What Is Yoga?
A saying has been popping up in the yoga world lately that sums it up perfectly:“practice, not perfection.” In order to reap the beneﬁts of practicing yoga, you have to put in the work, but your eﬀorts don’t have to be perfect. You simply need to commit to practicing yoga on a regular basis. But how do you do that? And what do you need? Here are some answers to these very good questions
Now that you’ve got your yoga spot, what are you going to wear? Truthfully, if you’re in the privacy of your own home and you want to wear your birthday suit, go for it. However,if you’re looking for something a little more modest, certain fabrics and types of clothes are more suited to moving in and out of the poses than others. For example, big baggy T-shirts make yoga diﬃcult. When you’re in Down Dog and your head is toward the ground and your hips are lifted, guess where that shirt is going? Right over your face. Unless you’replanning on doing yoga blindfolded, ﬁtted tops are best because they allow you to move without distraction.
Getting Your Props
Once you’ve got your clothing ﬁgured out, there are a few more things you might need to help your practice. These items are listed in order of necessity.
YOGA MAT: This is a deﬁnite must-have. When shopping for a mat, place your hand on it to see if it slides easily. If it does, look for a diﬀerent mat. You want a mat that has some stickiness or grip to it so that when you’re moving through the poses or holding them for extended periods of time, your hands and feet do not slip or slide.
YOGA BLOCKS: These come in pretty standard sizes, and you really can’t go wrong with your purchase. Stay away from anything that is too squishy, which might collapse if you put any weight on it; otherwise, any yoga block should work. If you’re purchasing blocks, then buy two. Having the second one will make some of the poses
YOGA STRAP: Yoga straps are pretty standard as well. They should be approximately as long as you are tall or even longer. Make sure there is a metal or plastic attachment on one end that allows you to make an adjustable loop.
BOLSTER: This is like a giant, superﬁrm pillow. These are great for relaxing or restorative poses. Of course, you can also just use a pillow or two to get the same eﬀect.
BLANKET: Yoga blankets are usually made of wool and are pretty strong and durable. They have many diﬀerentuses, but again, you can improvise by using any blanket you have around the house.
Setting Up Your Space
After you have all the essentials you might need, you’ll want to set up your yoga space:
- 1. Lay down your mat.
- 2. Place your props close by.
- 3. Keep the blocks at the front of the mat and put everything else to the side.
When you’re ﬁnished practicing, roll up your mat and put it away. If your space is limited like mine, use a basket or other container to hold your mat and all your props. Keep everything together and store it conveniently so you’re ready to practice again tomorrow. Once you’ve got your mat laid out and you’re dressed in your yoga clothes, it’s time to relax.
Relaxation is a key component to yoga. In fact, Patanjali say sit best:
Practicing yoga in a relaxed manner withstrength creates harmony within the body.SUTRA 2.46, STHIRA SUKHAM ASANAM
Sthira means “strong and steady.”Sukham means “comfortable and relaxed.” Combine these two and you get anasana, or pose that works to create a happy body. Here’s a simple way to demonstrate the important balance between strength and relaxation:
- 1.Sit up straight in a comfortable position.
- 2.Notice which of your muscles are working and which ones are not. Your core is engaged to keep you upright, but your shoulders are relaxed.
- 3. Tense your shoulders and bring them toward your ears. Suddenly this becomes a very uncomfortable pose. There is no way you’d be able to hold this for any extended period of time.
- 4. Relax your shoulders. Now sitting there doesn’t seem so hard, does it?
This is sthira sukham asanamin action, the balance of strength and relaxation that creates a healthy yoga practice. Another essential element is breathing.
The breath is an extremely important part of the practice. It helps heat the body and also calms the mind by giving it something to focus on. However, breathing in yoga is diﬀerent than the breathing you’re probably doing right now as you read this.
In yoga, you breathe in and out through your nose. This is a speciﬁc method called ujjayi Pranayama. It is not required, but it certainly adds to the practice. It’s easy to learn in fact, you can try it right now.
- Place your lips together softly.
- Breathe in through your nose.
- Exhale out your nose.
How did that feel? Perhaps the breath you took was pretty shallow. Maybe you felt like you needed a little more air. Try it again.
- Concentrate as you breathe through your nose.
- Make your ribs expand by ﬁlling your lungs with air.
- Exhale slowly.
Did that feel a little bit better? I’m guessing it did. Take it one step further.
- 1. Inhale slowly through your nose.
- 2. Let your ribs expand.
- 3. Keep breathing in and let your belly expand.
- 4. Hold it there at the top.
- 5. Slowly exhale.
That should’ve felt entirely diﬀerent than the ﬁrst breath you took. Continue to breathe in this slow, deep manner. As you get more comfortable with this breathing, add a slight constriction in the back of your throat, kind of like you were trying to fog up a mirror. This will create a soft sound, like an ocean wave that should be barely audible. This breath is the ujjayi Pranayama. You’ll hear teachers talk about it a lot as you move through poses
Before we delve deep into asana, or the practice of the physical postures, I’ll teach you eight poses that you can practice daily. These are simple postures that aim to bring movement to your body, stretch out any tightness that may have developed over your day, help you relax, and keep you committed to the practice.
You can practice these poses by themselves for a short period of time or do them all together in sequence. However, you choose to practice them, make sure that you pay attention to the fundamentals: Find the balance between strength and ease and continue to breathe in a slow and conscious manner.
When it comes to poses that stretch your body, you never want to overdo it. Find that happy medium in your stretch and breathe through it. If you cannot breathe in a slow and controlled manner, you have gone too far and you should back oﬀ the stretch. This advice applies to all the poses in this article.
PURPOSE: Sukhasana is meant to be a grounding pose where you can meditate or practice breath work.
INSTRUCTIONS: Sit evenly on your sit bones and cross your shins in front of you. There should be space between your calves and your thighs. Once in the pose, relax your shoulders. Sit up tall. Take any extreme arch out of your back by using your abs to draw your lower ribs back into your spine
PURPOSE :Twists are said to wring out the toxins in the body and stimulate the digestive system. When it comes to twists, you always want to twist your torso to the right ﬁrst and then to the left, following the direction of the digestive path.
INSTRUCTIONS :To begin, stay seated in Easy pose. Take your right hand and place it behind your right hip. Put your left hand on the out-side of your right knee. Inhale and sit up a little taller. Then,as you exhale use the placement of your hands as anchors to help you twist a little deeper. Hold for at least ﬁve breaths. Repeat on the other side.
PURPOSE: This is a great pose for opening your hips and releasing your lower back, especially if you’ve spent all day sitting at a desk.
INSTRUCTIONS: From easy pose, uncross your shins and draw the soles of your feet together. If this is a lot of stretch for the outsides of your hips, then place your hands behind you and sit up tall to support yourself.You can also sit on a blanket here as well. If your knees are far the floor. You can also place blocks or pillows under them for support. This will help ease any strain you might feel on the outside of your legs