Wednesday, April 9, 2014

You Can't Be Good at Yoga, and Other Things You Should Know Before Starting Your Practice



There is No Such Thing as Being Good at Yoga



“But... but... that girl can do a handstand! And she can put her foot behind her head! And that guy? He tied his leg into a knot and then did an arm balance on it! They are so good at yoga!”

I have news for you, my soon-to-be-blissed-out friend. There is no such thing as being good at yoga. 

I am going to repeat that line for emphasis, because it is crucial:

There is no such thing as being good at yoga. 

That woman and man mentioned above may be flexible, strong, and have excellent body awareness that could be attributed to the mental fortitude that is developed through a consistent yoga practice, but you can’t excel at yoga. You just can’t. 

Yoga is being present in the moment, focusing on your breath, and moving your body in a manner that serves you at that very moment. 

It’s not a certain pose, and nobody wins. Sorry, Bikram. 

Know now that your practice will be different each day. Sometimes you'll need something vigorous, and you'll slip deeply into every delicious pose, all while breathly deeply and feeling weightless, never wanting it to end. 

Other days you may be crunchy, your body uncooperative, checking the clock every other minute, and you'll have the attention span of a fruit fly. On days like this, it's important to focus on your breath, slow down, and do whatever feels good for your body, which does not include trying to finagle yourself into a complicated new pose just because the girl next to you is. 

Speaking of that super flexy chick on the mat next to you... 

The Dirty Three-Lettered Word: Ego


The overwhelming majority of injuries that occur from yoga are when people let their ego take the reins. Trying to match your neighbor pose for pose will get you nowhere, except for hurt and discouraged. 

Feeling sensation and a bit of discomfort in your hamstrings during a deep forward fold is one thing, but experiencing pain is another entirely, and you are just begging to get hurt. If your hamstrings - or any other muscle - feel like they are going to snap, then guess what? They probably will, and I doubt I need to tell you how miserable a torn muscle is. 

If you can not breathe deeply and smile in a pose, you need to ease up. That is the rule. 



What if I’m Not Flexible? 


Many people aren’t. 

Yoga is not about flexibility. Yes, done frequently it will enhance your mobility (and strength and stability), but being bendy is not the premise on which yoga was built, nor is it important. Yes, we want you to be able to move well to improve your quality of life, but that has nothing to do with the ability to wrap your leg around your head. 

The poses (also referred to as asana) are only one of the eight branches of yoga. The postures in yoga are simply to serve as a moving meditation.


Something For Every BODY 


There are a ton of different styles of yoga. Ranging from classes that are centered around luxurious relaxation, to practices that will leave you drenched in sweat, there is absolutely something for everybody.  

You'll want to find a class that matches up with your level, personality style, and what your body needs at the moment, in order to make your experience enjoyable and get the most out of it. 

Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Restorative, Iyengar, Anusara, Kripalu, Jivamukti, Forrest - the list of yoga styles go on and on. I’m going to touch on a few that you are likely see on a yoga schedule at your local studio, in hopes of helping you find something that will suit you, or inspiring you to try something new!  


Flow, or No Flow? 


Onzie Criss Cross bra top in Citron, and Capri Pant in Cali Palms
If you want something with a lot of movement, look for a vinyasa class.

Vinyasa is simply an umbrella term for any free-style yoga class that moves with and follows your breath. 

It’s safe to assume that it will start with sun salutations to build heat, move to standing postures, balance poses, possible inversions (optional), seated and/or lying poses, and then finish with Savasana, which is about 5 - 10 minutes of heavenly relaxation and meditation. 


The following are a few examples of vinyasa style yoga practices, and what makes them a bit different.  

Anusara: heavy emphasis on alignment, with the central theme being “Attitude, Alignment, Action”. 

Forrest: starts with rigorous core work, and utilizes very long holds in the poses to stir emotion and breath. Did I mention the long holds? 

Iyengar: use of blocks and straps, long holds in the poses, less postures overall, and a lot of instruction with heavy emphasis on alignment. A very meticulous practice. If you want all of the details on exactly where your body should be during a practice (which is great for some, maddening for others), then this may be a good choice for you. 

Ashtanga: a set series of poses divided into six different levels, all laced together by performing vinyasas. This practice is very physically challenging, and needs to be done on a day that you do not strength train. 
Ashtanga is a personal favorite of mine. If you want a tough, athletic practice, you will enjoy this class. If you aren’t familiar with the series, you will want to ask if this is a led class, or a mysore class. If it’s led, an instructor will guide you through the postures. If it’s a mysore class, you are expected to come in and do the series on your own, and the instructor is there only to assist students should they need it. 

Power Yoga, Power vinyasa, or Power Flow: faster moving, athletic vinyasa classes that will be physically rigorous, build more heat, and call for more strength poses.


Bring It Down


If you want something a bit more mellow to unwind, look to classes such as:

Restorative yoga: uses bolsters and blankets to comfortably prop you into passive poses where you will relax anywhere from 3 - 5 minutes at a time. Treat yourself to this class. It’s delicious and rejuvenating. 

Viniyoga: a therapeutic practice that is good for people recovering from injuries. 

Soft Flow, Slow Flow, or Light Flow: likely a toned down version of a vinyasa practice using slow, thoughtful movement. 

When in doubt, just ask! Call up the studio, tell them a bit about yourself, what you are looking for, and ask for their recommendations. They should be happy to help!


Onzie Capri Pants in Cali Palms

Working Yoga Into Your Weight Smashing Schedule 


If you strength train consistently, you can work in any of the less aggressive classes listed above, or any low to moderate level vinyasa class on the same day that you train, preferably after your strength sesh.  

Should you choose to take something more intense, like Ashtanga or a power flow, you may want to do that on a non-training day, at least until you see how your body feels, both during the yoga class, and the day after. 

When incorporating intelligently, yoga can be a fantastic complement to your weight training. Not only will it help with mobility and stability, but I have found that it has really improved my mental toughness, which has carried over nicely to my performance both in the gym, and in other physical activities. 


It's More Than a Mat


You want a good sticky mat. Trust me here. It is very tempting to grab a $14.00 mat from your local drugstore and think that will pass muster, but you will be slipping and sliding all over the damn place. Getting into downward facing dog and having your hands and feet slowwwwwwly slide away from you and having to re-adjust every 3 seconds is awful. 

Additionally, mats are sacred territory. While most studios will loan you one, get your own. Do you really want to rest your forehead on a spot where many other people’s bare, sweaty feet have been? Ew. Of course you don’t.  

Good mats are not cheap, but they are a wise investment and last a long time. My favorite mats are from Jade. I use the Jade Harmony Mat in 68". If you are six feet tall or taller, go for the 74" mat. 


Colonel Chompers doesn't let my pose affect his ego. He couldn't care less.




Fashion or Function? I Choose Both! 


I made an epic mistake once by wearing low-rise tights and a flowy tank to yoga. Each time I bent over (which, in vinyasa and ashtanga, is a lot), I’d have to hike my pants back up to hide my exposed buttcrack, while simultaneously attempting to pull my shirt down so my chest wasn’t exposed. Try doing that when you’re upside-down


Nightmare

Whatever you decide to wear to yoga should be tested out prior to leaving the house. Bend over. Get into a plank position. Lift your arms up over your head a few times. 
Do your clothes shift around, requiring adjustment? If so, change immediately, no matter how rad you look.  

Gentlemen, your super humongous t-shirt and XXXXL basketball shorts that hit you mid-calf aren't your best bet. Wear a shirt that doesn’t hinder the range of motion in your upper body, nor will it flip up over your head when you’re folded over. Wear shorts or pants that stay put on your waist, are comfortably lightweight, and allow you to bend your knees freely. 

Currently, some of my favorite yoga gear is from Onzie.  I recently had the opportunity to test-drive some of their stuff, and it’s so incredibly comfortable! The tights move with me like a second skin, and the entire outfit is breathable, light, and so ridiculously cute. Please check out their website: www.Onzie.com 


Your Yoga On-ramp Checklist 


  • Get into a yoga studio. You will typically get more individualized attention, and the instructors in a studio are required to have much more stringent certifications and teaching time. 
  • Choose the level and style of yoga that is appropriate for you, and use blocks and straps for assistance as needed.
  • Try a shorter class for your first time to get your bearings, like a lunchtime or happy hour class that is 45 - 60 minutes long. Both shorter and longer classes are highly beneficial; neither is superior. 
  • If you aren't able to do anything else in your yoga class, just be present and breathe. It's that simple. 
  • Pay no mind to what others are doing, and listen to your body. 
  • Try a few different styles, from different instructors. Remember that everybody has a unique teaching style, some of which you will vibe with, and others that you won't. Don't dismiss yoga because of one instructor or one style. 



If you just can’t get into a studio, I really love YogaGlo.com . There are a ton of different instructors, styles, levels, and durations to choose from to customize the kind of class you’d like. I recommend this over most yoga DVDs, because it gives you so many choices depending on how you and your body are feeling on that day. 
Additionally, it offers workshops and tutorials on specific poses that are fun to work on, but require more attention and instruction. 

Embarking on a yoga journey is exciting! Even if you choose to practice once a week, or every day, it will provide you with precious time to dig in deep, and see what is going on inside. We are always on the go or connected, and having the opportunity to sit with ourselves in silence and be present it something special. 

As my yoga mentor D'ana Baptiste of Centered City Yoga and InBody Academy reminds us, 

"Get out of your head, and into your body." 



What style of yoga most appeals to you?
Did I miss anything that you'd like to add for newbies that are looking to get started?
I'd love to hear from you below!

Onzie Capri Pant in Cali Palms

14 comments:

  1. As fellow yogi, I just loved this post. I always encourage my clients to try yoga, as it serves as such a great compliment to a solid training program, and a much needed break from the chaos of our busy lives.

    What you said about the ego is spot on (still working on that!). On the last day of my teacher training program, our instructor wrote on the board a message that has resonated with me from that day forward. "Trust the process. Love the process. Surrender the ego." So simple, yet so powerful. Thanks, Jen!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Marci,
      thank you so much! I really hope that by demystifying some things about yoga, we can get more people into the studio. I feel like it often just feels too intimidating for some.

      I love what your instructor said - thank you for sharing that! "Surrender" is a very important word to me - so much so, that I had it tattooed on my arm in sanskrit to serve as a constant reminder.

      Thanks again!

      Delete
  2. Tried my first yoga class in over 10 years this weekend. It was great but I felt very inadequate. Thanks for the great advice in this post. It was helpful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Tom,
      thank you for reading, and more importantly, I commend you for getting in to practice some yoga.
      I know how intimidating it can be, and I would like to assure you that, like almost everything else, it gets less complicated the more you do it.
      Please stick with it, and if I can ever be of any help, please don't hesitate to reach out!

      Delete
  3. Great post, Jen! For health reasons I have recently taken a hiatus from serious strength training and climbing training and have started incorporating yoga into my life again (after many years). Your post inspired me to keep at it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much!

      I'm happy to hear that you are incorporating yoga into your life. I'm sure it's helping more than you (we) even realize!

      Delete
  4. Thanks for this article. It really helped open my eyes and now I look at yoga in a completely different way. I've only practiced here and there, but I think after this change in view it will help me improve going forward.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm happy to hear that this helped, and hope you do give it another shot with some different perspectives in mind!

      Delete
  5. I really liked this article, especially since I just signed up for a yoga class about a month ago. I do, however, have a question about the mat. I tend to sweat (a lot) regardless of whether it's really hot or just average in the room, so I have trouble with slippage when it comes to my mat. I use a towel under my hands, but am wondering if you think that getting a different mat will make a significant difference or if maybe it would be best to try a towel that fits over the entire mat? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great question!
      There are companies that make a thin, non-stick towel that fits perfectly over your yoga mat. These are excellent for hot yoga, Bikram, or if you're just a major sweater (and I am!)

      http://www.manduka.com/us/shop/categories/products/towels/equa-mat-towel/

      Delete
  6. Thank you so much for this post! The timing could not be better as I've been feeling a little discouraged by the things I am not able to do vs. embracing the things I can do in my yoga practices. Trust the process is exactly what I needed to hear. Many thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Jen! I recently became interested in yoga as a way to supplement my mobility from strength training, In a few short weeks it has already made a big difference in how I recover, how I feel in the morning, and my control over my abdominal and deep back muscles when I strength train. But I have a more important issue that I need to address. I recently rented a room from a friends mom who is one of the most unbelievably generous, positive, and influential persons I have ever met, she also happens to be 300+lbs and is declining more and more each day, I myself am a personal trainer and want so much to help her, but weight training, walking, even rowing is too painful for her. I had her run through a few basic yoga poses (sun salutations, standing back bends, forward bends etc) and she seems to enjoy the low impact and overall serenity that yoga offers. I want to get her on a steady program but I'm not educated enough on yoga to give her a workout that fits her limitations. She has a lot of knee and ankle pain so she can't bend more than a few degrees forward, and she has some balance issues. I would really love some tips or possibly suggestions on where to look for workouts specific towards pain reduction and mobilization in the lower body. I really appreciate all the info I've gained from reading your blog. Thank you!

    -Zack

    ReplyDelete