Beginning a Yoga Practice

Published on May 10, 2017 by arothstein

College is an obviously an amazing time to set academic goals and goals for your future career. While you are planning for the future, however, it can be easy to lose sight of the present. One excellent way to stay grounded when you are going through the exciting and life changing experience of obtaining your college degree is through the practice of yoga.

When most people think of yoga, they immediately picture a masterful yogi, a professional yoga practitioner, posed in an insane, body-morphing posture that would require the balance of a superior athlete. The good news is that while it is true that some yoga practitioners strive to reach these goals in their yoga practice, most people who dabble in yoga are interested not in achieving the most difficult poses but in reaping yoga’s many health benefits.  In addition to increased flexibility and improved core strength, which can prevent debilitating back injuries, the mental health benefits of yoga are numerous. A regular yoga practice can decrease depression and anxiety, help to lower stress, and can even help increase focus and improve learning outcomes.

If you think you are ready to give yoga a try, there are many different paths you can take to diving in to your first yoga experience. If you are an outgoing person, and enjoy group workout classes, you should absolutely consider visiting a beginner yoga class. Don’t just pick one and go, however. Yoga is a personal experience directly related to your health, and just like you wouldn’t choose just anyone to be your doctor or dentist, you wouldn’t want to select any random yoga teacher. First, take your research online. Do a quick search of yoga studios that are convenient to where you live or work. Ensure that they offer a beginner’s level class. Some studios offer individual coaching for new yoga practitioners or a beginners series lasting four or more weeks to ease you, and your classmates into the practice. Check the credentials of the instructor. Read reviews that have been posted by individuals that have visited the studio.

Then, when you have narrowed down your list to a just a few studios, drop by the studio during a time when no classes are being held so that you can meet the owner and instructor and get a vibe for the place. Studios vary widely in their décor. Some are clean, crisp, and well-lit. Others are cozy, candlelit, and rustic. Pick one that appeals to you. Also, when considering studios, some studios are more focused on the mental aspects or yoga and others are more focused on the physical aspects. Make sure that studio you choose fits with your personal goals.

When you have finally chosen the studio where you want to take your first class, pick a class that is being offered near the end of your work week so that if you do experience some residual soreness you can take it easy the next day. Don’t forget to ask what supplies you need to bring to your first class. You can purchase an inexpensive yoga mat for less than $10 at any local big box store, or a more durable yoga mat with more cushion at a sporting goods store for around $25. Additional supplies that you may need are yoga blocks and straps. While these pieces of equipment may look imposing, they are extremely easy to incorporate into your practice, and serve to help you conform your body to variations of more difficult poses. Even a beginner can get excited about what they can accomplish with these tools. And, of course, don’t forget the most important thing to bring to yoga class—lots of water!

If you are a person that doesn’t enjoy exercise classes, or you like to exercise in a more person environment, you can still begin a yoga practice from the comfort of your very own home! There are countless yoga videos available online, and YouTube has several that are free, targeted to beginners, and taught by world-renowned practitioners. If you don’t mind investing money into your classes, Wanderlust and Cody are two online pay-per-view workout sites that offer outstanding beginning yoga programs.

Just because you are practicing yoga at home, don’t think that there is no need to prepare for your first class. Preparation in this instance is arguably even more important. Obviously, you need to purchase your basic supplies—yoga mat, blocks, and strap—but you will also want to create a special space in which to practice. Instead of throwing your items unceremoniously on the living room floor, take the take to pick a quiet area in your home, perhaps one that has a good view of the backyard or of your favorite flowering tree. Set up and light some candles in safe spaces near the area. Light some incense or use a fragrance diffuser. If you have a noise machine, set it to a quiet nature sound or even to white noise. The goal is to make the area as peaceful and as pleasant as possible.

Because you are going online to select your teacher, you have a much wider variety of yoga styles from which to choose. You can even change your style based on your mood on a given day. One great yoga teacher that appeals to many beginners is Jessamyn Stanley. Jessamyn’s in-your-face style of teaching is inspiring, and her ability to break down each pose so that individuals of all body types can access them is masterful. She also has several programs available online that focus on a vocal practice. Instead of keeping meditation internal, she encourages her students to vocalize their stress and frustrations. In your own private space, this can be a great way to decompress at the end of a long day or a long week. She is publishing her own book, which will be released in April, so if you enjoy her style, be sure to check it out.

As you experiment with yoga, remember that there is no one way to practice. Do what feels right and what provides you with noticeable benefits, and yoga will have fulfilled its purpose for you!  

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