I had three people contact me last week one after the other asking about my yoga practice and if I had any suggestions for getting started. I guess my enthusiasm for doing yoga is very obvious! I still do it regularly; I don’t quite manage to do it every single day but I generally get in some sort of routine 5 or 6 days a week. If I go too many days without it I can definitely feel it. Not only do I physically find myself stiffening up and getting little aches and pains, I also feel it mentally. Yoga has been a huge factor in my ability to beat back the panic attack monster, but that’s a story for another day.
I’ve become mildly obsessed by inversions and balances. Above I’m halfway into Eka Pada Galavasana, or Flying Pigeon Pose. I can get this far easily. The challenge is trying to complete it. From my position in that photo I need to extend the back leg straight up behind me. Every time I try, my base collapses, the folded leg slides off my elbows, and I crash – laughing – to the floor. It’s okay, it will come. That’s another thing that yoga has taught me, that sometimes you just have to wait. Patience has never been easy for me but I’m learning.
Basically though, I’m having fun with learning how I can balance my own body. I’ve learned that aside from just needing to build enough arm and core strength to support arm balance poses, it’s mostly a combination of confidence (that still stands in the way of my headstand; I know I won’t succeed in that pose until I learn to stop being so afraid of being upside down like that) and basic physics. The pose above, Side Crow looks like it shouldn’t even be possible but once I found the center of gravity it became possible. It’s mind over matter a lot of the time, a physical meditation.
That’s why I love yoga. Meditation is amazing but I find it difficult to just sit and do it. Going through poses and sequences is moving meditation for me. Trust me, you can’t balance your own body weight on your arms in Crow (above) and keep yourself from face planting if you’re busy worrying about bills or work or whatever concerns are occupying your brain space. As long as you’re moving from one pose to the next you have to push everything else away and just be right here, right now. If I could do yoga 24 hours a day I would be the most relaxed person in the world.
As for the questions I’ve gotten about where to start, of course I have a few suggestions. I primarily use three online sources as teachers and each of them is great in similar and different ways at the same time. They all come from different styles of yoga originally but one thing they have in common is they teach a vinyasa flow style; while I am sure other styles are wonderful in their own way, vinyasa flow is the only thing I have patience for. I like to move when I do yoga!
- Dashama Konah – Dashama was my first yoga teacher, and I still turn to her videos and her DVDs on a regular basis (this one for myself and this one when Hayley wants to do some too). If you want to study with someone who exudes complete passion for yoga every step of the way, you don’t need to look any further. She balances well between the physical side of yoga and the spiritual side. It was her guided meditation that made my once skeptical self believe fully in chakras; before her I would have rolled my eyes and now I know where each one is, what they do, and how to balance them. She has a great new program called Renew You that gives you 30 days of yoga videos as well as a complete lifestyle overhaul guide (with DVDs, books, and more). It’s not cheap, so you can also check out her free yoga videos on her YouTube channel to get a feel for her style first before taking the plunge. Not only is she my teacher, I’ve done work for her and feel lucky to consider her my friend.
- Sadie Nardini – Sadie is incredible. I found out about her through a friend and have never looked back. If you want to approach yoga with the best possible alignment, she’ll get you there. Something that amazes me about Sadie is that she always knows when you’re about to screw up your pose by collapsing your elbows in or dropping your hips down too low, and she’ll give you a reminder just as you’re doing it. It’s the closest thing to having a teacher in person. She has a ton of great videos on YouTube that I’ve used; I also have one of her DVDs and I highly recommend trying out her 21 Day Yoga Body course where you pay whatever you can – as low as $1 or up to $100. It’s a great course that includes journaling exercises, lifestyle tips, and a yoga video every day for 21 days, and believe me it works.
- Tara Stiles – Tara is a teacher that I don’t follow on a regular, consistent basis but she’s definitely someone I turn to when I want to do something a little different from my usual Dashama & Sadie rotation. If you’re someone who likes the idea of yoga but doesn’t want to deal with the spiritual side* or you’re put off by the Sanskrit names of poses, then Tara is a good start. She uses English names only and her approach has always been to make yoga accessible to the masses. Her slogan is “yoga anywhere” and although I do like some of the fluffier and spiritual sides of yoga, I appreciate her no-nonsense attitude. If I ever go to New York City I will take a class with her, but for now her YouTube videos and iTunes podcasts work just fine. I also own her book which is a great resource; on the other hand I bought one of her DVDs and while it’s beautiful to watch it’s not very helpful as an instructional resource. I think her new one with Jane Fonda is probably a lot better for learning.
*You may surprise yourself. I started yoga to deal with my anxiety issues and to get rid of the chronic ache I had in my legs. Like I said before, I used to roll my eyes at things like chakras and other similar “hippie-ish” concepts. Sometimes it sneaks up on you though. You might be taken aback by what you’ll get out of yoga besides the physical benefits. As for those physical benefits, yes they work too. Between Sadie’s course and Dashama’s Renew You program I officially have a six-pack, and I’m not talking about beer. Don’t believe anyone who tells you yoga can’t make a physical difference, because it absolutely can.
Other than the three teachers mentioned above, I’ve also been following Kathryn Budig when she writes over at Yoga Journal. I’m mostly a visual person for things like learning a pose so I rely on videos a lot but Kathryn has an incredible ability to perfectly describe what you need to do to get into a pose. I fully credit her for being able to get into Flying Pigeon at all.
Anyway, that’s my basic list of go-to people when it comes to yoga. Other than that though, it’s up to each person. More than once I’ve read that your greatest teacher is you and that’s true. The teachers will tell you how to do the poses but it’s up to you to devote yourself to learning and it’s up to you to listen to your body and learn when to keep pushing and when to back off. As long as you show up (whether showing up means in a class or in front of your TV/laptop), get on the mat, and put in the effort, the rest will come.
You can see my yoga progress in this set on Flickr. The difference between my early poses in January 2010 and now is huge.
Full disclosure: I am not being paid to promote anyone although the links to Amazon DVDs are affiliate links. The people I have mentioned here don’t know I’m writing this. I’m only listing them because people have been curious about what I do and who I recommend. If you have any suggestions of your own, please let me know in the comments!