Ironically, yoga can be a very intimidating activity. Over the years yoga has been stuck with a lot of stereotypes. It started with the tree-hugging, earthy freak show about two decades ago and somehow has morphed into an ultra-trendy, must wear the latest attire, be and act a certain way and not make a complete ass of myself on day one at the studio proposition.
Yoga has become big business. Classes have become fairly expensive and the equipment (what little there is to buy) is not cheap. The industry keeps finding ways to wrap premiums around its product. Organic bamboo mats with extra grips, gloves that replace mats with grips built in, water bottles that keep getting more technically advanced, the list goes on. The reality is that yoga requires three things: You, a comfortable surface and good air. Good instruction doesn’t hurt 🙂
The money making side of yoga must be as a result of all the high powered individuals that have found their way to yoga and have in turn, replaced their income with its obvious appeal. Lululemon is a great example of a company that has turned yoga from its grassroots into a hot activity simply by designing mainstream high end clothes that “suggest” the practice of yoga. In a way, I’m grateful that Lululemon has done this – it has clearly raised major awareness of yoga and has thereby has done wonders for generations to come.
Between the trendy clothes, latest equipment and ever increasing types of yoga, it has become very confusing for newcomers to find a comfortable entry point into the practice. So how does a bystander, a shy pedestrian as it were, ease into the practice even just to understand its benefits an maybe feel compelled to join a class at a studio?
My advice would be to start with the basics. Spend some time practicing the yogic breath and then do a couple of warm-ups followed by a series of sun salutations.
Here’s a perfect starter set:
1. Sit in any cross-legged position (easy pose) and practice the yogic breath for about 3-5 minute
2. Do the following warm-ups:
- Spinal Flexes – Still sitting in “easy pose”, grab a hold of your ankles and begin flexing the spine. As you inhale flex forward pushing your sternum forward and upward. Open your heart as you breath in and keep your head as still as possible. On the exhale, tilt your pelvis back as the lungs deflate. On the exhale you are bringing your navel back to your spine as it curls in its backward flex – keep going for about 2 minutes.
- Spinal Flex 2 – Stay in the same posture now moving the hands to the knees and keeping your elbows locked with your arms completely straight. Continue flexing the spine, inhaling as you come forward and exhaling as you move back. 1-2 minutes.
- Spinal Twists – Now place your hands on your shoulders with your fingers facing forward and your thumbs facing backwards. Keep yourself tall and imagine your head on a string holding you up. Now, inhale as you twist to the left and exhale powerfully as you turn to the right. Continue with this motion for 1-2 minutes. Inhale deeply, suspend your breath and relax.
- Life Nerve Stretch – Now sit with your right foot extended and bring your left ankle to your groin/perineum – foot against your thigh. Take your right big toe (if you can reach), keep your spine as straight as possible and breath long and deep. Imagine where you want your body to go and breath. Stay in the posture for at least one minute. Inhale deeply, hold the breath and exhale coming down that extra bit of distance and relax. Switch legs and repeat.
3. Sun Salutations
Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara) is an amazing complete set of exercises that has incredible health benefits. Some of them include:
- Tones the digestive system
- Strengthens abdominal muscles
- Eliminates toxins
- Strengthens the nervous system
- Promotes sleep and calms anxiety
- Improves flexibility
- Is great for the skin & hair
- Stimulates the thyroid gland
You should avoid sun salutations if:
- You’re over 3 months pregnant
- Women in the middle of your cycle
- Check with a doctor if you have had any hernia or high blood pressure
- If you have back issues – seek advice before starting the practice
Sun salutations are the staple set in any yogic practice. No matter which yoga you decide to work with, sun salutations are basic movements that are considered complete practices. You could live off of Sun Salutations each day alone and call this a perfect yogic practice. Perfection of any and all postures in yoga can take a lifetime so don’t ever think you’ll be bored.
Here’s a great animated version of the Sun Salutations. I teach them a little differently. Instead of moving one leg back at a time, I jump or step back with both legs and come right into plank and cobra. Try both versions and see which works for you.
With time, sun salutations will bring tremendous effects. You will begin to feel more vibrant, your flexibility will begin to improve and your confidence will be strong enough to walk into any yoga studio.
My advice to any and all is to leave your ego behind, walk into any yoga class that welcomes all levels and go for it. Try different kinds. There are so many different types of yoga that it is important to check at least a few of them out before deciding whether to pursue this amazing art and science. Try to keep an open mind and experiment with the disciplines. The trendier the type, the more likely you’ll feel discouraged on day one.
Everyone starts at the beginning… it really is the best place to start…