While yoga has been around for centuries, it has surged in popularity over the last two decades. There are currently 37 million people in the United States who practice yoga; and I’m sure that the number of people who practice worldwide is even higher! People practice yoga for a variety of reasons such as gaining physical strength and flexibility, recovering from an injury, or to relieve stress and have more inner peace. Yoga is a practice that’s intended to meet you where you are physically and spiritually; to create balance, harmony, and a sense of connection in your life.
What you see on social media can be misleading and can cause many people to think that yoga is primarily about creating a “perfect” picturesque pose (like on a beach), or contorting the body into extreme ranges of motion. While there are some that do place an emphasis on the aesthetics, it’s more important to find yoga classes that will focus on developing body intelligence and guiding students to cultivate a safe and sustainable practice to enhance your overall well-being and bring a lasting benefit to your life.
Below are some common questions and misconceptions to help prepare you for the practice of yoga.
Are there classes for beginners?
There are definitely yoga classes that are open to all levels and abilities, including those that have never set foot on a yoga mat. It’s always best to do your own research to see what’s available in your area. Ideally you want a yoga teacher that is skilled at instructing those in the room, giving good cues as you move between poses. As a beginner, you shouldn’t have to buy yoga flashcards, memorize names of poses or understand Sanskrit before you go. A good yoga teacher and class should offer plenty of options to make the physical practice appropriate for you.
I’m not flexible!
This is the most common remark a yoga teacher hears. If you happen to be someone who believes this, consider that maybe your “tightness” has nothing to do with not being able to get your hands to the ground or bend your body like you’ve seen other people do. A functional yoga practice can guide on you how to work with your body type. Your mat becomes not only the place to practice asanas (poses) but also a tool where you can acquire knowledge and make discoveries about YOUR body. A good yoga teacher will guide you toward a deeper understanding of your body thus allowing you greater understanding and joy for the practice.
How do I know what class is right for me?
How should I prepare before class?
Hopefully this guide has helped to answer any questions or concerns you may have and sets you up for an optimal experience for your journey into yoga. See you on the mat! 😊
Sun Salutation is the most famous yoga sequence and can be a way for us to connect with our light within and our self-illumination. According to yogapedia.com, "Sun Salutation is one of the most important yoga practices. It is the set of 12 yoga poses which can be performed while chanting 12 different mantras. Mantras add a reflective spiritual element to the practice. The practice of Sun Salutation awakens the body intelligence to create energy directly from the sun. In the Vedic tradition, the sun is symbolic of consciousness and, therefore, has been worshiped daily in the Indian culture. Sun Salutation may also be referred to as Surya Namaskara in Sanskrit."
The original Surya Namaskar wasn't a sequence of postures, but rather a sequence of sacred words - mantras to honor the sun. The Vedic tradition, which predates classical yoga by several thousands of years, honored the sun as a symbol of the Divine. The full practice includes 132 passages and takes more than an hour to recite. The sun salutations were traditionally chanted at sunrise, repeating the sequence in each of the four cardinal directions.
If you want to “flow” through your Sun Salutation with more grace and peace, here are some simple and practical tips that can help make your Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) experience complete and blissful.
Meditate before you start Surya Namaskar
So why meditate before practicing the Sun Salutes? Meditation helps remove restlessness in the mind and prepares your body for Surya Namaskar yoga postures.
Practice Sun Salutation early in the mornings
Although Sun Salutations can be practiced at any time of the day, the early-morning hours are considered especially auspicious for yoga and meditation practice. For most of us, early morning is the time of the day we can be alone, without any interruptions or distractions.
Try moving slowly and deliberately
When you feel how the sequence becomes a sort of moving meditation as you practice, your center of awareness in your body (such as your third eye or your heart) challenges you to keep focusing there for the duration of your practice. Even when you pick up pace, don’t do the poses with jerky movements or with force. Allow the postures to flow gently and gracefully one into the other.
Have the Attitude of Gratitude
When you step on your mat, give thanks for the day, your body, your yoga practice and anything else that has meaning to you personally. This makes a big difference! You will be able to enjoy your stretches much more and to keep the positive energy flowing through the duration of your yoga practice.
Do your Surya Namaskars with awareness
This is a very essential element in the entire practice. Surya Namaskar could be very energizing when it’s practiced at a slower pace and with awareness on the breath. If done with proper awareness, one can feel the flow of energy starting from the Navel chakra through the entire body.
Use the breath to calm the mind (and steady the body)
Whatever happens in the mind influences the breath. Stress and tension cause the breath to increase, peace and calm slow the breath. The opposite is also true, slowing the breath will bring peace and calm to the mind. As the mind calms, the body will follow, tight muscles will soften and supporting muscles will become more steady.
Practice Sun Salutation as a warm-up or stand-alone practice
If you are new to yoga or don’t have time for an hour practice. For busy yogis, practice Sun Salutation for 10-15 minutes then relax in Savasana. If you have more time, practice Sun Salutation as a daily routine before starting your regular yoga practice. It is worth noting, if you are practicing Surya Namaskars as part of your warm-up, you can do them at a somewhat faster speed. When you practice them as part of the yoga posture practice, you can practice them slow to medium speed. After a few rounds, your body will feel light and flexible and the stretches in the active yoga postures become deeper. If you have backache, avoid practicing Sun Salutations at a fast pace.
Relax After Sun Salutation
As you finish your last round of Surya Namaskar, lie down and relax your entire body. For best results, it is advisable to lie down in Yoga Nidra or Savasana, giving your body and mind enough time to assimilate the effects of your practice.
Surya Namaskar is the perfect practice to awaken the body, focus the mind, and connect to a sense of gratitude for each new day. Remember that you have the sun inside your heart.
We often use and abuse our shoulders a lot more than we realize. Whether it’s sitting at a computer, lifting weights, or even doing a few too many Chatarungas, it’s important to balance all of that strengthening or lack of movement with opening postures. Try these shoulder-openers when your shoulders are feeling tight or especially overworked.
Forward fold with chest expansion
Begin in a forward fold with your feet at least hip-width apart. Allow your head and neck to relax. Interlace your hands at your lower back. If your shoulders are tight, keep a soft bend in your elbows. Slowly draw your palms forward, over your head, to open through the chest and shoulders. Take the shoulder opening to your limit, and breathe here for as long as it feels good.
Begin in chair pose, or Utkatasana. On an exhale, swing your right arm under your left, and bring your right palm to meet your left in front of your face. Lift your right leg over your left leg and compress your inner thighs, finding a tight wrap. Find a bind with the right foot behind the left calf, or use your right foot as a kickstand. Breathe here with a strong core, and draw your elbows away from your chest, and your palms away from your face. Switch sides when you’re ready.
Begin on your belly with your chin facing forward. Bend your knees, drawing your heels up to your gluts, and reach back and capture your feet or ankles from the outside. Exhale, and as you inhale, kick your feet into your palms, lifting your chest away from your mat. Gaze straight forward, and try to rock your weight into your belly. Draw your knees toward one another and breathe.
Kneel and walk your knees toward the front of your mat. Lift your hips over your knees, and bring your palms to your lower back, fingertips facing down for a deeper shoulder opening. Squeeze your elbows toward one another and lift your gaze while you open through your chest. Keep your hips stacked over your knees, and arch your spine while you lift through your heart. Find five breaths in your fullest expression, and keep pressing your elbows toward one another to open through your shoulders.
Begin in a seated position. Bend both knees, and swing your left leg underneath your right. Nestle your left heel next to your right hip. Stack your right knee over your left, and let your right foot rest on the mat beside your left hip. Extend your left arm high, bend at your elbow, and reach your left palm in between your shoulder blades. Bring your right arm behind your back, bending at your elbow and reach up to grasp your left fingertips with your right. If you can’t grasp opposite fingertips, you can use a towel or a strap. This is a very intense shoulder opener – either stay here, or fold forward from your hips. Switch sides after 5 or 7 breaths.
With the increased interest people now take in yoga, it's no wonder that the market has been flooded with all sorts of products and accessories dedicated to yoga practice. Advertisements with the best yoga mat have become more than common; the so-called “best” mats often vary in price and quality. If you are buying a yoga mat for the first time, you may not know how to choose one. Yoga mats provide some cushion between the floor and your body, as well as, delineate personal space in a yoga class. Our yoga mats can also help to remind us of our commitment to practice when we see them rolled up by the door.
There are lots of options for yoga mats, and many factors to consider when choosing your mat. There are so many brands, names, sizes, colors, materials, thickness, etc., how do you know what's right for you? With the number of yoga mats on the market and it can be overwhelming making that choice of what to look for. Here are my top 6 tips to help you make a choice:
Eco friendly: Many basic yoga mats that you might find at your local retailer contain PVC and/or latex. Latex can be an issue for people with latex allergies. As for PVC, there is some evidence that links PVC exposure to certain illnesses like asthma. Considering how much of our yoga practice involves putting our faces and hands on and near our mats, it may be worth the extra money to buy a yoga mat made from materials like sustainable harvested rubber.
Good grip: A good grip is the most important function of a mat, so it’s important to test it before buying. There are many mats on the market which are designed for physical therapy or Pilates, so buy one specified for yoga practice. Some people sweat a lot from the style of yoga they practice like Ashtanga or Vinyasa flow; here it’s important that your hands and feet do not allow you to slide. Try a downward-facing dog, it’s THE grip test.
Thickness: Depending on the style of yoga you practice or if you have previous injuries (like your knees, back, elbows) you may be better suited to buy a thicker mat with proper padding. Though Table and Downward Dog positions don’t require much cushioning, other forms of yoga need some lining to maintain a proper balance. Extra thickness provides more cushioning for the joints especially when practicing on wooden floors however a thicker mat can prove more unstable in balance postures. Be warned, there are many cheap mats out there that say they are 6-7mm thick however the density of these mats are often very low meaning they offer little or no extra cushioning. A good tip is to check the weight of the mat to try to judge density.
Size: A standard size yoga mat is around 61cm wide and 180cm long. If you are tall like myself, you may want a longer mat that’s 68cm wide and 185cm long. Also be sure to look for an extra-long mat bag to carry it in.
Price: It’s up to you how much you want to spend on a yoga mat If you can, it is better to spend a reasonable amount on your yoga mat especially if you use it every day or if you plan to use it often for yoga classes, plus some more expensive mats will last longer than a few yoga practices. Less expensive mats may be made with less sturdy material or be made of PVC, which may disintegrate after a few sessions. Prices vary for different patterns, textures, thickness, antimicrobial treatments and eco-friendliness.
Understanding your style of yoga and your body's needs are the first steps to picking a mat that can best support you. Remember: it’s what takes place on the mat that matters most. For more information on finding a great yoga mat for your practice, check out this guide: https://www.reviews.com/best-yoga-mats. See you on YOUR mat!
Marichyasana is named after the sage Marichi. The word Marichi literally means a ray of light. In Hindu mythology, Marichi was the son of Brahma and chief of the Maruts (also called vayu or wind-gods). He’s one of the seven (sometimes 10 or 12) sages (rishis) or lords of creation (prajapatis), who intuitively "see" and determine the divine law of the universe (dharma).
Benefits: Twists are important asanas for spinal health; they keep the spine flexible and bring fresh blood supply to the spinal nerves. Twisting also has an effect on the abdominals, alternately stretching and contracting as you twist one way and then the other. Spinal twisting enhances prana flow all around the abdomen, nourishing the pancreas, kidneys, stomach, small intestines, liver, and gall bladder while compressing and squeezing out excess flatulence that becomes trapped and uncomfortable in the body. Twisting should take place in the thoracic spine (where the ribs attach to the spine).
How to: Starting with your legs straight in front of you, bend your right knee so it’s flat on the floor close to your body. Sitting tall, place your right hand behind you to support you. As you exhale, twist to bring your left elbow across your body so it hooks on the outside of your right knee. If your elbow doesn’t reach, you can bring your arm across your shin and grasp your thigh with your left hand. Remember to keep pressing your right foot down into the earth, and sit tall with your spine straight and shoulders down. Stay here for five deep breaths then repeat other side (Sometimes breathing is difficult in twisting postures because the abdomen is compressed, as your flexibility increases and your abdomen twists clear of your thigh the breath will come easier).
Twists are a great way to wring out the internal organs, however, if you feel any pain in your knees, sit on a yoga block or bolster or move out of the pose. Also, pregnant women should always use caution or avoid twists altogether
There are many opportunities in our everyday lives where we can add more yoga. Yoga is not just the physical practice on the mat, but it’s also who we are off the mat too! Here are 10 ways to incorporate the mental practice of yoga in your life:
1. Practice deep breathing when you’re on the train, stuck in traffic in your car, or doctor’s office. Place your hand on your lower stomach so you can connect deeper to your own breath and body, close your eyes and take deep breaths through the nose and into the belly. Breathe deeply.
2. Meditate on a plane, train or bus while travelling.
3. Practice peace, compassion and love; not only towards others, but to yourself as well. You can't be a loving, happy, healthy person if you don’t love yourself first. Be compassionate towards yourself even when you can’t quite accomplish that hard yoga pose (yet), practice one that feels right for your body and modify when needed!
4. When standing in line at the grocery store think of three things that you're grateful for. Express gratitude (whether verbally or mentally) before eating. Allow this to become a habit; it will help you cultivate gratitude in your life.
5. Practice Utthanasana (Standing Forward Fold) when you feel stressed. Utthanasana calms anxiety and brings more oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
6. Practice Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall pose) after exercise, work, or after sitting for extended periods. This pose has many benefits including regulating blood flow, calming anxiety, relieving head and back aches; just to name a few.
7. Eat for health, not for weight loss. Nourishing our bodies with healthy, wholesome food is essential for wellness and vitality. Incorporate more plant-based food in your diet like beans, lentils, nuts and grains. Eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables along with healthy fats.
8. Counterbalance your daily activities. For example, do a chest opener after spending time on a computer, writing, or driving; most of our daily routines involve slumped shoulders and rounding of the back. Open your chest by practicing back-bends daily.
9. Practice inversions every day. Inversions are great for your health! Remember you don’t have to do fancy inversions like handstands, you can practice something as simple as Legs Up the Wall pose or even Child’s pose after a long day.
10. Be in the moment: turn off your phone, computer, or television and be open to the present moment. Spend some time (maybe a day) completely unplugged from the electronic world.
Finding balance in yoga can be challenging. Even though you’ve created a space on your mat to be present, there can still be a lot of distractions that make balancing on one foot with the opposite leg extended pretty difficult! If Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose) has you feeling a bit un-balanced (pun intended),then these five tips will help you find your balance.
Find Your Drishti
If you've taken a yoga class or practiced with yoga videos at home then I’m sure you’ve heard the yoga teacher say to find your drishti, or focus, in practice. When you concentrate on an object or a gazing point in front of you, you minimize distractions or negative thoughts that might come up in a balancing posture.
Clear your mind and shift your focus on the breath. With so many other things to concentrate on in a balancing pose, it’s easy to lose your breath. This only makes it harder! Use your breath as a way to focus, and a way to find your fullest expression.
Focus on Alignment
Maintaining proper alignment is integral in balancing postures. Stacking your joints, relaxing your shoulders down your back and keeping your core engaged will not only ensure you keep a solid foundation and focus, but it will also help you strengthen your muscle memory.
Have a Solid Foundation
Establishing a solid foundation is one of the most important steps in finding balance. When you stand on one foot, the standing leg is basically doing the work of two feet. Keeping this is mind, set up for balancing poses by rooting down your energy first. Make sure your “roots” (your footing) is on solid and stable ground. You can’t grow your tree without roots!
It’s Okay to Fall
Even those who have been practicing yoga for many years fall. Falling is a sign of exploration! Accepting that you might fall will automatically relax your mind, the most powerful element in balancing postures. When you inevitably wobble, get back up and try again. Acceptance and perseverance are both part of a growing yoga practice.
Yoga can sometimes be challenging. We all face challenges in our yoga practice. Challenges on the yoga mat aren’t usually as hard as the everyday challenges we face in life. What do you do when you tell yourself you can’t do something? How does it make you feel and what do you do about it?
So, what if you can’t touch your toes, stand on your head or bind your hands together in an asana? Or perhaps the challenge is getting on your mat consistently?
It doesn’t matter if you can do fancy yoga poses. What matters is how you learn to embrace what seems impossible. Can you work at something again and again that you tell yourself you can’t do? If you can manifest this attitude on your yoga mat, you can bring this new skill into your life. Imagine how much more you can achieve! You will find that the willingness to step into the space of what you thought was impossible, gradually, yet consistently, gives life more meaning and possibilities. Yoga has taught me patience and perseverance and sometimes I feel unstoppable.
How can you meet the difficulties on your yoga mat? Here are some tips:
As challenging as some yoga postures may seem, the key is perseverance. Listen to your body and safely explore your limitations, don't get overwhelmed, figure out where the challenges lie, don't take yourself too seriously and don't let resistance overpower you. Accept yoga as a lifestyle that needs to be learned and practiced with gratitude and patience.
I live in a small apartment, so I sleep, work, live, and practice yoga in the same room. I don’t have the luxury of separate rooms/spaces to practice; there’s just enough space for my yoga mat on the floor. However, the act of moving a chair out of the way, lighting a candle, and rolling out my mat has become a little ritual that creates the mental space for me to practice yoga. Creating a proper yoga space in your home is essential for practicing yoga. Having the space will also encourage you to practice yoga more often, which can help reduce your stress and improve your health.
When Stuck with Small Spaces, Make the Space Multi-Functional
Designing a yoga space with 6 feet in all directions may seem impossible to the apartment dweller stuck with small rooms, but you can design the area by making the space multi-functional. The best way to do this is to fill the area you set aside with easy-to-move furniture and storage items, like a storage unit on wheels or easy-to-lift chairs and a coffee table. When you want to practice yoga, wheel or carry the furnishings into the hallway or wherever else you have space (like the kitchen or a closet). Comfortable apartment living means making the most of all of your space and you can set aside adequate clear space for yoga by making sure the area has other functions when you’re not using it for yoga.
Make Sure the Area is Quiet
When choosing your yoga space, you should try to pick the quietest area in your home where you can make the room. Because yoga so heavily relies on your ability to relax and free your mind of distractions, you don’t want to be inundated with traffic noises, noisy neighbors and barking dogs. You can also play relaxing music to drown out the other noises and help you set the mood.
Set the Mood with Lighting
Although not always avoidable, practicing yoga under the harsh glare of the light-bulb can make your practice less relaxing. Practicing yoga with natural sunlight can lift your spirits, if natural sunlight is not available to you, using dimmed light bulbs or battery-operated candles can give you enough light to see what you’re doing but also help relax you by keeping the room slightly darker with less glare. Remember that a proper yoga space allows for adequate movement, is quiet and relaxing and, as an apartment dweller, is easy to use for another function when you’re not practicing. Even in the smallest of spaces, you can make a space for yoga when you use these principles to create the space.
Having a home practice means that I can practice yoga regularly, and tailor it to the amount of time I have and what I need that day. I try to go to my Mysore-style yoga at least twice a week to make sure I’m maintaining good form and have a sense of yoga community.
Yoga can be a spiritual as well as a physical practice and therefore is beneficial at any time of the day. However, there times that are better for our own practice depending upon schedule, body and personality type. A morning person may need the stimulating effects of certain asanas to start the day, while someone who is slow to wake may be warmed up and ready to practice by sunset.
Early morning before sunrise is considered a spiritually charged time of the day in the Vedic tradition and is therefore ideal for yoga. Morning yoga will ease you into gentle movements shortly after you awaken in the morning. Sun Salutations are great for waking up the body, and after lots of movement and balancing, you can ease into some gentle inversions and heart openers. If your hips and spine are feeling open at this point – dive into the heart openers, like camel, bridge and wheel. These postures will leave you feeling awake and rejuvenated – maybe even more than your morning cup of coffee! Also, indulge in an extra-long headstand or shoulder stand to send fresh oxygen into your head. This will also allow you to feel ready to face your day.
Yoga before bed can be relaxing and contribute to a restful sleep. The perfect evening yoga practice should soothe and relax you after a long day. If you’re practicing later in the evening however (within a few hours of going to bed), you’ll want to resist moving into big heart openers and energizing inversions. You may want to practice soothing surrender postures like half pigeon and seated forward fold. Twists are also incredibly relaxing in the evening as well. Focus on breathing in positions such as Child’s pose, which stretches the back muscles and aids digestion. Just be aware how you feel and what you need.
There is no time of day that is “perfect” for everyone when it comes to yoga practice. The best rule to follow is the one of no distraction. Choose to practice at a time when you are least likely to be interrupted, whether it be early morning or late at night. The most benefits are yielded when fully conscious of each movement.
Consistency is also key in yoga practice perhaps even more than when you choose to practice. The more you do the same poses regularly, the more you will notice how your practice is producing change within your body and your life. The time of day we practice yoga should determine what postures we practice, and being aware of which postures are energizing and which ones are soothing.
Pay attention to which postures affect your energy levels at which time of day, and this will empower you to practice exactly when your body needs it. Remember – you are your best teacher!
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