Simple tips and advice for getting started on the mat. By Eva Kristlova
Well done for your interest in yoga! Now let’s get started!
Yoga is beneficial on so many levels: physically, mentally and emotionally, and especially now, as we are navigating through these challenging times, it is needed more than ever! Yoga will bring you peace, clarity, increased strength and flexibility as well as helping you through this journey called life. And you don’t have to be flexible to begin; you don’t have to change anything about who you are.
Yoga is not only about the physical postures (asana). These are only the tip of the iceberg. The practice also has a deep spiritual component; it is a way for you to get to know yourself.
The most beautiful part of the practice is that it truly is for everyone. Providing support, it can lift you and hold you and help you to explore and get to know yourself. Yoga can really transform your life. The practice of yoga welcomes everyone, in every phase of life. It honours our bodies, it reminds us to breathe, it quietens our busy mind.
Yoga is for absolutely everybody, and available to everyone. As long as you can breathe you can do yoga! The word ‘yoga’ itself can be translated as ‘union’ . So come exactly as you are…now it is time to begin!
Before you start
Getting started is simple and you really don’t need much (if anything at all). If you can afford it, get yourself a yoga mat, and I would also recommend getting a couple of blocks and a strap (although most of these things would be provided at your local studio). I like using a blanket and a cushion too, for a little bit of comfort! Blankets provide padding and keep you warm.
The blocks provide support and can be used to elevate your hips and promote better posture. We use the strap to create more space in the body, for example, in a seated forward fold. I love working with bolsters that support the body especially in a restorative yoga practice. Plus soothing eye pillows to help you relax!
But remember: if you have a body, you have all you need to practice yoga! The props can help you along the way, but none are ultimately necessary, especially at the beginning…and your local studio will nearly always provide these for you anyway.
What to wear
Anything you like as long as it’s comfortable, such as yoga leggings or tracksuit bottoms with a comfy top. We usually practice with bare feet . If you are thinking of starting yoga you are already half way there! Make that final step, unroll your mat and let a new chapter of your life begin!
What to expect
A yoga class usually starts and finishes in Savasana (corpse pose) where you will be lying on your back. The teacher will encourage you to close your eyes and focus on your breath, letting go of the busyness of the world and your daily worries, and instead connecting with your breath, the present moment and your deeper self.
The teacher will lead you through a series of warm-ups, mobilising and limbering your body and working towards the main pose (or series of postures) that we refer to as ‘peak pose’. You will gradually cover all bases such as sitting, kneeling, standing and lying down, exploring forward folds, backbends, inversions, spinal twists, balances and side bends.
There may also be a focus on the breath where you will learn various breathing techniques, known as Pranayama. The class usually finishes either in Savasana, where you will be treated to a blissful relaxation, or in a seated cross-legged position (Sukasana) where you can become completely still through meditation.
In relaxation, you let go of any physical and mental activity and let your body rest and receive all the benefits of your practice. The teacher will guide you verbally or might let you relax in silence. This is a much-needed treat and reward for all your work on and off the mat. In today’s busy world, relaxation is an absolute must have!
Meditation is also a wonderful tool that is proven to help us de-stress and bring about a sense of overall wellbeing. It relieves anxiety, enhances self-awareness, brings about focus and sparks creativity.
As the Sufi poet Rumi states:
“The quieter our mind becomes, the more we can hear.”
You may also hear your teacher speaking in different language! This is Sanskrit, the original language of yoga that carries sacred sounds and vibrations.
Here are some of the phrases that you may hear your teacher say:
Namaste – used at the end of class (or as a greeting at the beginning). One of the many translations is:
My soul honours your soul
I honour the place in you
Where the entire universe resides
I honour the light, love, truth,
Because it is also within me
And in sharing these things
We are united
We are the same
We are one
Asana – the physical postures. All postures that your teacher will take you through have Sanskrit names and an English translation.
Pranayama – breathing techniques. Beginners will usually start by simply observing the breath, noticing the rise and fall of the belly and chest, the flow of the breath through the body, before progressing into breath retention, count and more advanced practices.
Mudra – hand seals or gestures that direct subtle energy to certain areas of the body. One that you may practice at the end of a class is Anjali mudra (hands in prayer) and most likely Chin mudra, where the tip of the thumb and index finger connect.
Om - Om is a mantra that is often chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. It is both a sound and a symbol rich in meaning and depth. It is said to be both the sound of the creation of the universe, and the sound of silence.
A teacher’s advice to anyone wanting to try yoga
By Georgina Warrick
My advice to someone wanting to try yoga for the first time would be to simply go for it! You may believe that you can’t do yoga but there is a yoga class and style out there for everyone. Maybe you tell yourself that you are too stiff, too old or don’t believe you have the right body shape for yoga.
But I will tell you a secret: if you can breathe, you can do yoga! Yoga is literally for every body! The breath is the key, and you don’t need to do any complicated poses you may have seen on social media. Find a gentle or beginner-focused class to start with, then unroll your mat and get started.
The quote that, “in life you don’t regret the things you do, only the things you don’t do” is more true than ever after the pandemic. It is time to grab life by the horns and enjoy the journey and adventure of trying something new.
One warning though: be prepared to fall in love with yoga. You’ll want to be practicing every minute you get.