Ever thought about attending a yoga class but the idea of trying to get your head to your knee seemed too overwhelming and scary? Especially in front of a bunch of yogis who can stand on their heads?
I know because I’ve been there. But I hope I can convince you that yoga is so much more than trying to relax, hold a pose with screaming legs and burning arms, and attempting to not hold your breath all at the same time.
So …. What is yoga?
Yoga means union, a focus on the interconnectedness of your mind, body and spirit to improve aspects of health. Yoga is more than just poses, which is the most basic form. It is called asana, and is just one limb of the eight limbs or components of yoga. Yoga consists of ethical principles for living a purposeful life, while acknowledging the health, mindfulness, wellbeing and spiritual aspects of oneself.
Sometimes, in order to truly understand the major themes of yoga’s teachings, we need to practice asana with the intention of drawing inward and looking at what our minds and bodies are telling us about our souls.
But we aren’t given this yoga information when we attend a yoga class, and maybe we have different intentions to start practicing. For most, it’s to relieve stress, or to get some exercise in, but as you continue to practice and engage in an everyday yoga routine, you begin to focus on the spiritual side of yoga.
So …. How do you do yoga?
Yoga begins by showing up. Engaging your whole self and slowing down to the speed of our rapid and quickly changing, crazy lives. Yoga is for all bodies, shapes and sizes, and no comparisons need to be made as it is a practice of going within, not looking outward at others.
Yoga is for you, your development, and your growth so that ultimately, you can better serve others. The asana or poses, is just a vehicle for you to reach your greatest potential, and love with a humble and grateful heart.
So … Feeling inspired yet?
What if I told you about my yoga journey?
I was exposed to yoga since I was a child, as my aunt was a yoga teacher. I would watch the yoga for kids video and hang out in my cat and cow poses, while actually making the animal noises … it was a fun way for me to move and let my energy out.
I would attend hot yoga classes with her, and she would lead me through yoga flows at her house. But as I went into high school, my poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and academic focus shifted away from my health and my yoga practice.
As my mom was getting into health and fitness, I started to eat better and be conscious of movement and changing my negative mindset. I began doing home workout videos, and jumping on my rebounder (mini trampoline .. plan on doing bootcamps with it one day!).
Fast forward to university, when I decided that business was not my calling and that Kinesiology was much more in line with my values and lifestyle. I began having a regular yoga practice at different local studios, mostly vinyasa and hot yoga. I enjoyed moving, and started to see how yoga was being translated into my life and improving my health – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
I was also always drawn to spirituality. I’ve always been a big church go-er, and served at my local church in all capacities. I felt God has always lead me down the right path, and has instilled healthy habits in me. But yoga allows me to go deeper, everyday.
As I decided to go to Hawaii for 2 months on a yoga internship this past summer, I was immersed into the true yoga world – one that isn’t commercialized and advertises yoga as exercise in one quick hour. I was doing vinyasa, yin and kundalini yoga for 1.5-5 hours a day and loving every minute of it.
I felt like I was on a yoga high … and I still feel that way coming out of classes and even doing my own yoga routine and stretches back at home.
Now as I teach at Strong Body Fitness as a bootcamp instructor, I have access to yoga on a daily basis and have been attending hot yoga 1-2 times a week at a studio closer to home. I do my own daily flow if I can’t make a class, and always incorporate breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation into my morning routine.
Yoga has given me clarity, healed my relationship with food, is slowly healing my hormonal and digestive health, improved my relationships with others as I am more present, engaged and sensitive in conversations and has helped me connect with God that is within me (I call it the Holy Spirit … some call it your higher Self).
So …. Feeling ready to reap the benefits of yoga but don’t know where to start?
Here are my top 10 yoga tips on how to get started on your yoga and inner journey to reaching your highest Self!
1. Get a mat.
If you are planning on taking a yoga class, the first step you can do is buy yourself a yoga mat that suits your needs and your style! There are some for as low as $20 will cool designs, and even grabbing a block and strap package for your home practice is helpful, especially if you need an extra stretch from injuries or chronic pain. I finally upgraded to a heavy-duty Jade yoga mat that is extra long for my extra long limbs and will hold up to my daily practice.
2. Get some inspiration.
See how others are moving and get inspired! Maybe check out some Instagram accounts of yoga teachers and their favourite flows and poses, and read about the eight limbs of yoga through resources like the Yoga Sutras.
3. Figure out which type of yoga works for you.
Maybe you hate being hot when you are moving, so hot yoga would probably not be the best choice for you. Listen to your body and try out some different yoga classes. Different types of hatha yoga are the most common types of yoga that we practice in North America.
When you want to be mellow and stretch it out in static poses, go for some yin yoga. If you have lots of energy and like to not hold poses for a long time, try some vinyasa power yoga. If you want to challenge your mind and engage in more repetitious breathing and meditation practices, try some kundalini yoga. And if you like routine and want to progress through set sequences, try some Ashtanga yoga.
Vinyasa yoga is my go to, usually a yoga class that holds poses and where I can push myself and hang in a headstand for a while, but I do switch it up depending on my needs of the week.
4. Do your research and shop around (local is better).
Find a studio that has a variety of different classes that you think you would enjoy, as well as one that is near to your house or work. Check class schedules weekly and fit them into your schedule (set reminders, put it on your calendar or write it in your planner!!). Make time for you and your personal growth a top priority! I love my power flow and slow burn vinyasa yoga classes at Strong Body, my vinyasa hot yoga at Moksha, and my inversion practice at my own yoga sanctuary.
5. Try different classes that involve water, sun or animals.
There are some special exceptions to traditional yoga classes that you might want to try out if you’re feeling adventurous. SUP yoga is always a fun way to challenge your balance and connect to the sea (or lake…).
When the seasons change, there are usually 108 sun salutation events that salute to the new season and connect with other yogis in your community … I went to one of these for the fall and it was so much fun!
Also, there are some classes that are by donation to animal rescue charities, and include goats, cats and dogs wandering around and chilling on your mats as you move through your downward dogs with them. This is the usual at my house … minus the goats.
6. Bring a friend or go with someone who is all Zened out.
It always helps when you know someone who is into yoga and that already goes to a yoga studio. You can hold each other accountable as well as share ideas and thoughts about classes and how yoga is influencing your lives together. Also, your friend might give you the encouragement as well as inspiration you need to get to your first class.
7. Be consistent.
To have a daily practice would be ideal, but when starting out, try to go to yoga at least 2-3 times a week to really experience the benefits – mind, body and soul! You will feel yourself becoming more mindful and slowing down and you will realize that what you learn on the mat is projecting into your daily life – but this only happens when you are committed and consistent!
8. Listen to your body (know your limits).
Don’t ever compare yourself to the yogis in the room. Focus on your breath and listen to your body as you flow through different poses. Stay in the ones that are uncomfortable, but not the ones that hurt. Know your limits but also know when to push yourself to your edge. Get adventurous and try out new poses without fear or judgment of yourself or what others will think.
9. Find a yoga instructor (mentor) that gets you.
Trying different studios and going to different yoga events in the local community can help you find a teacher that speaks to your soul and your growth. Once you find a yoga teacher that you can relate to, that understands you and knows your limits can make your yoga experience even that much better. Having a mentor can teach you new things about yourself, about the practice itself, and can create the support and guidance you need to reach your highest Self.
10. Be patient.
Being kind to your body also means that getting to more advanced yoga poses takes time, effort, focus and patience. Be patient with your progress, and know that there is a lot of hard work on all accounts – mentally, emotionally, physically and spirituality. Contemplation, reflection, listening, and letting go are all parts of the journey. Trust in the development of your yoga spirit.
Please comment below about how you have used these tips to start your yoga practice! I would love to hear about your yoga journey and how you incorporate the eight limbs of yoga into your daily life!
So I encourage you to get your Zen on in order to improve your health and your interactions with yourself, others and the world off the mat.
Jill – your veggie villager xx