A Guide To Starting A Yoga Practice

health Feb 23, 2013

You’ve decided you want to lose weight, release stress, get more flexible, (enter your reason here!). You’ve heard your friends, coworkers and perfect strangers rave about yoga. You’ve seen people who look “sickeningly” fit walking around with rolled-up yoga mats. 

You’ve decided it’s time to release your preconceived notions of what yoga is about (performing ridiculous postures while balancing on one finger or being forced to join a cult where everyone talks about their “aura” and only eat tofu) and would like to give it a shot. So, where do you start? There are lots of resources on the internet that have guides, but this one is different because it’s written by me!  All joking aside, please read on to get more information on commonly asked questions about practicing yoga.

“There are so many different types of yoga.  Which one is for me?”
If you're new to yoga, you might not be sure which class or video to start with. Here are a few of the most common yoga styles that are popular today:

Ashtanga yoga (also referred to as Power yoga) is a fast-paced, intense yoga style. It focuses on constant movement from one pose to the next. However, this system does allow each student to work at her own pace.

Bikram, or Hot yoga, is practiced in an environment where the temperature is 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat promotes intense sweating that will loosen tight muscles and facilitate cleansing of the body.

Hatha yoga is a general term. These workouts usually include basic introductory yoga poses, and move at a gentle and slow pace.

Iyengar yoga may be the most popular style practiced in the United States. With this style, poses are held for a longer duration. The purpose of this is for students to recognize the subtleties of each posture and to pay attention to their musculoskeletal system and body alignment. Using props (blocks, belts, blankets, etc.) to accommodate a variety of fitness levels and special needs is common in Iyengar yoga.

Vinyasa yoga includes more aggressive stretches. These workouts focus on sun salutations and the connection of breath and movement.
Source: A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga by Nicole Nichols

“Where do I go to practice yoga”?
There are so many different venues that offer yoga classes, so you can decide where you’d feel comfortable about doing it.

Yoga studios -  These venues tend to offer various levels.  If it’s your first time ever, do make sure to attend a beginner’s or level one class.  Even if you’re a supreme snowboarder, or a tri-athlete, if you haven’t practiced yoga before, it’s good to experience the postures that you’ll become familiar with at a slower rate.  You can always ask the instructor at the end of the class if they have any other class recommendations for your needs.  If you want to check out various classes at a studio to see if you like the feeling of the place, many studios offer new client deals (i.e.- one week unlimited for $20 and up, buy one pass get one free, etc). 

Gyms -These venues vary in the quality offered in yoga.  Some gyms dedicate a space specifically for yoga while others may place yoga classes in the same space where they have aerobics/zumba/bootcamp.  Some spaces are away from the pumping techno music, while other spaces may be right next to the weights room.  If you’re already a member of a gym, the chances are you are aware of the classes offered.  Usually, these classes are multileveled, but I do feel it’s best to have a couple of beginner classes under your belt.  Gym yoga tends to be more athletic (you’ll tend to see hot or power or vinyasa yoga in their schedules).  If you’re looking for more restorative or gentle yoga, yoga studios are your better bet (although there are some gyms that have more variety).

Community Centres, Continuing Education Courses, Libraries - These venues are great to go to as a beginner because you’ll get a nice mix of people in one class in a Hatha based class (unless the class indicates a specific yoga style or level).

Your workplace -  If you work in a business with more than 30 people, there’s a chance that lunchtime yoga classes are offered.  Ask around (Human Resources is a good place to start).

At home - If you don’t like practicing with other people or you don’t have any places that offer yoga around you, there are many resources (free to inexpensive) that you can use.  Check out your local library for yoga dvds/cds.  Youtube has many great full-length yoga classes that you can choose from.  iTunes has thousands of free podcasts that you can subscribe to.  One thing I do recommend is if this is the route you want to take, do go to a couple of in class yoga sessions first so that you can know how to do the postures safely under the guidance of a teacher so that you don’t develop bad alignment habits.

“I’m not in my 20s anymore.  Aren’t I too old to start yoga”?
Humans start losing their natural flexibility from around 6 years old onwards.  I’ve taught teenagers who were so tight, they couldn’t touch their toes.  It’s never too late to start yoga.  One of the key things I like about yoga postures is that they enable the body to move in every direction it’s designed to move.  As you get older, your body begins to lose that fluidity.  Yoga as a regular practice enables you to maintain a functioning and able body.  Being able to be able to bend down to tie your shoe at 80 shouldn’t be seen as special.

Many people don’t realize that yoga isn’t only about the postures.  Yoga dealing with breathing, Laughter yoga, yoga involving hand placement (mudras) are examples.  All these and other yoga styles all dealing with finding the way to feeling peaceful and calming the mind.  The key is to try different styles of yoga until you find one that resonates to you. Shop around to see if yoga is right for you.


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