This is a valuable life lesson which will benefit you both on and off of the yoga mat.
You will most likely arrive at a yoga practice for the physical health benefits, which are numerous. There are psychological benefits to adopting a regular yoga practice, including less tendency toward depression and a lowering of stress levels. Physical benefits range from lower blood pressure to a reversal of degenerative diseases. I particularly enjoy the increase in physical strength as well as the gentle reshaping of my muscles and overall appearance.
Plus, it is a little time to yourself, for yourself. Most of us don’t get much of that anymore.
If you have the inclination to explore yoga, the very first thing that you may do is to type “yoga” into Google. And what you get will probably overwhelm you within a minute or two. There is just too much information out there in the modern world, and western society is majorly obsessed with eastern traditions such as yoga!
You will find out that there are different paths of yoga, most referring to its spiritual benefits. And when it comes to the type of yoga that we usually think of, the on-the-mat kind, you will find that there are several different styles, all begun by a yoga teacher or guru, each with different goals and focuses. Some of these include Hatha, Kundalini, Ashtanga, Bikram, Kripalu and Sivananda.
I would recommend for beginners to look toward the basic style of yoga, called Hatha.
So, supposing that you take my recommendation, how can you find out more?
Again, information on yoga abounds! Most places that offer yoga classes will offer Hatha. The Yoga Journal is a fantastic resource, and officially the only magazine that I have ever read from cover-to-cover. You might also want to check out a video or a book.
To save you time in choosing resources, I have listed the only two videos and the only two books that I ever found useful in exploring yoga, and that is after hundreds of dollars worth of searching.
Hatha Yoga Illustrated, by: Kirk, Boon and DiTuro The BEST book on Hatha ever!!!
Yoga Bliss, by: Tara Fraser A cute and easy beginners booklet.
Yoga Conditioning for Weight Loss (DVD) It’s great for beginners too!
Yoga Journal’s Yoga for Beginners (DVD) Simple intro video and a helpful pose guide.
Take it easy in the beginning and do not expect to look like a ballerina in your first session. Expect to look like an elephant on rollerblades, and be proud if you only end up looking like an ostrich on ice-skates.
The most important thing to remember is to try and keep your muscles (especially facial muscles) relaxed even when you are holding a position that may be physically demanding or uncomfortable. And equally important is to stay mindful of all the stretches and pinches that you are feeling in your body, be aware enough to know when you have stretched to your limit or held a pose long enough.
Following these pieces of advice will ensure that you get maximum benefits and minimum injuries from your yoga practice.
Basic Yoga Routines
Here are the three routines that I have designed for myself, each is comprised of twelve poses or asanas, mainly drawn from Hatha Yoga. Please note that not all poses are for all people and if you have any contraindications to certain poses you should not attempt them as a beginner. You can find out about what poses should not be done with certain types of injuries by looking them up in a book or at the Yoga Journal website.
When I say that I do these poses, what I actually mean is that I attempt these poses. You will not be able to do all of them and what challenges you will differ from what challenges me. Just keep at them and the full pose will come to you, as you gradually come to it.
I generally alternate these routines, relying more heavily on the first two and interspersing the third one for fun, flavor and a bit of a challenge. The opening move, sun salutation, is actually a series of poses comprised of mountain, upward salute, standing forward bend, high lunge, downward-facing dog, plank pose, four-limbed staff pose and upward-facing dog. They flow nicely into each other and the sun salute is easier than it sounds.
- First Routine
- Second Routine
- Third Routine
These yoga routines can be as long or as short as you wish. You can do them quick and aerobic, or you can do them in a more peaceful and meditative way…the choice is yours. Most yoga instructors will tell you to do each pose, on each side, either six times or twelve times. I am still beginning, so I chose four times for now. I hold most poses for thirty seconds each, some for one minute and others I can only manage for ten seconds.
My yoga routine is usually a 15-20 minute affair, but has lasted as long as 40 minutes. After my morning yoga routine I also add a few aerobic and Pilates moves to finish up with. Generally these are sit-ups, leg-ups, scissor kicks, standing toe touches, jumping jacks and jogging in place. I finish with a yoga bow and roll up the mat until the next morning.
Be sure to always end with Corpse Pose, as this is where you rest while your mind and body integrate all that you have learned and experienced in your session.
What I like about yoga is that it offers increasing levels of challenge, and these differ for each individual yogi. I am slowly feeling my muscles and abilities develop, each day my practice is different. Yoga is never the same twice, with different muscles offering more or less stretch and resistance each morning.
I work toward supported headstand, king pigeon and toe pose. In yoga, you compete with no one and the only challenger is your own unique body. I know that there will be days when I will accomplish them and days that I won’t. And that is what keeps yoga fresh and fun.
Happy Yoga to You!