Yoga is a highly personal practice, and with the dozens of schools of yoga to choose from, it can be difficult to identify a practice that suits our individual physical, mental, and emotional needs. It’s hard enough to choose a yoga mat color, let alone a practice!
Luckily, you came to the right place! Learning yoga starts with stepping onto your mat. Simply follow the tips below to begin your yoga practice.
1. Release expectations
Often we equate yoga with tough, limb-twisting poses. However, yoga is not about touching your toes or stretching 98 degrees to the northeast. Yoga, quite literally, means “to yoke” or “union.” Yoga is a process of uniting with yourself, and it should be easy and effortless. You are in yoga when your body, mind, and breath align.
So, throw away the idea that you should already be flexible, that you’re too old to venture into yoga at the age of 40, or that yoga is the only thing that will save you from your love handles (although love handle disappearance is one common side-effect of a regular practice)! Remember: yoga is a process, not a pose. Whether or not you touch your toes is irrelevant - what matters at the end of a practice is the state of your body, mind, and emotions. If you feel at peace and are able to pay attention to your breath for one more second than usual, then you are practicing yoga.
2. Follow the tradition
There are many traditions of yoga. Do good research, find which is more authentic, lineage-based, and holistic and once you decide which tradition to follow, go deeper into it instead of keep changing frequently from one to the other.
3. Find a teacher
It is best to start practicing yoga under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher who can lead you through the correct sequences and alignment. Doing so will help you properly learn different postures and avoid possible injuries. Ideally, find a teacher you enjoy and practice with them consistently, as you will be able to progress more steadily with the help of a trusted guide.
Also, some of the philosophies or techniques taught in yoga may be new to you, and having the guidance of a teacher aids in understanding. Keep an open mind, as it will help broaden and enhance your yoga experience.
4. Focus on the yoga, not the pants
Yoga has become trendy, and entire industries now revolve around $120 yoga pants. Luckily, for the 99%, you don’t have to buy the newest Ganesh tank top to reach enlightenment. Simply wear comfortable clothing while going to a yoga class or when practicing yoga at home. Also, avoid wearing excessive jewelry, as it can get in the way of yoga practice.
5. Wake up early
Ideally, yoga is practiced in the early morning at sunrise when the mind is clearest and the world is quiet. The traditional yogic texts state that the hours between 4 am and 6 am are the most conducive to reaching a meditative state. Practicing first thing in the morning allows you to avoid distraction and start the day off with health and intentionality, thus setting the tone for the rest of the day. However, if you are not able to wake up early to practice, don’t let it be an excuse to skip! You can do it any time of the day as per your convenience.
6. Practice on an empty stomach
It is best to practice on an empty stomach or at least 2-3 hours after your last meal, which is another reason why practicing first thing in the morning is most ideal. When practicing yoga, you are much more in tune to your body’s subtle feelings than at any other point, and practicing with food in your stomach inevitably leads to discomfort. Eating before practicing can lead to feelings of heaviness, and can disrupt the digestion process. It is also advised to drink at least three to four liters of water during the day in order flush toxins that are released while practicing out of the body.
7. Start with intention
Before starting the physical aspect of your practice, creating an intention can help to set the tone for your practice and prepare your mind for an introspective experience. Whether your intention is “world peace” or “accept my nose”, centering your mind around that thought will help bring you into the present moment before beginning. Also, gentle warm-up exercises help loosen up the body and prepare it for the yoga postures coming ahead, functioning as a sort of physical intention.