Thursday, April 30, 2009

BlissQuest: Starting a Yoga Practice

I have been doing yoga for about 13 years. The very first yoga I did was from pictures in the Deepak Chopra book, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind.

I remember we were living in our attic apartment, with windows that had the tops of trees as our main view. It was hot hot hot in the summer, but there was something lovely about it -- very like a tree house or a bird's nest.

I would study a picture and then imitate it, yelling to Marcy, "Does this look right?"

Now there are much better ways to get into yoga.

My first VCR tape was the Erich Schiffmann/Ali McGraw yoga. I still recommend this to people for great asana sequencing and beautiful production values. (Hey! How can it be bad if they use Dead Can Dance in the background?)

I picked that tape, because the cover felt calm! Luckily it worked out.

Over the years, I have tried all sorts of DVD's and read many, many books, and I am now, as you know, a big proponent of Kundalini yoga, especially as taught by Ravi Singh and Ana Brett.

Which leads to my first piece of advice to anyone just starting out with yoga: get used to the idea of a home practice. This is a vital step that a lot of people are missing.

It's fun to go to yoga class. I mean, there is the whole socializing thing, and there's the being part of a group thing, and then there's stopping for a coffee or tea afterwards. It's a culture. You buy a pretty mat bag, get cute clothes, find a teacher who is almost a guru...

But yoga was traditionally for householders and it was done in homes. Not at lavish studios or in health clubs or at gyms.

Think about how small that mat is and you can imagine doing yoga anywhere.

Try a class. It's good to have someone guiding you and working with you if you don't have an already developed sense of how your body works, but try DVD's at home.

This issue reminds me of the American Christian approach to spirituality versus the Muslim world's. They integrate their religion into every aspect of their lives. Every single moment of the day. American Christians tend to save it for Sundays and in one spot.

Be the Muslim when it comes to your yoga and have a voracious appetite.

Do not settle for the first yoga you try. Keep trying different schools of thought, because like with anything, one size does not fit all.

I know there are yogis reading this; what would you suggest to someone new to yoga?

This post is in response to a Skribit suggestion. You can use the widget to the right to make your own suggestions. What would you like to see on Blisschick?

(Photo Credit: Christine Reed, Alley Shot, 2009)


Raine-Lee said...

Great post! I agree that yoga is not a "one size fits all." I started doing Hatha yoga and then tried Kundalini yoga and I find it is a much better fit for me than Hatha yoga. I really think people should definitely try out different styles and they will know when they find the right style for them. It will just feel right. Even people who have been doing the same style for many years might enjoy or receive some new benefit from trying out a new yoga style.

Jei said...

Wow, The first time I tried yoga was also from what I read in a Deepak Chopra book. It was called Perfect Weight...I don't remember any in Ageless Body, but oh that was so long ago.

I just want to say that I am really glad to hear you speak of the importance and to hear you being a proponent for home study.

I have gone to classes, and I have found that my best experience comes from practicing alone. Spiritually, this has been my path. It has been very much an inner journey.

Don't misunderstand me, I meet people, make friends and acquaintences that bring me what I need, but the gathering has always been at issue for me...well maybe the joining...because once you gather enough, people want you to join...join whatever, their group, come more often become a member!

I've gotten better, recently I starting chanting...I love it (although I like to do it alone too) I prefer it in group format. And, I'm taking place in a group meditation. I am finding the experience pleasurable, maybe because I know it's going to end and I don't have to okay, that's not what this post was about...but thanks for letting me rant...all that to say, I love Kundalini and I love doing it alone!

I need to write on my old blog for a change...think this silent thing is starting to slip away!

Emma said...

Interestingly, I tend to recommend people find a good, gentle class when they are new to it if they can. It took a class for me to really engage yoga. The videos and books didn't get me there.

But obviously everyone's needs vary!

And classes certainly vary, too! Your description of the yoga class experience is one I recognize. It definitely happens that way. But it is totally different from my own experiences. My yoga studio is very quiet and very unfashionable. There's no status-symbol-stuff going on there and I rarely socialize there. The benefit of classes for me are:

-The group energy for Kundalini classes. This is amazing.
-It keeps me sticking with it for longer. No distractions or major temptations to wander off.
-Almost all the classes I've attended were led by one teacher, who I love. She's totally human (not holier-than-thou or anything) and creates a space of total acceptance and a lot of peace.

BUT BUT BUT BUT I so agree with you that a home practice (and practicing throughout many/all parts of your daily life) is really where it's at. Classes can contribute to this and enrich it, but that's where the long-term passion is - when it becomes what you do in your life.

Nerdy Renegade said...

Good wisdom here, dear Bliss Chick. I agree. Keep searching, learning, growing, practicing....find what works.

Over the years, my yoga journey has changed a great deal. Now, in the midst of my 100 days of yoga commitment...I've come to the realization that "Yoga is a way of life". That's the bottom line for me.

Meeting myself on the mat/carpet/hardwood/grass brings such valuable physical, mental, emotional, spiritual benefits that it cannot help but deepen my life over time. I take what I gain (union with myself, connecting with my soul) out into the world.

Om Namo Shivaya

Teaching Kids Yoga said...

The one thing about a class is it helps me keep my practice consistent. For my personality, I find I try harder in a class then at home alone.

I also like the social aspect - being with others who "get" what I'm into.

At home requires building a discipline that can be hard to do - but when it works - it is oh so sweet.

Sometimes people with kids tell me their yoga class helps them take care of themselves and they like to be away from the family to connect with themselves. Sometimes it is the householders who need the yoga class more!

karmacoy said...

I agree with you all about the importance of both a home practice and going to a class if that is what motivates you.

I am so happy to be on day 11 of my 100 days of essential home practice.

Many of the students who come to my yoga classes tell me that they would like to have a home practice but for whatever reasons (not enough time is a big one) they do not.

Many people who come to a class are keeners in some sense and so I have discovered that if I give them a home assignment for the week, they will do it :-)

I encourage them to challenge themselves by starting out small and gradually increasing their committment.

- some gentle stretchs upon waking

- one, then two, then three sun salutations

- pick a favourite pose and do it every day for a week

- pick a pose you are challenged by and do it two times a day for a week

-set a timer for just 5 minutes and practice whatever poses come to you

-gradually increase the time on the timer

- get a dvd!

Grace said...

I still use the Erich Schiffmann/Ali McGraw DVD! I used my friends tape in college and loved it so much I got the DVD for Christmas a few years ago.

From talking to people, the biggest obstacle keeping them from a home practice seems to be the time commitment. They think they have to go all out and do an hour or more every day. Not so. Every little bit counts. Baby steps. And who knows, eventually you may end up doing 45 minutes to an hour every day, or every other day. Like every thing daunting in life, you have to break it up into doable tasks. But going to classes now and then is inspiring too.

blisschick said...

WOW! SO MUCH great stuff here. Lots more hints and wonderful bits of guidance for people new to this path. And I find that very exciting -- that there are people just coming to yoga, today, tomorrow, the next day. It's awesome to think about -- how very lucky they are to just be at that "beginner's mind" phase. :)

differenceayearmakes said...

I always thought I was too inflexible for yoga - even though yoga always fascinated me. It wasn't until I began routine exercise at forty that my body loosened up and I thought heah! maybe I can do yoga! Since I was exercising at home I began with LILIAS on PBS.

I can't tell you the eXcitEment when my posture improved and my shoulder blades actually touched the back of my seat - where once they had always rounded!! I was hooked!

My first yoga video was AliMcGraw/Eric Schiffman too! I LOVE(D)IT! Or maybe it is just the voice of Eric Schiffman :).

I then discovered Rodney Yee who is my favorite instructor and I think the best instructor for beginners.

I also love Kate Potter's Namaste series but it is probably for more advanced students.

If you were to look at my library you would find a verY veRY vErY wide variety of videos and books - many different styles and teachers.

If I had any advice:

.you are never too inflexible for yoga - just stretch to your own limits you will improve over time

.LISTEN TO YOUR BODY and never force it - or let anyone else force it!

.learn to use props and don't be embarrased to use them

.try a variety of yoga styles and instructors - try classes, books and videos

I've always thought of yoga as a home practice - perhaps because that is how I started or maybe because I'm an introvert. However I have, and still do, attend classes and they can be a wonderful experience.

I went on to discover tai chi and qigong and would be hard pressed to choose - in fact I don't choose but do them all.

But yoga is my first love.

Rowena said...

I guess I would be an intermediate level, but when I practiced yoga the most, it was with a teacher friend of mine in the hour before school started. We closed the door to her dance studio, and three of us did yoga.

What I don't know are all the terms. I don't know what they mean. What is kundalini yoga vs hatha yoga, and so on.

I would like to start an at home practice (as an aside, I grew up a buddhist in the soka gakkai, and at home practice was integral to the religion) but I don't know what video would meet my needs... partly because I don't know the difference in the various schools.

Eco Yogini said...

I agree with everything said here- fantastic post and comments! :)
I started with a dvd, then moved to a class when I felt more comfortable (same for Andrew- well I taught him the basics). I find a home practice is essential for lots of things:
financially (I cannot afford a weekly class!)
and for my own body
increase my own self-awareness.

classes have been very important too- having a teacher to make adjustments and guide me allows for my practice to grow. So instead of doing a pose incorrectly and harming my muscles, a class will help me improve my home practice safely.

Also- a way to keep up with more home practice: I had friends who wanted to practice yoga but were too scared to go straight to a class. So I offered to show them the basics (with a CLEAR understanding that i was NOT a teacher). Every week we meet and practice together- our friend yoga sessions. We practice in our tiny apartment living room- we can fit 5 mats.

now they feel comfortable coming to karma-community classes with me. :)

It's great :)

babs said...

As a yoga teacher, the best advice I could give a beginner is that not all teachers are equal. You need to search for that teacher that suits your style. A teacher who was "made" for you will revolutionize your practice in so many ways. I'm not proposing searching for a guru, just know that if it is something you wish to pursue, there is someone out there that will make you feel passionate about it. I can tell when my style is not right for students and I always tell them to not give up and refer them to a different teacher.

Kavindra said...

This is a great post and great discussion, and I have to chime in.

I started my practice 37 years ago, at age 11, with a library book, Yoga for Young People (I still have a copy. It has all the easy poses named after animals and of course, tree!) then my father turned me on to Lilias who was on pbs. At the time, pbs was a fuzzy fuzzy uhf station very hard to get with the old dial tv and rabbit ears, but I persisted, and love Lilias to this day.

I would say that it wasn't until my 20s with an in-person yoga teacher at the locaL Y that I really 'got' alot of what was going on in yoga. I've had alot of teachers and alot of videos and alot of alone practice, and all are good - I can't say I've ever had a yoga teacher I haven't learned something from. I do find it easier to push myself to that edge when in class or w/ a tape (oh the names I have called Patricia Walden in my head as she kept cooing on the dvd "keep holding and breathing"...)

So if you can afford a class, do it, is my advice. Community center classes are cheaper than yoga studios, and there's alot of good teachers out there w/ day jobs who just want to share their love of yoga. And if you can't, do get a dvd at least to start. There is so much more to each asana than can come across in a photo (all due apologies to my beloved first yoga book aside.)

Oh and never forget savasana and a moment or two of meditation after wards ... the fruits of the yoga tree!

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Connie said...

This is an interesting discussion. I have been practising yoga for over 20 years and teaching on and off for 16 years. I first learned from a teacher. I have actually never used DVD's or videos for my own practice at home.

I think that practising at home is only appropriate once you have learnt the basics, especially how to align your body correctly. You also need a very basic understanding about sequencing (poses and counterposes).

We (that includes me)are usually blind to our own faulty alignment and are so sure we are doing the poses correctly when in fact we are not. For this reason I believe that a teacher is essential.

After a while, a simple home practice can begin and I agree that any amount of time is useful, don't be too ambitious when starting out. 5-10 minutes a few times a week is better than planning a full hour that never happens.

Prem, said...

I have tried compiling videos of all important postures in Yoga. I hope this serves as a reference point to start. Videos are more helpful then a description or a picture. I hope this helps.

Prem, said...

oops... the link :)

Anonymous said...

Even people who have been doing the same style for many years might enjoy or receive some new benefit from trying out a new yoga style.
home assignment

kumari said...

I started with DVDs before I went consistently to a studio and the problem was most of the DVDs didn't explain well enough what to do - they were too advanced. The notable except was a VHS tape by a lady named Linda Arkin which looked like it had been filmed in the 70's or 80's.

This stalled my practice for years. I wish I had gone to a studio first, learned some basics and then got the DVDs. Problem was (or is) I was intimidated by the skinny vegan looks of the yoga culture girls at the studio.

I lost a lot of weight inbetween then and now I am a yoga teacher. I am sensitive to the reluctance some people have about the studio and I offer private and semi private lessons at the same time I encourage people to have a home practice