From remembering to breathe to improving your concentration and body awareness, yoga is a full body, mind and spirit practice. Here are things you should bear in mind before getting started:
Yoga is much more than a physical workout
The physical practice is just one aspect of yoga. The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word yuj, means to yoke or bind, and is often interpreted as “union” or a method of discipline. It was developed as a practice to unite the mind and body. A practice that teaches us to love ourselves fiercely and unconditionally.
Yoga is for everyone
If you can breathe, you can do yoga. Whether you are young or old, overweight or fit, a man or a woman, a family person, a banker or an engineer, or a professional athlete — yoga is for everyone.
Yoga is not a religion
Yoga is the science of the Self. Yoga helps us understand our inner world through various techniques that include meditation, asanas (postures), breathing, focused awareness and certain rules of behaviour and conduct. But is the practice of yoga spiritual? For me, absolutely — it’s the ground from which I cultivate who I am.
Yoga is not a competition
Yoga is about connecting to, integrating, and being you without competition and comparison. It’s about showing up exactly as you are and allowing yourself to express in whatever way feels authentic in the moment.
You don’t have to be flexible
This is still the number one question I get asked as a yoga teacher. Many people think that they need to be flexible to begin yoga. No need to concern yourself with that, though. You come to yoga in order to become more flexible, not because you are already are. I couldn’t touch my toes when I started practicing yoga. Now I can do a forearm scorpion pose (Vrischikasana) and so many other amazing poses. The only thing you need is a willingness to learn and a curiosity to try.
Breathing is everything
It’s common for new students to hold their breath during yoga poses they find challenging. Breathing consciously is the essence of yoga as it assists us in connecting with the subtle energy within. It is through breathing that we can navigate different levels of consciousness. Don’t worry about matching the instructor’s breathing instructions exactly; just don’t hold your breath.
Things you need to begin with the practice
All you really need to begin practicing yoga is your body, your mind and a bit of curiosity. What to wear? Make sure your clothes are comfortable and appropriate for movement. Have a pair of yoga leggings, or shorts, and a T-shirt that’s not too baggy. No special footwear is required because you will be barefoot. Always bring a towel to the class with you. Be sure to stay hydrated during your yoga practice by keeping a water bottle handy. I also suggest investing in a quality yoga mat and props such as blocks, which are used to help with alignment, and straps to help you get into certain poses.
Communicate with your instructor
Before class starts, tell the instructor whether you have any injuries, especially a recent one, so he or she can give you modifications.
Refrain from eating before class
It is more comfortable to practice yoga with an empty stomach. So please refrain from eating two to three hours before class.
Rest in between poses if you have to
Don’t be embarrassed to take rest in a gentle Child’s Pose. This posture is always an option if you lose your connection to your breath during class. It will help you calm down and tune into your body’s needs.
Don’t skip your Savasana
Savasana (pronounced sha-VASS-ahnah) is also known as the ‘Corpse pose.’ With this pose, you lie flat on your back, close your eyes, and relax. Savasana helps you to absorb both the energising and relaxing benefits of your practice.
Yoga is a lifelong rehearsal. Continue to practice. The more you practice awareness around your body and being kind to yourself, the more you will start to notice the many benefits of yoga off of the mat.
WHY YOU SHOULD TRY YOGA
Still not convinced yoga is for you? Here are some more reasons you should give it a try:
■ Yoga can help you get healthy and fit for life. It can help you deal with stress, pick up your child, carry groceries or work in the garden. Yoga can also help to prevent or ease back pain and muscle or joint injury and give you self-reliance and self-esteem.
■ One of the most important benefits of any yoga practice isn’t physical — it’s the quieting of the mind. The bottom line is learning to pay attention. You fine-tune your attention, beginning with the body, and then moving to the mind. As you get deeper into your practice over the years, you start to see the mental and spiritual benefits.
■ Develop body awareness. Yoga requires you to contract or relax specific muscles as you stretch into each pose. This can help you become more aware of your body’s strengths and weaknesses.
■ Reduce your risk for injury. Each yoga pose targets specific muscles. This helps you to increase your flexibility and to reduce your risk for injury.
■ Reduce stress. Yoga can help soothe the mind and lower stress levels. It does this by focusing the mind on the moment and the movements.
■ Increase your concentration. A main part of yoga is rhythmic, focused breathing. This can help you focus.
■ Understand the mind and body connection. Yoga requires you to focus all your energy on each movement or pose exactly. This can help you feel the mind and body work together.
■ Gain strength and stamina. More vigorous styles of yoga promote strength and stamina.
■ Improve balance and stability. Balancing poses require you to use your core muscles. This can help you improve your overall stability.
■ Improve posture. Yoga poses strengthen and open tight areas of the body like the shoulders and the muscles of the upper back, which can help you keep good posture.
— Nerry Toledo is a Dubai-based yoga instructor. She conducts regular give-what-you-can community classes with the goal of making yoga more accessible for everyone. For schedules and locations, go to nerryfit.com.