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By Lara Alexiou
Yoga images bombard us daily. People are stretching, breathing, and meditating across all medias, all day long. While these frequent images provide a casual introduction to yoga, only an intimate personal practice in action reaps the rewards. Use these pointers to get started and discover for yourself how yoga relieves stress, alleviates chronic pain, and amplifies joy.
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Make your first yoga class an authentic experience. With so many online yoga class options available, it’s tempting to hide at home behind your virtual class and shy away from walking into an actual studio surrounded by other people. While many quality online classes are available, find a local class to attend in person. Alignment can be tricky to decipher on your own when you first begin. You’ll maximize your results with a professional instructor’s expert eye on you. Plus, a yoga studio is designed to create a distraction free “zen zone” for everyone, and that’s hard to duplicate at home.
Inform the instructor before class about any injuries or health concerns. Your recent surgery or health diagnosis may be the last topic you want to discuss in a new place while meeting the instructor for the first time. However, this information is invaluable for your instructor to identify your specific needs within the class. Knowing prescribed restrictions ahead of time allows the instructor to discreetly and easily modify the postures to maximize your ease and benefits. Yoga is a rehabilitation tool for the body and the mind; don’t let fear, injuries or chronic conditions hold you back from experiencing yoga’s benefits.
Arrive early. Yoga helps alleviate stress but running late to your first class amplifies the nervous tension before you even begin. Why enter class flustered and distracted? Instead, arrive fifteen minutes early, meet your instructor and settle into the studio.
Ask questions after class. Even a beginner yoga class can challenge you and push you out of your comfort zone. As a result, many first attempts in postures are wobbly, tentative, and even uncomfortable. Since most yoga classes employ a no taking rule during class, after class is the ideal time for questions. Wondering if a particular feeling is normal? Self-reflection and mindfulness are qualities a yoga practice encourages and seeks to develop. Your instructor will welcome your questions, desiring only for you to have the best class experience possible.
Attend three classes before passing judgment. While some of you will float out of your first class glowing and feeling totally renewed, many of you may feel uncertain about your experience. Attend three classes in order to tune into your body, the practice, and the studio. Many postures stretch not only your body, but also your boundaries. While you should not feel acute pain during class (be sure to see the teacher if you do), feeling uncomfortable and challenged is common and expected. Once you have a few classes under your belt, discomfort will transform into accomplishment, enriching your practice and leaving you craving more.
With countless yoga studios, teachers, and classes available today, if the first studio you try doesn’t meet your needs, find another. All studios have their own unique vibe and class offerings. Discover the class that speaks to your body, your mind, and you heart, and experience for yourself yoga’s healing touch.
About the author:
Lara Alexiou is the author of Become the Architect of Your Body, Mind, and Soul and owner of Steamtown Yoga.
She has been helping people transform their lives through the Eastern Healing Arts for nearly two decades. For more information and to read Alexiou’s yoga and wellness blog, visit her online at https://www.steamtownyoga.com/books and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.
Yoga has become a popular option for alternative health management. Research has shown the practice can significantly reduce mental and physical stress, improve mood, and slow the aging process.
But some yogis believe many of the estimated 20 million U.S. students are missing the best part of the discipline – the inner happiness attainable through a healthy mind-body connection. They also worry about injuries that result when beginners tackle poses and exercises without proper guidance.
“There are several disciplines of yoga, and with its rich history, the beginner can easily get lost – or worse – injured,” says Mary Jo Ricketson, an experienced yoga practitioner and healthcare specialist, and author of Moving Meditation (www.thegoodwithin.com). A registered nurse, she also holds a master’s degree in education from Northwestern University.
“What I detail in my book is a comprehensive approach for both mind and body. This reciprocal relationship maximizes health benefits, and has exponentially positive consequences beyond the individual.”
People have been practicing yoga for thousands of years, she says. In the West, the practice has integrated with our culture leading to variations including “extreme” yoga. Ricketson warns this sort of exercise can alienate beginners, who may not be ready to “jump in the deep end first.” Without the proper training and guidance, she adds, beginners risk injuring their neck, lower back, knees and shoulders.
The most important step is getting started, Ricketson says. Here are seven things beginners – and anyone practicing yoga – should know to maximize their benefits:
1. Cardiovascular (aerobic) training: As with meditation, focused breathing is a cornerstone of mind-body training. Aerobic means “with oxygen” and aerobic movement increases the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, including the brain. Cardiovascular training is the single most important aspect of the physical training because it keeps the heart open and strong.
2. Core and strength training: This includes the students’ abdomen and buttocks, and the lower back region, which extends to the base of the skull. Here is where strength, stability and balance originate.
3. Flexibility training (yoga postures): Stretching simply feels good, and it reminds students to not only be more flexible in one’s body, but also one’s mind. This step allows us to move (and live) with greater ease.
4. Adequate rest: Sleep is a necessary part of life, and sufficient rest is needed for energy and equilibrium.
5. Life-giving nutrition: Making the right choices in food allows yoga students to achieve an optimal, balanced state. This includes nutritional foods consumed in moderation.
6. Family/community/church: From Epicurus to modern science, study and observation show that we find greater happiness with access to friends and family.
7. Written goals and a plan of action: Goals and stated intention act as a road map to achieving balanced well-being.
Ricketson says the above steps are just the beginning. She says tapping in to the mind-body connection also helps memory loss, attention deficit disorders, public violence – including in schools – as well as an unknown amount of needless human suffering.
“We all have within us a potential to experience optimal well-being in mind and body,” she says. “This potential, the Good Within, can be realized through the work of mind-body training. Our training is a moving meditation – a daily practice of exercises that awaken all that is Good Within.”
About Mary Jo Ricketson
Mary Jo Ricketson has studied human health and well-being for decades, earning a Bachelor of Science in nursing and a master’s in education. In 1999, she opened the Center for Mind-Body Training, which offers classes, seminars, and personal training. Yoga training is done in her studio, in schools, and in corporate settings. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and two children.