A future yogi or yogini has several options at his or her disposal in the quest for the perfect downward-facing dog. What's best for you? This article will help you sort out the various methods of learning yoga, and give you a brief introduction to yoga styles to get you started.
What sort of yoga should you practice? This question should be considered before you jump in with both feet to "salute the sun."
- Consider your physical limitations. Someone with chronic back pain or fibromyalgia could benefit from what is typically billed as "gentle" or "restorative" yoga. This type of yoga focuses on well-being and balance, gently easing out kinks and painful areas without the strenuous flow of poses you might see in other styles. Typically a gentle yoga practice will rely heavily on props (i.e., pillows, blankets, blocks, straps, bolsters, etc.) to assist the practitioner in achieving a pose or a modified version of a pose. The fitness benefits may be somewhat reduced, but often this type of yoga can help a practitioner heal from an injury or condition, whereupon she will be ready for more physical forms.
- Consider your goals. Are you looking for an aerobic substitute? Most forms of yoga are not considered aerobic exercise. However, some forms will get your heart rate up, and a few will even get you into that target heart rate zone for burning fat. If aerobic exercise is your primary purpose in doing yoga, consider forms like power yoga or Vinyasa yoga.
- Some like it hot. If you're into the purification aspects of yoga, or really want to break a sweat, check out Bikram yoga (but only if you're in excellent health and get the go-ahead from your physician). Bikram is practiced in a sweltering studio where the temperatures can reach (or exceed) 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This is not for the faint of heart!
- Are you a traditionalist? Explore Iyengar yoga, which focuses on the ever-perfecting and adjusting process of achieving a pose's essence or core. You can expect some use of props (though not as much as with a gentle yoga session).
There are many other forms you can experiment with and choose from, but this will give you something to ponder while considering the next question: "How do I learn the poses?"
- The best bet is to find a good teacher and take a class . Yoga is heavily form-specific. That is to say, its proper practice depends largely on proper form and sequencing. A good teacher can be invaluable in helping you learn poses "correctly" (i.e. in the best form and with the right adjustments for your specific needs), and in giving you a well-rounded practice.
- Home practice is a terrific addition to your class schedule. Talk with your teacher about setting up a home practice. Ask her what poses you should include, and in what sequence. Set up a dedicated area--make sure you have room enough to move in all directions--and try to hit the mat daily, if possible. It's an incredible way to start your day--a few sun salutations and a brief meditation session can work wonders for your attitude!
- Explore videos and DVDs, but cautiously. Videos and DVDs can be great supplements, or substitutes when you simply can't work in a live class or don't have that option available to you. However, you should be careful to do some research first before selecting a routine in these formats. For one thing, most stores won't let you exchange titles after they've been viewed. Also, teachers who lead video routines can vary wildly in skill and proficiency level, and production values can also differ dramatically from one offering to the next. Check out reviews by publications such as Yoga Journal or stores that offer review/critiques on item pages, such as Amazon.com. If you can check out the DVD or tape through a rental service first, so much the better--then you know with certainty that you'll like what you're getting.
- Books can be useful but only as a supplement. Don't expect to learn bound angle pose properly from one photograph or even as series of photographs. It just isn't the same as watching a practiced yogi move into the pose from a neutral position. Body postures and movements that seem obvious when viewed "live" can be totally obscured when viewed statically. That said, books can be a terrific supplement to your practice. When you have a question about a particular pose, or wonder whether your usual sequence is contraindicated by that sudden flare-up of carpal tunnel syndrome, a good book is a great resource to have. Look for one that has spiral binding or is otherwise set up to open up flat, and make sure the photographs are clear and not fuzzy or out of focus. Check the credentials of the author to ensure you have a reputable source of information.
Yoga offers so many wonderful benefits that it's no wonder it is experiencing an explosion in popularity these days. When you take the time to learn the poses properly, those benefits can stay with you throughout your day!