How to Begin (and Sustain) a Yoga Practice

Hi everyone!

I'm recommitting to Santosha Sounds as a goal of mine for the coming year. I intend to continue to write accessible and useful posts about living as a yogi in the modern world and embodying the full breadth of the human experience.

Since it's the first of the year and many of you will be interested in self-improvement and healthier living, I thought it would be useful to provide some tips to finding a yoga that's right for you.

Sometimes (more often than not) people go to a class that they don't like and think that yoga is not for them. Maybe they didn't jive with the teacher, maybe it was too hard or too slow or maybe it just wasn't up your alley. PLEASE try again. There is a yoga teacher and a yoga style out there for everyone. My teacher Theresa once said that if you wanted to buy a car and you didn't like the first one you test-drove, you wouldn't give up your search for a car. Right??

There's no need to be intimidated by yoga. Everyone was a beginner once and they had to start from square one too. The best approach is to take a class geared toward beginners. That way you'll be able to do most of the poses and see some benefits immediately. After a Basics class or two, you can decide if it's the appropriate level for you or if you're ready to move on to a different style/level.

Also, the argument that you ARE NOT flexible does not groove with me. That is precisely why you NEED yoga. To become more flexible. And not just loose in your muscles. Yoga helps to release long-held patterns of tension in the body and breath, rigid points of view, and the notion that we are separate somehow from our fellow human beings. This practice can ultimately be a way for us to be malleable and open in our day-to-day lives.

baddha konasana

baddha konasana

 1. WHAT ARE YOUR OPTIONS?

If you've never done a yoga class before, you may feel intimidated and overwhelmed by the vast options available. There are classes at yoga studios of course, but there are also DVDs, online classes, package deals, yoga at the gym, etc.

So, where to begin? Things to consider at this first stage are your current finances, how much time you have to devote to regular practice (twice a month, once a week, three times a week?), the type of practice you're interested in (yoga for health, yoga as fitness, meditation, breath instruction, etc), and the level of seriousness you're looking for. The most disciplined and traditional classes will likely happen at yoga studios, though you occasionally find them at the YMCA or your gym.

vigorous virasana in anjenayasana

vigorous virasana in anjenayasana

2. CHOOSE YOUR FORMAT

If you are planning to begin from a DVD or online courses, you have a multitude of available resources. I started with Yoga for Beginners with Patricia Walden and found it really useful. She is a renowned Iyengar instructor who's been teaching for decades and has a practical and soothing approach to alignment-based yoga.

There are also many well-known yoga teachers who teach classes online. One particular site is called YogaGlo and features not only yoga classes but also meditation and work beyond your mat. I would particularly recommend classes from one of my teachers Tias Little. He has a deep reverence for yoga philosophy and an alignment-based approach to posture. I think he's brilliant.

Benefits to practicing at home are that you can do your practice whenever you have time and it is quite affordable. In my personal opinion, this is a great way to spark your interest, but eventually a teacher can help you improve your form and take you deeper into your own path and practice through their knowledge. If you're especially interested in understanding the tradition and philosophy, a teacher will be indispensable.

restorative salamba halasana

restorative salamba halasana

3. CHOOSE YOUR TEACHER

It's quite challenging to be discerning about a yoga studio, teacher or class if you have no point of reference. But if you are leaning toward a more serious approach, I recommend looking thoroughly through the website of a studio/studios. In fact, I would say check out the websites of all the studios in town. Read each studio's philosophy and history, read through the class descriptions and read through the teachers bios. You may find something that intrigues you or something that turns you off. Pay attention to your intuition. Many studios have a "new person special" designed to give you a couple weeks to do a studio tour and take several classes. You should totally take advantage of these deals to try out multiple teachers and class styles.

4. CHOOSE YOUR STYLE

What type of class to choose?

Earlier in this blog, I wrote some guidelines for picking a class or practice that's right for you.

Hatha
yoga refers to what people in the West typically think of as yoga. It includes postures and breathing, and occasionally has a meditative component. Within the Hatha distinction, there are many styles of yoga class to weed through. Here are just a few common ones to clear up:

Vinyasa
yoga is typically faster moving with a breath focus. If you're looking for something more aerobic, this is likely the class for you.

 

meditation practice counts as yoga

meditation practice counts as yoga

Hatha
classes are usually prop-heavy (don't be afraid of props! they help you get deeper into poses and sustain poses longer! I use them EVERY SINGLE DAY!) and are alignment focused with long holds to really learn each posture.

Yin
yoga features long (really long) holds and is usually all passive stretching. It's designed to lengthen your connective tissue and build pranic energy within the body. Some people find it extremely soothing and relaxing.

Power Yoga
is a vigorous style which will build strength and endurance. Usually includes abdominal strengthening and a loud soundtrack.

Restorative
yoga is a highly supportive style designed to calm and relax the body and mind.

Wall Ropes
classes use a system of ropes and hardware to create traction in the spine. The ropes allow for longer holds and create great spacial awareness.

wall ropes

wall ropes

 IN SUMMARY

  1. Choose your format (class/DVD/online course).
  2. Find a teacher/teachers.
  3. Choose a style.
  4. Commit! Decide how often you can sustainably practice per week and stick to it. The benefits of yoga will unfold over time with diligent practice and detachment from the outcome of your practice.
  5. Have FUN! While there is a certain reverence to the practice and the tradition, it's also supposed to be a dang good time .

If you find a teacher and class (or classes!) that fit your needs, and attend regularly, you are bound to see the fruits of your practice. These benefits are what keep me coming back to the mat day after day and year after year. You will likely see changes in your physical body, your mental state and your interaction with the world. And as a result, it'll be a challenge to keep you away from your mat.

**If you're in Omaha, come and see me! I teach a variety of classes at One Tree Yoga, including 2 beginners classes per week. 

Yes, But, How Do You Know?

How do we know that we're doing what we're supposed to do? How do we know the right course of action, the right step to take? How do we KNOW that we're on the right path?

I recently had a conversation with a friend in which he asked me how I knew that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. Well. I kinda just know. I feel it deep in my bones, deep in my gut. I feel continuously pulled toward yoga practice, teaching, studying, understanding. And I've felt it from the very beginning. It only took me one yoga class to know that I wanted to do this. All. The. Time.

So, that's a pretty good indication to me.

Yes! I'm on the path!

Yes! I'm on the path!

But, there's more. In the past month or so, I've realized that in addition to my own gut feeling about the course of my life, there have been 3 outside influences, specific instances, that gave me the clarity and the motivation to continue along my path. Especially when it was challenging. I'll tell you about them.

It's not super often that we can understand why things are happening when they're happening. Especially! if they're difficult or uncomfortable things. Then we feel especially indignant about understanding them. I think it actually makes us feel better to throw our hands up at the universe and ask "WHY ME?" rather than face the possibility that it's just a step along our path.

When things are going well, it's a little easier to feel that the steps make sense, but even still it can be hard to see clearly.

In my opinion, this is one of the many reasons to note our reactions to the events of our lives. It's also another reason to practice regularly. If you come to the meditation cushion/yoga mat every day, you'll continue to do so even when shit is hitting the fan, even when all the good things are happening, even when you don't feel like it. If you are aware of the typical way in which your mind reacts to "good" events and "bad" events, you can begin to work with your own perspective and letting go of outcomes and offering your work up to something greater than you. But, that's another post entirely.

I am currently co-leading a teacher training program at One Tree Yoga in Omaha. It's been incredibly enriching so far and I am so grateful for the opportunity to pass on the tradition. Our program is very well developed and goes pretty deep compared to many teacher training programs. So, these newbie teachers are just inundated with new information and hopefully a new way of thinking about themselves and how they relate to the world.

This brings me to the first of my 3 experiences which spurred me along on my path. Through this co-leading experience, I'm very aware of how much I've learned in my own yoga path. Like a lot. And when I had just finished my own TT I knew very little. But regardless of my new teacher status, my teacher Theresa Murphy gave me a bunch of her classes to sub, immediately following my graduation. She just handed them off to me and fully trusted me to do a good job and conduct a good class and hold my shit together.

Now, this might not seem like a big deal to some of you, but having seen the state of teachers just coming off a training, I am blown away by her level of trust. And her willingness to give me such a big responsibility with her complete confidence. I absolutely didn't understand the scope of this at the time, but looking back today, I see it as a major stepping stone to where I am today. Major gratitude, T-Love!

The second of my major motivators came from one of my teachers in MPLS. His name is Ben Vincent and if you follow this blog, you've heard me talk about him several times before. His greatest strength, in my mind, is his intellect. He and I teach entirely different styles of yoga asana and so my biggest takeaway from our work together has been in the realm of philosophy. I had the pleasure of taking two courses with him, one on the Bhagavad Gita and the other on the Yoga Sutras. The Bhagavad Gita course was our first encounter. It was a big group, at least 25 people and we would get together once a week to practice meditation and discuss the book. Ben and I, to this point, had almost no personal interaction. Which is why I was incredibly surprised and pleased to receive an email from him one day in which he stated "It is apparent that you are fully ready to receive the Dharma." Done and done. And yes, he talks like that. 

These simple words came at a time when I absolutely needed them. I was working a job that was highly dissatisfying and trying with all my might to be a yoga teacher on the side. I really believe that this motivation from Ben kept me going, feeling like I was on the right path. 

The third actually doubles as a major cue that I was on the right path and the biggest compliment of my entire life. Some of you know this story, but the way that I came back to Omaha was through this compliment. Tias Little of Prajna Yoga in Santa Fe has always been in the periphery of my yoga awareness, but it wasn't until May of 2013 that I really understood his greatness in full when I came back to Omaha to take a weeklong workshop with him. It was swell. Since I knew the owner and the studio manager, I was invited to hang with them throughout the week and had the opportunity to get to actually know Tias and have some conversations with him. Apparently we hit it off.

Next thing I knew, I was back in Austin with a call from Jamie Rye suggesting I come back to Omaha and an email from Tias suggesting I continue study with him. Apparently he orchestrated the push to get me back to Omaha, to my home studio of One Tree Yoga where I am today.

These two knew. My grandparents wed in the 1940's.  They super loved each other a lot.

These two knew. My grandparents wed in the 1940's. 
They super loved each other a lot.

As these events were occurring there was no way that I could see them for the major stepping stones that they were. In the moment, we can't ever really know how the events of our life will play out, form patterns and shape our existence. But damn if it isn't nice to look back and know that we're doin' alright.

I feel so grateful for the tradition of yoga, the teachers who have and continue to inspire me and the ease of my surety about my path. I know how it feels to not know if you're doing the right thing, which makes it even sweeter when you find your place in the grand scheme of the universe. And it may be fleeting! So you best enjoy it while it's good. Trust your instincts and do what feels right.

Happy practice!