Your incentive to start a yoga practice might be physical, such as a desire to increase your flexibility or reduce the toll of stress on your body. Or, you may be interested in gaining spiritual insight or discipline.
You don’t need to be religious to practice yoga, how you choose to integrate it into your spirituality is entirely up to you. With a basic yoga practice, you will see improved flexibility, strength, less stress, and possibly more clarity and calm. Yoga is even more important than exercise.
By Ajableu Oldham
In this post, you’ll learn that you don’t even need a yoga mat to get started.
Yoga began as a tradition in India over 5,000 years ago. The word yoga means “to yoke” in Sanskrit.
The intention of yoga is to “yoke” all aspects of yourself together. A yoga practice aims to integrate the mind, body, and spirit by ushering your body through a series of asanas or positions.
The goal of yoga is to achieve a state of inner balance and (possibly one day) a state of total oneness with the universe.
My Story Practicing Yoga
The truth is that I used to hate yoga. I couldn’t stand the poses that made blood rush to my head and my hamstrings ache. It was boring. I thought the people were pretentious, with their Sanskrit words and Lululemons and pretzel poses. I turned to pilates instead.
A few years later, I began running more consistently and tried yoga as a means to stretch.
Then, one summer Sunday two years ago, I tried a new yoga class. I was staying with my boyfriend at that time, who lived in a building that offered Sunday classes. Because it was a residential community, the practice felt much different than what I’d experienced at a class at LA Fitness. The instructor knew everyone by name, touched everyone – anticipating their weak areas and guiding them through it, and reminding everyone to breathe together in unison.
The class was so intense. After working up a sweat, I bent backwards into Downward Facing Dog, and burst into tears – out of nowhere. It made no sense. I was on a happy summer trip, having a great time.
But the act of focusing on my breathing and opening my chest and pushing through physical exhaustion made something burst through me, in a very soothing way.
I personally believe that the positions, called asanas, help build physical strength and flexibility, while also neutralizing my energy that pulses through my chakras.
Did you know that rooftop yoga classes exist? Learn more about them here!
6 Steps To Start A Yoga Practice
Set An Intention
Create a sankalpa, an intention or prayer, in order to bring deeper focus. Identify why you want to start practicing yoga more frequently. Your reason can be primarily physical (I want to improve my flexibility) or spiritual (I intend to come closer to God). Keep an open mind, and be receptive to other ideas that might come to you as you begin your journey.
You can read some prayer tips here.
You don’t need to be religious about your yoga practice, but if you want to see real results, then you should include in your intention to practice consistently.
Identify Where You Are
Don’t be intimidated by advanced yogis who do head stands and twist into pretzels.
The purpose of yoga is to tune into you.
Typically, when you begin a session, you take a moment to shake out your body. Feel yourself move. Identify where the aches are and send healing thoughts to those places.
Identify if you’re tired, sad, stressed, happy. Take note of what is cluttering your mind, and try to let it go.
Shake it out. If you’re feeling sore, tired or stressed, that’s totally OK. That’s what yoga is for.
Focus On Your Breath
Prana means life force, energy, and refers to your breathing.
Your yoga session begins with your breath. Breathe in deeply, and allow cleansing oxygen to fill your lungs. Imagine the exhale as old, expired energy. It’s not purely imaginative: Research suggests that when practiced consistently, controlled breathing will result in lower blood pressure and heart rate, and may result in less wear and tear on your blood vessels. Oxygen is carried through the blood stream
Start With The Basic Poses
I personally dislike when yoga teachers jump into a routine without easing the class into the asanas while checking for proper alignment. I think it’s so important to get centered and grounded before diving in. You can learn about some do’s and don’ts before you start a yoga practice here.
Start with Tadasana or Mountain Pose. It’s the foundation of all vertical poses. Simply holding Mountain Pose means you’re standing tall and proud, and everyone looks and feels better when they’re confident. You can practice mountain pose when you’re standing in the elevator (rather than looking at your cell phone!)
How To Practice Mountain Pose In Yoga
Stand on your mat with your feet hip-width apart. Begin by looking at your feet: they should point straight ahead. Gently bring the weight of your pelvis forward, so that you are not hunched and bent. Feel your spine lift. Remember to focus on your cleansing breaths. Be careful not to tuck your tailbone under.
Mountain pose helps to reduce or prevent back pain. Mountain pose opens the energy within the root chakra, or the base chakra, thus allowing all of your energy to pulsate more freely.
Beginners can try out these easy yoga exercises.
Try Props That Are Right For You
Yoga props are very helpful if you’re starting out. Use a yoga block to stabilize standing poses, use a yoga strap to stretch further in seated poses, and use a bolster or a blanket for restorative poses like Child’s pose. You can use books and blankets too.
Set A Schedule And Stick To It
Make a regular habit of stretching your body, strengthening your core muscles, and finding physical balance. It’s better to do just 10-15 minutes of stretching and yoga exercises 4-7 times per week, then 1 hour of stretching and yoga exercises per week. You will see greater improvement as your muscles develop and build over time if you commit to consistency.