Yoga 101: The Basics

By Kristen K. Brown

It seems like everyone is jumping on the yoga train these days.  It’s no secret that the health benefits are endless.  Yoga is an ancient form of mind-body practice that originated inIndiathousands of years ago.  In Sanskrit, yoga means “union or to join together” and that is the perfect description as it combines breathing, exercise and meditation into one synergistic practice. 

Today, yoga is practiced around the world and there are dozens of different sub-types to match various interests and goals.  Yoga involves a focus on alignment, breath and mental centering to benefit a person’s mind and body through poses, or asanas, that many of us have heard of like downward dog, cobra and plank.  But how do you get started with this form of mind-body conditioning if you are new to the practice?  As a relatively new yogi myself, I have compiled a list of things to consider when you are ready to start yoga. 

  1. Think about why you want to do yoga.  Is it for body health like flexibility, circulation and strength?  Is it for mental health like improved focus and relaxation?  The reasons for taking yoga will direct you towards the appropriate type to practice.  (More on that later.)
  2. What are your goals for practicing yoga?  Do you want to make it a part of your regular fitness routine?  Do you want to share the experience with others?  Do you just want to try it and see if it works for you?  These will all impact where and how you practice.  Yoga classes are offered at dedicated yoga-only centers, at large health clubs, through community recreation centers, through private instructors and online, on television and on DVD.   If you want to have a teacher there to assist you and make sure you are aligned properly as you do poses, a formal class through a yoga center, health club, private instructor or community center are the best options.  If you want to experiment in the privacy of your own home, videos and television are your best option.  However, you will not know if you are doing the exercises correctly.  I thought I was aligning myself correctly, but after a recent class at a yoga center, I discovered I was off several inches in almost every pose due to my curvature of the spine.  So, if you have any special health issues or concerns, a class with a certified teacher is the safest and most beneficial way to learn yoga. 
  3. Once you’ve narrowed down the venue type where you would like to practice, think about how far you are willing to travel to get there.  Most classes range from thirty minutes to two hours so you don’t want to drive forty five minutes each way for an hour class – the commute is not good for the mind-body balance.  Start with a search of the yellow pages or internet and locate yoga classes that are near you.  Select two to four in your community to investigate further.
  4. Once you’ve narrowed the list, do some additional research.  Look at cost of the class, method of class (drop-in, series of classes you must sign up for, schedules, levels, etc.) and the types of yoga classes offered.  The most flexible type of offering is a drop-in class where you can pick and choose what days and times you can go.  You don’t have to sign up in advance and you can work around your schedule.  Usually these types of classes are offered at centers or clubs and you can buy passes or punches to be used for each class – the more you buy, the cheaper the class.  Most community centers offer series of classes that you need to sign up for in advance.  It is often affiliated with your school district and costs less than the yoga centers or the health clubs where you need a membership to take classes.  You must also look at the times/days of the classes offered to be sure it fits into your lifestyle so you are more likely to attend regularly.  Yoga is the most beneficial when it becomes a regular practice in your life so ongoing classes or at-home practice is a must.  And finally, be sure the center offers multiple levels of classes.  If you are a beginner, you don’t want to go to an advanced class and vice versa. 
  5. The only types of equipment you need are comfortable clothes and a yoga mat.  (Although many centers and clubs offer mats to use free of charge.)  Once you advance in your practice, you may want to experiment with blocks and bands, but your instructor can guide you as she sees a need for these types of enhancements or supports based on your body positioning and alignment.
  6. Finally, consider the type of yoga you think you would enjoy.  As mentioned earlier, there are dozens of types of yoga classes out there – some focusing more on breathing, some on poses and some on making you sweat.  Knowing the basics of what each type of yoga entails will help you choose where to start.  You may want to experiment with different types of classes to see what type you like the best and that will help you meet your goals from step 1 above.  Most yoga that combines physical poses and meditation are lumped under the umbrella of Hatha yoga.  Within that there are several sub-types, but the three most common are:
  • Vinyasa – This type of yoga coordinates the breath with the movement between asanas (poses).  It emphasizes the flow of your body and breath in rhythm.
  • Kundalini or Tantra – This type of yoga focuses on the seven energy centers of the body called chakras by using continuous motion to release energy.
  • Bikram – Sometimes referred to as “hot yoga”, this type is done in a room heated to 105 degrees and includes 26 poses along with breathing to purify the body and aid flexibility.

Once you’ve explored the fundamentals and considerations of yoga, it’s time to take a deep breath and start your practice.  It will benefit your body and mind and increase your levels of happiness and peace.  Good luck and as we say at the end of a yoga session – Namaste – which means, “The light within me honors the light within you.”

Kristen Brown

 

Kristen Brown is a widow mom and the founder of WidowMommy.com, an author, entrepreneur, radio host and speaker. Learn more about her and her companies at www.KristenKBrown.com.

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