Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Start Where You Are: 14 Days to Create a Yoga Practice From Scratch

Over the weekend, I subbed the community yoga class at Yoga Tree in Keene. When I teach, I like to arrive at least 45 minutes early to give me time to sweep the floors, light some candles, and just generally make sure things are comfortable and calm before students start arriving.

This particular afternoon, a man came up to the door. He asked if there were any schedules around - which there weren't, since Robin was still working on them - and then asked if there was a class this afternoon. He'd never done yoga before. It was 4:30, and I told him that we had a 5 p.m. community yoga class. He asked me what he needed to do yoga - and my honest reply was, "Nothing, really. We have mats here, and all you need to do is just wear some comfortable clothing that you can move in." He thanked me, and said that he'd be back in half an hour.

Sure enough, he came in and joined our little group of 7 students. We did a nice, slow-paced class, a couple of classical sun salutations, and had a good rest in savasana.

After class, he came up to me and thanked me. I asked him if he liked the class, and he replied, "No, I LOVED it. I'll be back later this week for more!"

And it really made me think - here was this guy, who had never done yoga before, who just walks into a class, no fear, no judgement, and participates. I mean, really, can it get any cooler than that?

I get people asking me all the time: what do I need to get started with yoga? And really, the answer is: nothing, except maybe a willingness to just start where you are.

To that end, I've decided to share some "How to Get Started With Yoga" ideas for you. For each of the next 14 days, I'll share a basic yoga asana (pose), along with instructions on how to get in and out of the pose safely. If you want to practice at home, these poses are the perfect foundation for a solid yoga practice.

But before you get started, here are a couple of guidelines:

1. Take it slow. Learning one pose a day is enough. Don't worry about the length of your practice - I unroll my mat every day, but some days, all I do is sit in meditation for 10 minutes. Any time that you spend connecting with your breath is time well spent.

2. You don't need anything to get started. Nope, not even a yoga mat. All you need to do is wear comfortable clothes - sweat pants and pajamas are perfectly acceptable for starting your home practice. As long as you can move without restrictions, you're good to go.

If you really really really want a yoga mat, go to Target and buy one for like $20. You don't need fancy yoga gear, clothing, props, etc.

If you're practicing at home, you can use a firm, non-slip surface. We have an oval braided rug in front of our wood stove in the living room (which is the only space in our house large enough to do yoga in the winter), and it makes a perfect makeshift yoga mat.

You can also practice outside, in the backyard, in a park, on the beach. In fact, practicing outside will help increase that sense of connection with the world around you!

3. Never, ever, ever, EVER force your body into a pose where you feel pain. Ever. Did I say never? Never. The goal of a strong yoga practice is to build ease and stillness. If you're in a pose where your breath is ragged, and you're straining every muscle in your body to hold that posture, back out. Just like any other form of physical activity, there's the potential for injury in yoga, and if you're brand new, it's so, so, so important to learn to listen to your body and don't push past any pain.

Learning to listen to our bodies is probably one of the most difficult part of any yoga practice. We live our fast-paced lives moving from one crazy task to the next at breakneck speed, and we hardly ever give ourselves time to exercise our intuition about what our bodies need at any given moment. But if you follow the guidelines of ease and stillness, and slow down long enough to ask yourself how you really feel in each posture, you'll be doing yourself a huge favor towards preventing injuries.

4. Cultivate kindness towards yourself. Always. Yeah, so, if this is the first time you've ever done yoga, you're not going to look like Kathryn Budig or David Swenson or any of those "rock star" yoga instructors you see all over Facebook and Instagram. Not right away, anyway. But you know what? That's perfectly good. Your yoga practice should be about YOU, and not someone else. Don't judge yourself based on what you see around you. I know, easier said than done, and it's another tough part of the practice for a lot of us.

If you do decide to hit up a local yoga studio for some classes, my best advice would be to park your mat right up at the front of the room. Not because you wanna suck up to the teacher or scream out for attention, but this way, you might not be as tempted to look around the room and size up what everyone else is doing. Plus, it's another way for you to exercise the "I don't care what anyone thinks of me and my practice" muscles in your brain. 

Case in point: I can barely get through the full Ashtanga primary series without dropping down into child's pose about a million times. But you know what? That's okay. When I honor my body and what it needs, I am honoring the practice of yoga.

5. The best time to practice is right now. If you have 10 minutes at the start of your day, that's a great time to get started. Or if you feel like you would rather wait until the end of the day when it's easier to set things aside, that's fine, too. But the key to a good, strong practice is to make time every day, when you feel it's best for you. 

So, are you ready to get started? We'll start with learning a simple meditation to get us grounded.

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