Yoga beginners face a bewildering array of choices. This article provides “Five Golden Rules” that beginners can use as a guide:
1. No pressure
Most of us have an action oriented and goal oriented mindset. We want results. We set mental targets to achieve some level of competence by certain date. With yoga you have to leave all this behind you. The only “push” you need is the one that gets you on the yoga mat. After that nothing else matters. Yoga is non-competitive and it does not matter if the person next to you is an “Olympic level” yoga practitioner. It is fine if you are practicing yoga for 10 years and you are at the same level as you started. Everyone progresses at their own pace.
2. No pain
While practicing yoga you should not experience any sharp pain. In the initial stages you may find that there may be some mild soreness that may result due to yoga. But this should not in any way hamper your daily activities. Sharp pain is a clear signal that either you are doing the posture wrong or you are pushing yourself beyond your current capabilities. Serious injuries may result and you want to quickly back off. Too much soreness or swelling is also an indication that something is wrong.
3. Breath and movement alignment
One quick test that you are in a great yoga class is that you getting clear instructions on how to coordinate your breath and movement. Correct coordination of breath and movement is vital. Yoga is not just control of the body it is also control of the breath. Proper breathing technique ensures that chances of injury are minimized.
4. Pleasant all the way
We got plenty of stress in our lives. A visit to the yoga studio should not add more. In fact the main purpose of yoga is to reduce stress. This is why the yoga practice must be something that we look forward to. A yoga practice is a chance to unwind. From the moment you step on the mat and do your first posture to the end of your practice, there should be a feeling of pleasantness.
5. No wandering mind
A yoga mat is not the place where you plan your day or mull over your problems. Your mind has to be focused on your breath and your movement. To add to what was said in 3 above: Yoga is not just about control of the body it is also control of the breath and a control of the mind. The relaxation that we get from the practice of yoga will be much less if we allow our mind to wander. The power of yoga comes from being able to disengage from our day to day thoughts and for the duration of the practice be completely focused on nothing else but our yoga practice.
So the yoga beginner can apply these principles to determine the answer to the following questions:
Q: What style of Yoga should I follow?
A: Follow the style of Yoga that you enjoy the most, that makes you the most relaxed. Yoga is not about getting a “workout”. The key metric with yoga is stress relief.
Q: What level of difficulty should I go to?
A: You want to attend a class where you can keep control of your breath and thoughts. This means you want to go to that level of difficulty where your breath does not become choppy/short while doing the practice, but it should not be so easy that your mind begins to wander.
Q: How do I identify a good yoga teacher?
A: A good yoga teacher provides instructions on how to breathe as you come in and out of your posture. A good teacher ensures that injuries related to yoga are minimized by providing proper instructions on how to get into a posture and out of it, along with necessary variations if they apply.
Q: Should I do hot yoga?
A: If you are comfortable and enjoy a hot yoga class, by all means do it. If however after a few tries you do not enjoy the heat then hot yoga is not for you. It may take a few tries to get used to the heat, but you should not force yourself into hot yoga if it does not seem to work for you.
Q: What precautions should I follow?
A: Be non-competitive, unconcerned with what others are doing. Focus your thoughts on your breath and movement. When breath becomes short or choppy remind yourself to stop and rest. Do not try and push yourself into a posture when you are feeling sharp pain. Listen to instructions provided by the yoga teacher carefully and follow them. If you have any back related issues or other physical or medical conditions, please let the yoga teacher know in advance. If there is any swelling or injury due to yoga or any other activity please give it rest. Check with your Yoga teacher if you need any variations or if you need to skip a class. If you think injury is due to Yoga, please discuss with your teacher and find out what went wrong and make corrections next time.
“Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.” – BKS Iyengar.
Yoga is a great way to find health as described in the quote above. Please use the principles described here to guide your practice. Once your journey to yoga begins, you will find that the journey into yoga is a journey to your soul.