Yoga is a concoction of physical, mental and spiritual practices which together form the holy trinity of ancient Indian premise towards leading a wholesome life. Following its immense success in the motherland along nineteenth and twentieth centuries, numerous “gurus” introduced the practice to westerners where yoga developed intoa posture-based fitness regime which promotes relief from stress and general physical and mental relaxation. The most popular form of yoga in the modern day, hatha yoga, intrinsically proposes the practice of aasanas or postures which have certain therapeutic, preventive and curative effects. Yoga promotes general well-being besides providing respite from specific diseases and conditions.
How to Get Started?
For those genuinely looking at adopting the practice of yoga, following is a guide as to effectively commencing the same. While it can be a mere hobby that you periodically indulge in or the primary fitness activity which you entirely bank upon for a fit lifestyle, yoga is extremely malleable and takes any shape that you wish to give it.
Start with a Teacher who is certified and knowledgeable
While there is no dearth of content on the web and tutorials for yoga (or anything at all!) are easily available, it is always recommended to start any new form of physical activity with a trustworthy feedback mechanism in place. When practised properly, yoga can prove to be an elixir for many ailments, however, one improper aasana can cause an injury which hoards the potential to cause more harm than all of the benefit combined. It is always better to have a teacher to correct you in real-time and mitigate any injury related risks.
Once you’re comfortable with the aasanas, you can practise in solitude.
Listen to your Body
Ease into the practise! It is unreasonable to expect that you’ll be able to master Padmaasana on your first day (Kudos if you do!) of practice. Give your body enough time to learn how to move in ways it hasn’t learned to move in before. Most advanced aasanas of yoga have scaled-down versions which your teacher will inform you of. Focus on attaining balance and mastering the scaled down aasanasbefore you scale them up.
Further, your body knows when something does not feel right. If there is any unreasonable discomfort (a little bit of stretch is fine), stop immediately. In case of non-routine conditions such as cervical spondylosis, pregnancy or even heavy menstruation, inform your teacher beforehand and don’t try to push yourself too much.
Don’t hold your Breath unless the Aasana prescribes so
Yoga preaches to embrace flow, and flow is attained when your mind, body and spirit are in sync with each other. A common tendency among beginners is to concentrate so hard on perfecting an aasana that breathing takes a back seat. You cannot heal if you don’t breathe, so make sure you’re inhaling and exhaling and be mindful about cautiously doing it if you catch yourself holding your breath in the middle of your practice.
Work at your Own Pace
This is an extension to the second tip, but it deserves a special mention because often in group classes, baby-yogis start to get too competitive and overestimate their capabilities. It’s human nature and totally normal to try conforming but as with any other physical activity, aasanas and exercises must not be overdone at first instance.
Reward yourself for your own individual progress and appreciate your growth without comparing it with that of others. Each body and person is different and it isn’t fair to draw a linear comparison amidst such heterogeneity.
Invest in stretchable and well-fitting clothes
You’ll be bending and turning in all directions, often against the gravitational pull. If practising in a class, it is advised to maintain group etiquette and dress comfortably but appropriately. Avoid plunging and loose clothes or those that restrict physical movement.
Eat and Drink Right
While practising any form of a fitness regime, it is advised to follow a wholesome diet well-endowed with all the nutrients that your body might need. Maintain a balanced diet, eat small wholesome meals every few hours and avoid eating any substantial portion of food an hour before your yoga practice.
Make Lifestyle Changes
While the inherent nature of yoga is holistically therapeutic and curative, it cannot act as a band-aid for all your ills. If you indulge in heavy smoking or drinking, or generally eat too much or too little, food that is too oily or too spicy, it will reflect directly in your body. Yoga works the best when coupled with ancillary healthy practices.
Warm-up and Cool-down is Important!
Do not jump straight into the practice of yoga aasanas. Begin with some breathing exercises and comfortable stretches. Suryanamaskarais a common favourite of many yogis for beginning the practice while shavaasana (Corpse position)provides the much-needed rest to the body and mind towards the end.
Further, practise yoga with a sense of gratitude and an intention to relax. Yoga is a gift, not an infliction.
Yoga Aasanas for Beginners
Popularly known as the Mountain Pose,taadasana is a standing aasanawhich forms the cornerstone for various standing aasanas. This posture is practised by stretching the length of the body and extending the arms upward towards the sky while focusing on breathing.
Numerous benefits that this aasana provides include improvement in the posture, increasing height (for children), stimulating the nervous system, strengthening of limbs et cetera.
This is commonly called the Downward-facing Dog pose which is one of the developments of modern yoga practices. This aasana can be characterized as an inversion aasana and is practised within the strategically curated sequence of Suryanamaskara. The yogi bends forward by bending inward at the hip joint and coming in touch with the surface using both the palms and feet.
Notable benefits of this aasana include strengthening arms and legs and pervading the entire body with relaxation.
The Cobra pose is a popular aasana within the hatha yoga arsenal which is performed as part of the Suryanamaskara cycle or standalone. The yogi lies flat on the ground with feet together and pointing backward. Then places both the palms to beside the bosom and launches the upper body against the ground while gazing up.
This aasanaprovides a good stretch to the lungs, thorax, abdomen and shoulders while strengthening the vertebral column.
Also called the Thunderbolt pose, this is a common remedy for gastric patients towards releasing gas from the digestive system and improving digestion in general.
The yogi folds his or her knees and rests the thighs upon the calf while both the feet point backward. The spine is erected and chin is placed parallel to the ground while the palms rest on the yogi’s thighs. A few minutes can comfortably be spent at a stretch in this particular pose.
The typical cross legged position with an erect spine and palms resting on the knees or joined in a prayer pose is what we call the Sukhaasana. This sitting aasana is often used as a physical state to meditate in and improve focus. While it stretches the knee and ankle joint, it also strengthens the back and spine.
It is easy to get fixated and keep focusing on perfecting the skill of yoga aasanas, but do not forget that yoga practice is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. Do not take yourself too seriously and have fun while at it! Keep yourself hydrated and take small breathers if you start to get tired. Pay heed to people’s personal space if practising in a group and try sticking to your own yoga mat or designated area. Follow the session up with a healthy little snack, maybe a fruit and feel rejuvenated for the rest of your day and lastly, don’t give up. Anything takes continuity and regularity to become a habit, yoga is no different. Give it time, let is settle into your system and psyche, and see its magic unfold, one aasanaat a time!