An asana is what is steady and pleasant. — Yoga Sutras II.46
For anyone who is new to yoga, I have compiled a few important foundational concepts from my own experience. If you have never done yoga and are planning to give it a try, this should help you understand what yoga is all about. This may also be helpful for you, if your only experience is a few yoga classes in a nearby studio or gym.
It is important to understand, that yoga is an enormous field of study and we are focussing mainly on the physical aspect, which we call the Asana practice. A yoga practice even if it is just the Asana practice is never merely a physical exercise. It is a lot more, and realizing this may take some time for you, which is totally fine.
The greatest thing about yoga is that it is inclusive. Yoga is for everyone and yoga has a lot to offer. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, under or overweight, fair or dark, small or big, mentally or physically challenged, gay or straight, poor or rich, absolutely anybody can adopt yoga in their life.
No Breath, No Life.
Breathing is the most important part of a yoga practice and apparently Life as well. Breath is equivalent to ‘prana’, the life energy. So the first thing you need to learn is how to breathe. Every movement that we do in yoga is combined with an inhale or exhale.
The most basic thing to learn and also very difficult to master is to align breath with movement.
For a beginner I would suggest spending time on focussing on your breathing. Make it a habit to bring your attention back to breathing in your day to day life. e.g. take a few deep breaths often during your work hours. Make it a habit to observe the quality of your breathing while brushing, cooking, before sleep, while watching TV etc. as often as you can. Make sure you always breathe through your nose.
During your own yoga practice, start with deep breathing and focus on it. Bring your attention back if you lose it. Starting with movements where you can easily align with breathing also helps and sets you up for the session.
If you have a desk job like me and and you are not a dancer or a gymnast, it is very likely that you have tight muscles, specially the hamstrings, shoulders, neck and also a bunch of muscles in the hip region.
Even if you are very active and do regular weight training or cardiovascular exercises you may face this tightness in the muscles. Unless, you spend some time stretching your muscles. The modern fitness routines focus on strengthening the muscles with repeated compression but many times they ignore that stretching and extending the muscles is equally important.
First of all, recognize that you have tight muscles and start working on them. It takes time to build muscle flexibility and I am talking about months and years. You will need patience.
The good part is, that doing regular yoga practice will help you build this flexibility and slowly open up your hips, shoulders, neck and hamstring muscles.
If you feel restricted in certain asanas like forward bending or twisting positions, don’t force yourself.
Accept your body and touch your boundaries every day. Slowly you will make it.
We are all made different.
Some of us are more flexible than others. Some have longer or shorter legs, some have a long neck, some have short arms, some have uneven limbs, some have scoliosis, some have different bone structure and the list is long. The point I want to make is that many times due to different bone structures or body types you may not be able to do things the same way as most people. This should not put you down.
Yoga is not about coming in a perfect position which is aesthetically appealing. It is a journey where you learn more about yourself and your body.
Focus on the essence of the Asana rather than coming into an elegant perfect position. It is ok to bend your knees in Downward facing dog as an example, as long as you are trying to make one straight line from your hands to your hips.
The Spine and Core
The Spine is one of the most important part of our body.
A healthy strong and flexible spine is more important than anything that you might be aiming today as your health goal.
Core is the centre of strength in the body. In yoga, we focus on our core and derive strength from it for most asanas.
Working on both the spine and core can help you fix your posture and body alignment.
Moreover, most advanced yoga positions can be more easily performed if you have a strong core and a flexible spine.
As a beginner it is important to understand this fundamental and spend a lot of time on building core strength and spinal flexibility before you start trying advanced yoga positions.
Also, stop leaning on your desk.
Guided by a teacher in a group, a YouTube video or a personal practice alone, it doesn’t matter. Yoga is an internal practice. The teacher is a voice, a guide for you but the journey is your own. When you are practicing yoga try to be present. Your thoughts will wander, but bring them back. Use your breath, focus on it.
Breath is your ultimate guide and source of all your energy and strength.
This may not apply to you or maybe it does to everyone.
"Surrender yourself. Let go”.
Many of you may not understand this, but I will still try to explain it.
Let’s do a small exercise:
Right now, at this very moment, observe your shoulders, your neck, your eyes, your face and maybe slowly your entire body.
Are you straining any muscles that you don’t really need to? Were you aware you are engaging these muscles?
Let go, release those muscles.
In your yoga practice, if you observe, you will also see that many times you are engaging muscles that you really don’t need to and good teachers always guide you to release them.
Take the opportunity in resting positions like child’s pose and Shavasana(Corpse pose) to really let go and release all tension.
Try to slowly develop this feeling of surrender.
This not only applies to your muscles but your mind.
Yoga will slowly teach you to release and let go your emotions, feelings and thoughts that you are holding on to for no reason.
Yoga will teach you to live in the present.
Ideally there should never be any pain during your yoga practice. I think we all can differentiate pain from discomfort and sore muscles.
In your practice, if at anytime you feel pain, come out of the position.
I hope this will help you build a better yoga practice for yourself.
All the best in your yoga journey.