The Sanskrit word for yoga is yut, which means, “to join.” The practice of yoga includes breathing (pranayama), meditation and poses (asanas). For some, the practice of yoga is a spiritual endeavor and extends into their everyday lives. Yoga connects these yogis and yoginis to their true nature. For others, yoga poses are a form of fitness practiced in a gym or studio with a goal of strength, balance, and flexibility.
Yoga has often been viewed as a gentle exercise of stretching and breathing but, as those who have practiced for long come to discover, yoga can prove quite challenging. It’s important to keep this in mind, whether you’re a veteran to the practice or if you are just starting with a basic yoga introduction class at your local fitness center: Beware the Power of Three.
Easy Does It
Yoga is such a great practice for everyone, no matter your age or level of fitness. Doctors recommend yoga for patients with back problems, sleeping problems, and countless other medical issues while military bases are slowly incorporating yoga into their morning calisthenics to help soldiers build strength and flexibility. While some of the yoga poses may look easy, it’s important to start slow and build on a solid foundation of basic poses.
When you’re in class or watching that video, go at your own pace. Pay attention to your body. If your teacher tells you to move into pigeon pose but your hips are screaming, pull back, or ask for help. A certified yoga teacher should be able to instruct you on an alternative pose or help you with props, such as a bolster or blankets, to support you until your flexibility or strength builds up. It’s called “Beginner’s Yoga” for a reason. The only person you have to impress about is you.
Push! Push! Push!
Therefore, you’ve been taking yoga for a while and are ready to start jumping from down dog to forward fold. Or you’ve watched that advanced student pull herself into crow pose so many times that you’re finally ready to try it yourself.
It’s good to push yourself. Trying new poses when you’re ready helps create new neural pathways, and helps you develop and grow as a student. But if you’re not ready, trying a new pose may just result in an injury that puts a temporary halt on your practice.
The next time you’re in a pose, take the time to scan your body. Are your feet in the right position? Are you turning your thighs outward? How do your shoulders feel? Are they tight and next to your ears or are they relaxed and moving down your back? Self-awareness is the greatest teacher in yoga. Instead of pushing yourself physically, try pushing yourself mentally. You’ll know when you’re ready to advance. Just listen to your inner teacher.
Is your yoga teacher a certified yoga teacher? Just as you wouldn’t go to a doctor who hadn’t graduated from medical school, you wouldn’t want to go to a yoga teacher who had not been trained in yoga teaching practices and techniques. Look for the credentials RYT after your teacher’s name, meaning he or she is a registered yoga teacher.
There are also teachers who specialize in certain areas. For example, if you have a disability or are recovering from injury, you may want to find a teacher who has been trained in chair yoga.
Chair yoga is great for people with difficulties moving from the floor to standing or for those just beginning yoga at any age. There are also various types of yoga, including Iyengar, Hatha, Vinyasa, and yin, to name a few. Learn about the style that fits your needs and go for it!
No matter what, always honor your body. After all, you are your greatest teacher. Only you know what’s best for you. Namaste.