Well, where is the beginning, exactly? Yoga provides an endless supply of various chicken-egg conundrums. Where do we begin? What is the most important?
If you follow yoga blogs or facebook groups, or even read the New York Times, people are always providing us with lists: the 5 most basic postures, the 10 most difficult postures, 8 postures to wake up with, etc. The truth is, we are all different, in body, mind, spirit, and therefore in our yoga practice.
This is one of the reasons I think private instruction can be so beneficial, especially when a student is new to yoga. During the early stages of learning any new practice, we have the opportunity to build good habits.
Though the ‘basics’ are different for everyone, here are some things that I find myself saying more often than not, to students of all “levels” (whatever a ‘level’ is in yoga…)
- Yoga means union, or to yoke. Hatha Yoga means union of the sun and moon. As abstract as this may sound, it most simply aims to describe the union of opposites. Our yoga practice, physical, mental and spiritual, brings together a communion of opposite forces: up and down, right and left, front and back, in and out. The inhale and the exhale themselves are opposites that we join together through consciousness and through movement.
- Strength and softness exist together. Though we often work to find engagement in our yoga postures, and in our seated meditation, we are also looking to soften, to slow down, and not to push too hard to our edge.
- It’s a delicate balance in yoga (which is a practice of delicately balancing body, mind and soul) to develop a positive relationship with our “edge.” In our society, people often come to yoga to stretch and relax, or to get a workout. (Calm, balance, mental clarity and spiritual awakening often come as a surprise, an added bonus… that’s a different article.) These initial two reasons of relax or workout tend to lead students in one of two directions. If we come to relax, we might get a little too ‘flowy’ in our postures, not engaging enough of our subtle stabilizer muscles. This can often lead to passive hyperextension in weight-bearing elbows, low back pain caused by a weak or disengaged core, or over-stretching certain areas of the body. This can create vulnerability to injury on or off the mat. If we approach yoga as a workout, it can be tempting to push ourselves past the body’s limits and create some compromising positions. Flexibility does not happen overnight and if we use our strength to push past our safe range of motion, we can injure ourselves, and make it more difficult for the body to expand range of motion going forward. If we freak a joint out once, it is less likely to trust us the next time.
Overall, a yoga practice is extremely customizable. In many cases, the yoga “marketplace” does not focus on the flexibility of the actual practice. Through my teaching and through this blog I hope to empower students to develop the practice that works best for them. There are options for everyone– to keep bodies safe, to build strength, to cultivate spiritual development and encourage mental clarity. Oh yeah, and it can be fun! Let me know how I can support you in finding what you need.