Here is some advice for those seeking to start yoga or to shop around for a teacher or studio! I think the following tips are crucial to yogis looking for somewhere to practice, beginner or guru!
1. Find the right studio……..and teacher!
The most important thing I think to a happy practice is to find the right studio and teacher. What sort of vibe do you get when you walk into the studio, or what were your first impressions of your teacher? These might seem obvious but in my opinion may be over looked. Does the studio offer you a class you are looking for? Do you need something more restorative, or more challenging? Finding the right class for your needs is crucial to enjoying the yoga journey, and if you find the right style you may find it easier to progress and commit to the practice!
2. Are you receiving enough instruction?
With many offers around at the moment I understand how tempting it is to grab them. But before you part with your hard earned money, research the studio the offer is for. Are there appropriate classes for your needs? How many will be in each class? Perhaps you could call and enquire as to how many are in each class. It is vital for students to be SEEN by the teacher, repeatedly holding a pose not in the correct alignment may further current injuries or create a RSI (repetitive strain injury). Another down side to a bigger class is they are usually mixed levels. Which is great to keep it safe but those who have been practicing a while are missing out on learning more challenging poses.
3. Now that you have found your ideal class…….BREATH!
Seems obvious right? You might be surprised at how often you realise you are not actually breathing. Remember one of the main purposes of asanas (postures) is to bring oxygen and fresh blood to parts of the body that may not always receive as much as they should. So try not get caught up in the pose itself, keep your mind on your own mat, yoga is not a competition so enjoy your own journey. Most of the time when we feel our body can not do something it’s our brain sending that message. Excuse the phrase but tell the brain to shut up by keeping your breath deep and steady, the body may be able to do more than you think when you are able to control the breath.
If you are not remembering to breathe during the practice, perhaps you are not breathing continuously during the day, or perhaps your breath is short. This can lead to fatigue, anxiety and can also affect your sleep, so bring your attention to your breath outside your practice, perhaps a deep breath when you feel stressed or anxious.
4. Don’t end gain – enjoy the journey!
End gaining is when one is focused solely on the end result. Although it is great to have goals in mind, it is important to stay in the here and now. I often see students in my own classes or classes I attend, going beyond their limit to please the ego. For example bringing the hand to the foot in Trikonasa (triangle) or Uttanasana (standing forward bend) but sacrificing the alignment of the chest, shoulders and legs therefor not getting the full benefit of the pose, whatever variation you may be in. Try to accept where you are in the pose and be happy with that, the fact you turned up instead of sitting on the couch should be praise enough 🙂
I often get asked things like “when can we do headstand”, “When will I be able to do x, y and z”. The answer is when your ready. I often get asked such questions by people who have only done less than ten lessons, and sorry guys but sometimes you are a bit more guilty for it ;). Poses such as headstand, handstand should only be done by yogis who not only have the core strength to keep their back safe but who also have the upper body strength to keep the neck long and arms and shoulders engaged and that can take a while. So if poses like that are important to you and you aspire to get into them, I advise you to commit to a more regular practice, perhaps twice or three times a week. If it’s not feasible to get in to a class that often there are things you can do at home to help build up core strength.
5. Stay present.
Many student think they ‘can’t meditate’. If you are staying present in your class, focusing on your alignment and breathing, then I’m sorry to be breaking it to you but you are meditating! Meditating is about emptying the mind from our everyday thoughts and worries and staying present, you don’t have to be sitting in a cross legged position to meditate. In fact moving meditation is often more accessible to our culture in my opinion. After the asana (posture) part of the class you may find it easier to empty the mind whilst enjoying stillness of Sukhasana (easy pose) or whatever seated pose you enjoy most. Clearing the mind is not easily done by many, and even thinking about doing so can be stressful for some, so instead try only focusing on your breath, the rising and falling of the ribcage, any sounds or movements you can feel in the body, and any sensations you are experiencing in the body. Try find what works for you that gives you a break from your every day thought patterns.
6. Not sure?……….Ask!
Don’t be shy in asking an instructor to go over something. That’s what we are here for! People learn in different ways too, some people are visual learners whilst others learn by listening to an instruction, so make sure your needs are being met. If you have an injury please be sure to state that to your teacher, it’s important you know what to avoid! Maybe you have a problem area, ask if there’s a safe pose or short sequence you could try at home to help relieve any aches and pains you might have.