How to Get Better At Yoga
How to get better at yoga:
Going to a yoga class can be a scary, even embarrassing experience. It’s intimidating to watch other, more accomplished practitioners while we struggle to move our bodies in new and challenging ways. So how do we improve to the point of feeling comfortable with ourselves? How do we find a practice that meets our individual needs?
Letting go of ego is often the biggest stumbling block we face when trying to improve our health or well-being. When I first began my practice I knew my body was strong and athletic, so classes titled “gentle”, “beginner” or “therapeutic” were certainly not for me. I jumped into a hot yoga class for “level 2” practitioners…and regretted it immediately. It took a while, but I learned that one of the most basics truths of yoga is that less is more.
Understanding our strengths and weaknesses when we begin gives us valuable insight that can improve our yoga practice. It takes mindfulness and wisdom to step back and observe where we are strong, weak or injured, without judgment.
It is important to understand our patterns of movement. This information can be a powerful tool in preventing injuries. Often, when we start a new type of movement, we go as far as we can only to regret it later. Yoga is a practice that invites us to pause, breath and become aware of the connection between our thoughts and body.
How to advance in yoga:
You might ask how can we advance in yoga by doing less? Understanding what happens as we stretch or contract our muscles will allow us to get the most benefit from our practice.
When a muscle is stretched quickly, the muscle spindle tells the muscle to contract to prevent it from going too far and causing injury. The brain is on alert that nearby joints and soft tissues are in danger of being over stretched. Contraction is the result. In order to avoid injury, it is essential to align the joints properly to ensure they’re moving in the way they are designed to.
To advance in our yoga practice, we must move mindfully into a stretch, and hold the position for a minimum of 10 seconds: long enough for the reflexes to relax. Once you feel the muscle yield, you might go a bit deeper, noticing where your body starts to tighten. Do this slowly and gently, as pulling, yanking or pushing into a stretch is great recipe for injury and should be avoided!
How long does it take to get really good at yoga?
This depends on what yoga is to you. It’s helpful to remember that the western idea of yoga is to execute a series of movements in a sequence. Unknown to most, these movements were developed in the 1930-40’s for teenage boys in India. The goal was largely to instill discipline, strength and defensive movements. If you don’t happen to be a teenage boy, those poses (asana) may not be right for your body, and trying to advance into that practice is likely to result in injuries that will sideline or discourage you from practicing at all. Instead, begin with an honest assessment of where you are today, in your body.
How to get good at yoga at home:
Yoga classes are helpful as they give us ideas and feedback about our bodies and our practice, but creating a home practice is essential if you can’t get to classes every day. The advantage of a home practice is that you can choose one or two poses that you’d like to explore more deeply. Instead of running through a series of asana, focus on a few simple movements that access the entire body, or a specific part of your body that you’d like to target.
Learning to breathe:
Whether at home or in a class, learning to take a deep, diaphragmatic breath is the best tool for changing our bodies and our minds. Try these simple steps to create this powerful change:
Sit or lay down in a comfortable position (this is a position that is right for your body.
- Begin with a relaxed jaw and tongue
- Breath in through the nose and relax the muscles of the belly
- Pause briefly
- Exhale through the mouth, slowly
- Pause briefly before you inhale your next breath
Your thoughts will likely stray but coaxing them back to observe the movement of the breath will calm the mind, and allow the body to be oxygenated.
These simple shifts will pay powerful dividends to a calmer, stronger you.