What to Focus on When You’re Starting a Yoga PracticeJul 13, 2020
- Clear space and set up your mat.
An area set aside to practice, even if it’s small, makes a big difference. A clean space can focus the mind, and moving to a designated practice area helps mark the transition between what you were doing before to what you’re doing now. Keep it clean and simple.
- Add a few props.
Props are very important to a movement practice. It’s tempting to skip them at the start, but in addition to a mat, I strongly recommend investing in a pair of cork blocks, a strap (8’ is a good length), and a yoga blanket. You might also find a bolster really useful, but of all the props, a bolster is optional at the start. The blocks, strap, and blanket will help you find alignment and support yourself in positions that, possibly, your body has never tried before.
- Find a teacher (or teachers) whose style makes you excited to practice.
Having a teacher you trust and enjoy is crucial to starting your practice. When you’ve found a teacher whose style resonates with you, you’ll know right away. Don’t be afraid to try a bunch of teachers at first and simply let go of the ones who don’t seem like a good fit. Online streaming classes make this very simple! Try taking classes from teachers who teach different styles of yoga, too—you might find Vinyasa yoga much too overwhelming but the energy and pace of an Iyengar class exactly right. Tune in to what you like (see the next point) and go with your gut.
- Connect with your own inner teacher.
You will always be your own best teacher. This doesn’t mean that you inherently know how to do yoga, or should be able to follow your instincts into a perfectly aligned pose. There are always more things to learn and adjust. It does mean that the gut feelings you get about a pose, a teacher, or the style of yoga you’re considering practicing are worth listening to and following. If you’re instructed to do something that doesn’t feel right, even if you can’t articulate why, trust that intuition. You’ll notice that spending time quietly with yourself, in a yoga practice or during meditation, creates space for these internal messages to come to the surface.
- Learn the names of some foundational poses.
Learning the Sanskrit and English names of some common, foundational poses will help you move through a class and respond quickly to instructions. You can use my glossary of poses to get started.
If you are unable to take a good, deep breath in a pose, you need to lessen the intensity by coming out of the stretch a little bit, using a modification, or adding a prop. Your breath is your most valuable guide during a yoga practice.
Practicing regularly has many benefits. You will be able to see changes in your body and mind as you return to things that challenge you regularly. If you’re finding consistency to be troublesome, consider reducing the amount of time you spend practicing. Practicing for 30 minutes every other day is a consistent practice, and so is practicing for 60 minutes every day. Determining what consistency practically means for you sets you up to be consistent (there’s the inner teacher again!).
- Self-observation (and compassion).
Focus on observing your own thoughts as well as your physical practice. Develop awareness and neutrality; be gentle.
- Modify postures and sequences to personalize your practice.
Yoga is for every body, but not everybody needs to do yoga the same way. Taking into account any injuries you have and the loads your body is accustomed to bearing, consider modifying certain postures or sequences. A modification is not an “easier” or lesser version of a pose. In fact, someone who appears very practiced and strong might be routinely doing difficult postures out of alignment; proper alignment and a modification might be more difficult for them than their misaligned “advanced” pose.
- Start slow.
Your body needs to incrementally adapt to new positions and loads. The reasons you wouldn’t go from sitting most of the day to running a marathon without slowly building up strength apply even to seemingly smaller or less intense physical activities. Use consistency, the modifications you learn, and the self-observation you’re practicing to keep yourself moving forward, slowly. Stay safe!