Healing Journey Monday: Starting an Easy Yoga Practice

Continuing the idea of bringing yourself back to fluidity* I thought I’d try to present a beginner’s plan. In the past I’ve advised people who ask me about yoga tapes or DVD’s to find a good teacher. But now I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about bad yoga teachers and I’ve found a few recordings that I’m willing to recommend– with caveats and some extra instructions. This is my first attempt to create yoga instruction for students who aren’t in front of me.

This is going to be a two-part post and today is just an introduction. My big problem with the recorded yoga classes I’ve seen is that even when they’re supposedly for beginners there’s virtually no introductory material, there’s rarely any effort to suggest different levels at which poses can be done nor any cautions given about contraindications and no suggestions about how to build up to the practice that’s on the tape. In post two I’ll recommend a few recordings and provide some added instructions. The following material applies to all efforts to practice yoga (or really any movement practice).

My first rule for yoga is: Yoga is not a competitive sport. Do it to your own level. The key element of a safe and injury-free yoga practice is that you listen to your body and never force it beyond its limits. If you’re pretty unconscious of your body this is one of the hardest parts of practice: you have to be listening to your body. It’s a huge lesson that will serve you well in life so it’s worth putting the effort in to learning to be mindful of your body. Do postures with long, slow breaths so you move slowly and as you move into any posture if it starts to pull uncomfortably or to feel painful, back off and stop at a place where it feels okay. Even if the person next to you—or in my classes, the old broad at the front of the room—can put her forehead on her knee, that doesn’t mean you need to get closer than two or three feet from your knee if that’s as far as you can comfortably go. Stay tuned in and learn what your body can and can’t do.

My corollary for working with recordings is make the practice yours. Just because they recorded it and the instructions are always the same doesn’t mean you have to do it exactly as they do. There may be a posture you just don’t feel your body can do so repeat the one before or do another one that you like. If you know enough, make the substitute one that works on the same area of the body. Don’t worry about it if you don’t. If you’ve taken yoga with a different tradition do the posture the way you know it – I work with recordings quite a bit and there are some where I do half the postures differently than the way they do. I also have some where I substitute an entire sequence I prefer. I realize 26 years of experience gives me more confidence about switching it up than you probably have as a beginner but if you don’t have a teacher to ask about how to change things it’s up to you to figure it out.

In making it yours as a beginner you may also need to start off doing only the first 10 minutes or to only do some of the reps on each exercise (kundalini yoga, for instance, has a lot of things where they do 80 reps—you might want to start with 15 or 20). On average don’t try to do the entire recording on the first time out. It’s a good idea to watch a recording before you try anything so that you can see the full posture or movement before you get into a position where you can’t watch. If you watch first you can get an idea of whether there are long holds or lots of repetitions and make a decision as to how much you want to do (use the display feature and you can time segments and make a plan for how much time into a segment you’ll do—i.e. if one exercise lasts two minutes you might start off doing 30 seconds or if one posture is held for a minute you might start off holding for 20 seconds). Even recordings for beginners are often too much for someone who’s completely new to yoga or who hasn’t exercised in a long time so be careful to stay within your limits.

Next Monday I’ll give you a few recordings you might try and some specific instructions to go with one whole set on a DVD.

*See two previous posts:  Sway with me and Practices that flow work on many levels

13 thoughts on “Healing Journey Monday: Starting an Easy Yoga Practice

  1. Leigh,
    I like your advice here. I used to practice yoga a lot more than I do now, and can’t do some of the more advanced poses that I used to be able to do. It sounds silly, but it hadn’t occurred to me to simply do less of the yoga tapes I have. It’s a kind of all or nothing thinking that I had. So thanks for that suggestion!
    A few days ago, I decided to just do twenty minutes of slow moving yoga poses that felt right for that day, and I felt great afterward. My goal right now is to re-introduce yoga poses three days a week and gradually move up to every day.
    I can’t imagine being able to do even the yoga I’m doing now, without having taken many yoga classes in the past. An in-person teacher is invaluable in the beginning, as you say, when they are good! I was lucky to have great teachers. You sound like a great teacher – you’re students are lucky!

    • Doesn’t sound silly — I think a lot of us are so accustomed to following instructions that it took me a bit to make the tapes mine and I make it a point to advise students to change it however they need to. Yoga three times a week will take you far. And yes, I think a good teacher is the best and I was very fortunate to have studied with Bill Hunt, who now has the Oak Park Yoga Studio; he’s possibly the best I’ve encountered. But boy there are so many bad ones out there now I don’t know how to advise what’s best– thought I’d see if I could guide people into a safe way to start a practice… I sure try to be a good teacher and keep my students safe.

    • I wished I’d answered your question years ago…but seriously, like many men (and perhaps more than a few women), if my body wouldn’t bend, then I MADE IT BEND. So, perhaps if I’d followed your advice, I wouldn’t have felt so burnt-out after those yoga classes. Also, regarding movement in general, maybe I could have avoided that hernia operation–what’s known as MINOR surgery to those who’ve never experienced it. But I’m learning…

      • My experience is that women in this country are just as body-unconscious and just as inclined to force their bodies beyond comfort as men. Sadly. Sorry you had such rough results. Never too late to take a different path…

  2. Excellent advice often neglected. We all are in charge of ourselves and must consider all the info we take in and ask, “does this make sense for me?” I find teaching I often say things like, “let’s see what we’re working with today in the body.”

    And as someone who listened so much to things other people told me to do rather blindly many times, now I know to trust the wisdom in my own body and adjust to what the conditions are each day. Finding the balance between extremes of not doing enough or going clearly overboard is so important no matter what the practice is.

    I look forward to your recommendations. And I agree, it’s challenging to create instructional material for students not in front of us… I feel that accepting that a video, no matter how could can only do so much is significant to keep in mind. A good teacher is important but if you can’t find one, a good video and some common sense are a great start.

Please add your thoughts; love a good discussion!

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