Monday, December 24, 2012

Yoga classes - strain vs. gain

With all the different types of yoga, and varied teaching styles, it may seem overwhelming to find a class that's right for you. But really, choosing a yoga class and teacher is very simple - as the class ends, just notice how you feel.

Whether you consider yourself stiff and inflexible or in need of strengthening, a 'beginner' or not, this is the only thing you really need to ask yourself at the end of a class: "Do I feel good? " If you feel relaxed yet invigorated, positive and ready to take on what's ahead, that was a good class for you. Your body should feel amazing, your mind clear, maybe even inspired. And this has happened for me in both intensely challenging classes as well as very slow, gentle restorative classes where I felt like I did almost no work.

Once you determine what kind of class you want to take - one that is more restorative for relaxation, stress reduction and healing, or one that is more rigorous for conditioning and strengthening, then it all comes down to how it feels afterward. I find some of my students seem to have the notion that 'hard' is good. I don't think this is necessarily true.

In the past few weeks I attended two different classes - two different styles of yoga with different teachers. Both pushed me to, and at times beyond the limits of my abilities. After one class I felt strong, happy and calm yet stimulated. After the other I just felt tired, in body and mind. I felt good at first that I had done some "hard work". But I noticed as the day went on that it had not been good, strengthening work but actually more of a strain on my body. I realized again how the distinction between 'gain' is often blurred with 'strain' - or - a 'hard' class bringing benefit versus wear and tear to my body. (see my January 16, 2012 entry: Risky Business - Is yoga a dangerous activity?).

We all know this in theory. But at the same time, I think some of the yoga styles that have become popular recently, as well as our culture in general, send the message that the more you sweat and work, the better! It is especially in yoga that this is not the case though. Unlike most forms of exercise, yoga can help you work deeply - beyond muscles to ligaments and tendons,  beyond the outer body to the organs and beyond the physical body and into the mind and sense of well being. So as with anything powerful, yoga can be abused, or can be respected and used with attention and care.

If practiced with that care, you will experience benefit that is truly powerful. So if you have tried yoga and had a bad experience, try other teachers until you do find that benefit with a punch. Or if you are afraid to try yoga, know that it should not be a discouraging, frustrating or painful experience. Try a class, and maybe several until you find an experience that inspires you to do more!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Creating & cultivating your home practice - First steps

One reason not to have a home practice is thinking you "should". We have enough things we should do, or have to do in our lives. But you may find, once you start, you actually love it.

Yoga should be a joy to do - and should help you feel really good. If you want to get to that good-feeling at home that you find in yoga class, then here are some ways you might start your home practice:

1. Clear a place in your home - have a place reserved and kept clean for your mat. Store your mat near that place so you can roll it out at any time.

2. Chose a time of day - find a time in the day that you can do your practice and try to stick to that time - first thing in the morning or right before you go to bed, for example. Try to practice a few days in a row or a few times in the week at that same general time.

3. Just do it! - The goal is to begin to establish a habit - something that triggers your brain at the same time each day with a memory of good feelings.

Below is a link to a few simple Iyengar yoga sequences you can start with at home. If you are new to yoga, Iyengar yoga is a great place to start because of the emphasis on alignment and attention to detail to avoid injury and get the most out of each pose. Go to at least a few yoga classes with one or more Iyengar yoga teachers, even if you only want to practice at home, so that you learn the proper and safe way to do the poses.

Home practice sequence - Level I, sequence 1