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Friday, January 13, 2017

Yoga for Beginners

A friend recently asked for advice regarding getting better at yoga. She was wondering how it can get easier for her, and how often she should do it. My response is based on my own experiences with yoga, as well as the training I'm undergoing for my 200-hour RYT certification.

As a beginner, it can feel overwhelming and exhausting to practice yoga. My first suggestion is to set a goal for how many times a week you'd like to do yoga, and not to worry about how often you think you should do it. For me, I have delayed onset muscle soreness (which basically means I feel sore TWO days after working out, and not the day immediately after), so doing an every-other-day schedule for my exercise works well. It means I can pay attention to the muscles that are telling me they're sore or tired and target them with specific yoga poses. But that's my maximum; I don't actually do yoga every other day because I'm lazy. And I took advantage of my winter break between semesters to focus on other things before school starts again and I have to do a lot more yoga. Right now I'm doing once practice a week for myself.

To get started, maybe you'd like to do one practice a week. That's awesome! To feel successful, find someone, or a video (mine coming soon, I promise!), or a gym, or studio that caters to beginners. Many facilities have schedules available online and make mention of whether or not a class is good for all levels. Or make it known that you're a beginner so the instructor can give you lots of options to help you feel comfortably challenged instead of frustrated.

I also recommend starting with the basics, like Sun Salutations or Moon Salutations. By themselves, they're a great warm up and workout. You don't have to do a long, complicated practice to benefit from yoga. Especially if you're just starting out! Get your body and mind familiar with the poses; learn the rhythm of your breath; find confidence in the repetition. If you do the same series of poses each week (whether once a week or multiple times) you'll see and feel the changes being made in your body. There are a lot of variations, too, so you can increase the difficulty in just the Salutations when you're ready.
Warrior II variation // Side Angle variation // Triangle variation
In general, poses can be adjusted with a couple of changes. Standing poses like Warrior (I and II) or Side Angle can feel less strenuous if the lunging leg is kept more elevated. Don't go as deeply into the bend. Instead of extending the arms, keep the hands at heart center. In a pose like Triangle, invite the body to stay more upright rather than trying to reach the leg, or foot in the side bend. For Standing Forward Fold or Downward Facing Dog, keep the knees significantly bent. In all my years of yoga, I still keep my knees bent in almost every Downward Dog I do. It just works better for my body. There's no rule that says you have to go 100% into a pose every single time in order for it to be successful. Yoga is a journey, and I like to think every practice you're starting from the beginning.

Also, use props. I talk about it in my videos, but I'll give you a little tip here: props can be anything you have on hand that helps make a pose more enjoyable. A towel can be used as a strap to extend your reach; a pillow can be used to elevate the legs in a seated hamstring stretch; a wall, table or chair can provide stability in balance poses, folds, lunges and more. Embrace variations! I used to smugly think props were for people who weren't able to do the "real" version of a pose. But that's not true at all. Props help us learn what our bodies are capable of, and they can keep us better aligned in our poses, which affects the circulation of breath, blood and energy in the body.
Forward Fold variation // Downward Facing Dog variation
I will have a video that breaks down some of the most-used poses, as well as an entire practice that uses props so you can see how beneficial they are. There's also a practice that goes slowly through each pose, allowing for variations and adjustments. I include Sun Salutations at the beginning of each practice, and my producers and I have discussed eventually making bonus videos that include multiple variations of Salutations that can be a stand-alone practice or a warm up.

I believe yoga is for every BODY, from kids to seniors, able-bodied to differently-abled. I wish I could give everyone a personal yoga session to show how many options are available. Hopefully if you're local you can attend one of my free classes; if not, thanks for being patient while we work on preparing my videos for release!

PS Thanks to my 6-year-old for snapping photos of me this week ;)

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