When I started blogging about yoga last year, I received several emails from readers asking how they could begin practicing yoga or how to incorporate yoga into daily life. Many of you asked for recommendations on books and DVDs, or questions like: “I am ______, can I still do yoga?” As for that last question, I can proclaim happily and resoundingly “YES!”
While I started researching yoga in my teens, I did not begin a formal practice until college. Since I had practiced on my own – and not with a trained teacher – I realized that I had been doing some things incorrectly. Once I started working with some instructors who knew about alignment and how to thoroughly teach beginners, I got so much more out of my yoga practice. Now that there are so many wonderful resources on the market, it is much easier to learn more about yoga from your home. This can be especially comforting if you have any issues with group classes.
When I began my yoga practice, I was nearly 80 lbs overweight and extremely self-conscious about my body. I was born with good flexibility, and even as I gained weight, my flexibility remained in tact, although I was very weak, specifically in the upper body. I was not comfortable in my own skin, and the idea of being in a class with people half my size and doing poses that involved sticking my rear in the air was just about the last thing I wanted to do… but I did love the way that yoga made me feel, so I practiced at home, and I slowly began attending group classes and sitting towards the back, soaking it all in and becoming familiar with the poses.
In 2006, when I decided to fully commit to a more healthy lifestyle – reaffirming my (then) vegetarian diet (now vegan) and beginning a regular exercise routine – I complemented my cardiovascular work with two sessions of yoga per week. My gym offered classes and although the room was filled with about 40 people, I made a point of going. I learned about an adjoining studio to the gym where classes were smaller with more teacher-student interaction and solid emphasis on foundational poses, alignment and form. These classes were probably my first “dip” into the yoga practice that I now enjoy each day.
…and slowly… great emphasis on the slowly… I am becoming more comfortable in my body, and more confident in myself. My muscles CAN hold me up in poses because they are much stronger now; cardio work, weight lifting, and hours of yoga have made that possible. Yoga’s mental and emotional benefits have also affected my life – clarity of mind, fewer mood swings, and an increased awareness of myself and of others’ needs. I set aside time for yoga each day now – some days’ practice is longer and more challenging, others are calming and relaxing.
Last weekend was my second session of Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) at my Local Yoga Studio (LYS, go figure!) and it was another amazing weekend. I feel an increasing bond with the other students and our teachers. This weekend was even more teaching practice than the first week, and we broke in to small groups and led each other through sequences of poses. We all flubbed our words a little bit, but in the accepting atmosphere of the class, it was fine, and it was educational for all of us. The weekend is structured over three days – Friday nights, Saturday afternoons and Sunday afternoons. Each session has a reasonable asana practice led by our teachers. On Friday nights, we tend to do more administrative work – talking about the certification and getting our paperwork filled out for our observations and apprenticeships. We also do a comprehensive review of the previous session, and sometimes introduce some new material. We end the night with a wonderfully relaxing restorative practice – blankets, and eye pillows and deep breaths. Saturday is a true focus on asana as we “learn” a pose, and immediately turn to our neighbor and “teach” them what we just did. We do this throughout the day and then come back for a lecture on anatomy. Last session, we learned primarily about the muscles and bones in the feet and legs. We are quizzed on these muscles, so we definitely have to pay attention and learn the names! Our next quiz will be on the back muscles and the shoulders – so much to learn!
Sundays open with a long meditation practice, sometimes guided by our teachers, and sometimes in silence. It is one of my favorite times all weekend and I look forward to it. We return to teaching practice for a few more hours and then end with discussion on our readings, specifically the philosophical subjects. We take Sanskrit breaks through the day, reviewing the names of many of the poses that we have learned in the original language of yoga. I have always enjoyed learning languages, so this is another favorite time for me.
This training experience is definitely affecting me in ways on and off the yoga mat. I think that yoga has the unique ability to do that – because it is so much more than a way to stretch your hamstrings or open your shoulders. It continues to be an amazing journey.
Because there are hundreds of books and DVDs on yoga – so many different styles and traditions! – I feel unqualified to truly recommend the *best* one out there… I haven’t seen them all, and I probably never will. Plus, my needs may be very different than yours. If you are a brand new beginner, I would suggest DVDs so you can easily see how the instructors and models move in and out of the poses. There are many resources available – so many free ones too! – that can introduce you to yoga. Due to the fact that their website is so robust and filled with information, I often suggest Yoga Journal. They have a great “Beginner” section with lots of videos of classes, as well as videos of certain poses. Yoga Today is another website that offers free online classes. If you feel uncomfortable practicing in front of others at this time, these videos will tell you about key alignment points and avoiding injury. If you have the resources near you, I would definitely suggest trying a class at a yoga studio with a trained instructor. Many studios give first-timers a free class or a discount, so it is worth trying! I think you will like it!
**For details of poses above, click on links: