Starting a Yoga Practice

This entry was posted on Aug 21, 2019 by Charlotte Bell.

Yoga Class

As much as we don’t always like to admit it, we humans are creatures of habit. Our intentions and actions are often guided by our own habits and by the conditioning of the larger culture. This applies to most things we do, even starting a yoga practice.

For example, fall is back-to-school time. We often get the bug to “get back to business” as autumn approaches. The other time of year when we’re drawn to reassess and start something new is at the beginning of a new year. Either way, there are likely to be lots of new students starting a yoga practice at these times.

Starting a Yoga Practice: A Few Tips for Finding the Right Class

So how do you go about finding a yoga class that’s appropriate for you? Here are a few tips:

  • Ask friends. The bigger, better-funded studios have much more advertising power than the more modest studios and teachers, so they are easier to find. They may also have great teachers, but huge classes are not for everyone. Ask friends, relatives and co-workers where they like to practice, and what teachers and classes they love. They will likely have a good idea as to what you might like.
  • Start small. When you are first starting out, steer clear of huge classes. You may have to do a bit of sleuthing to find smaller, more customized classes, because the people who teach these classes may not have the resources to advertise as widely as the bigger studios. But it’s worth your while to seek out a smaller class, at least to start. Practicing with healthy alignment is important, both in the near term and in the long term. Healthy alignment helps you avoid injuries right now, but it also helps you practice in a way that will be sustainable for years to come. Smaller classes allow the teacher to pay closer attention to each individual.
  • Try different teachers and studios. It’s great to go to a studio right around the corner from your home or work, but be willing to step out of your comfort zone a bit. It could be that your neighborhood studio isn’t a perfect fit. Keep searching. There are many types of yoga and many types of teachers out there these days. There’s a list below with brief descriptions of some of the more popular types.
  • Get outfitted. While many studios have props you can use, it’s really nice to have your own yoga mat. Here’s a guide for choosing the best mat for your practice. If you plan to practice at home you’ll need not only a mat, but also blocks, a strap, blankets and possibly a bolster. Here are posts that can help you decide which blocks and bolsters are best for you.
  • The training and experience of yoga teachers these days is all over the map. New, young teachers can be inspiring with their enthusiasm for teaching, but they may not have developed the eye for possible misalignments that a more experienced teacher has. Again, try different teachers out, and once you have found a few that you like, there’s nothing wrong with continuing with more than one teacher.

Types of Yoga

  • Hatha Yoga: Most styles of yoga practiced in the U.S. are based on Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is characterized by physical practice, along with breath awareness. A class that is labeled as Hatha Yoga will typically be on the gentler, more meditative side.
  • Hot Yoga: Hot Yoga is typically practiced in temperatures in the 105-degree range. Some people’s bodies thrive in this kind of heat; others don’t. Many Hot Yoga practices follow Bikram Choudhury’s series of 26 poses. (If a studio is named after Bikram, you can expect to practice this series.) Other Hot Yoga studios practice other poses as well. Here are some pointers for starting a Hot Yoga class.
  • Iyengar Yoga: Iyengar Yoga was formulated by B.K.S. Iyengar, a teacher who lived in Pune, India, from 1918 to 2014. Iyengar’s method is characterized by attention to alignment, use of props to achieve healthy alignment, longer holds and pranayama (breathing) practice. Iyengar Yoga is the practice that originally inspired Hugger Mugger’s founding in 1986.
  • Restorative Yoga: Restorative yoga was originated by B.K.S. Iyengar, but has been made popular in the U.S. by Judith Hanson Lasater. In restorative practice, props such as blankets and bolsters are used to support your body in deep relaxation. (Restorative yoga is not to be confused with what is often called “Restore,” which is often a slightly less active version of Vinyasa Yoga (see below).)
  • Kundalini Yoga: The Kundalini Yoga practiced in the U.S. today was introduced by a spiritual teacher named Yogi Bhajan in 1968. Kundalini practices include postures, breathing techniques, chanting and meditation to awaken the kundalini energy that originates at the base of your spine and winds through your chakras (energy centers).
  • Ashtanga Yoga: Ashtanga Yoga was introduced worldwide by K. Patabhi Jois, an Indian teacher who lived from 1915 to 2009. Ashtanga is a “flow” practice based on four series of poses of increasing intensity. Practitioners flow from one pose to the next.
  • Vinyasa Yoga: Vinyasa is based on Ashtanga Yoga. It is also a flow practice, where poses are linked together and practitioners flow quickly from one pose to the next. Vinyasa practices such as Power Yoga are often practiced in a heated room.
  • Yin Yoga: Yin Yoga is characterized by practicing seated, supine or prone poses in very long holds, anywhere from 45 to two minutes or longer. The longer holds aim to stretch connective tissues such as tendons, fascia and ligaments to create greater flexibility.

Keep looking for a class until you find a teacher that really resonates. There are so many different teachers and practices now. If you don’t enjoy your first class, keep looking. Chances are there’s a yoga teacher or studio in your community that will inspire you to love yoga.

About Charlotte Bell
Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. Her third book is titled Hip-Healthy Asana: The Yoga Practitioner’s Guide to Protecting the Hips and Avoiding SI Joint Pain (Shambhala Publications). She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

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