- Stability comes before flexibility: if it’s a beginners class, you should be working on standing poses for the first few weeks to build a strong framework. All this ‘flow’ stuff is for people who don’t have the stamina for (or understanding of) real yoga, yet.
- Cultivate humility: however much experience you’ve had, you need to listen to and follow the teacher’s instructions. Yoga is a huge subject so loosen up your brain and be prepared to be broadminded, open and flexible in your thinking.
- Wear modest clothing: from the perspective of your teacher, or the person behind you when you bend over, neither a thong nor a tiny tank top is a good look. No-one needs to see your tattoos or body piercings.
- Avoid baggy leggings and short waisted tops: your teacher needs to see what your legs, ankles and feet are doing so wear high-waisted leggings and/or modest shorts (please mind the gap, chaps…). On top, wear a short/long sleeved t-shirt, long enough to tuck in for inversions and it won’t ride up when you raise your arms over your head. A wardrobe malfunction in the middle of a blissful pose is deeply annoying.
- Don’t bring water into class: it’s a trip hazard and a distraction. Drinking during class disturbs your digestive system and, unless you have a medical condition, you should already be properly hydrated.
- Food: a good yoga class calms your appetite. Have an empty stomach or a little food an hour beforehand. If you have low blood sugar, fruit is a good standby to have afterwards.
- Change your perspective: don’t cling to the same space every week and don’t ask someone else to move – move yourself. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.
- Never say, “I can’t”: we cannot avoid our own weaknesses or use them as an excuse not to try. We learn to cure what can be cured, endure what we must endure, and how to tell the difference. A 90-minute weekly class is enough to feel the benefits after 6 weeks.
- Sooner or later, we have to go inside: a good teacher will use different methods to achieve specific effects. The same pose can be energising, relaxing, challenging or healing, depending on the approach. To find out what’s going on, go inside.
- Leave the outside world outside the door: allow your perspective to change and even the most intractable of problems will shift.
Category Archives: Yoga – Beginners
Yoga is not about the outward form of a pose, the asana. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali define “asana” as a position that, “is steady and comfortable”. Patanjali also mentions the ability to sit for extended periods of time as one of the eight limbs of his system.
One of the stories Abhijata tells is of her pride at staying in Sirsasana for over half an hour. She went to Guriji and said, “Grandfather – I stayed in Sirsasana for over thirty minutes!” She assumed he’d be delighted, amazed at her progress. Instead he said, “But what did you DO?”
If we’re not waiting for the flashbulb to go off and record our moment of perfection, what exactly are we supposed to be doing when we hold a pose? And what do we do if it is not “steady and comfortable”?
At first, before we are able to stay and hold a pose for any length of time, we have to go the the edge of our capacity, connect with each part of the body, check the balance and alignment of the body. At this point, yoga becomes a science.
It helps to think of your body as a laboratory. Your skin, muscles, organs, bone and breath are your equipment. Your mind is the clipboard where you record your results. You apply the shape and form of the asana to the body. What happened? On the left? On the right? Will a prop extend, release, facilitate, inform the results? Where did the breath flow, touch? What shape was it?
Yoga is to explore your internal world, using the asanas and the breath to map your universe. You may find surprising things there – pain, sorrow, anger. These are like the boulders in your path. Sit for a while with the boulder and examine it. Resist the urge to blame others, your teacher, yoga. These are the best learning experiences we can have, for this is when yoga truly begins to heal.
- A bottle of water: drinking during class disturbs the digestive system. If you need to hydrate, do so before or after class. And anyway, it’s a trip hazard.
- Baggy leggings: your teacher needs to see your legs, ankles and feet. Baggy pants fall down during inversions. And again, they’re a trip hazard.
- Food: have you noticed how a good yoga class suppresses your appetite? Have an empty stomach or a little food an hour beforehand, and if you have low blood sugar, fruit is a good standby.
- Your own space: don’t cling to the same space every week – change your perspective and help others change theirs. So don’t ask someone else to move – move yourself.
- Resistance to change: if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got. You cannot avoid your own weaknesses or use them as an excuse. Resistance is futile.
- Pre-conceived ideas: teachers use different methods to achieve specific effects. The same pose can be energising, relaxing, challenging or healing, depending on the approach. Go inside and see what happens.
- Modest clothing: think of it from the perspective of your teacher, or the person behind you. Believe me, a thong/tiny tank top is not a good look and no-one is interested in your tattoo/navel ring.
- Humility: our attitude can often be narrow, limiting and rigid. With humility we allow our yoga practice to change and re-shape us, body, mind and spirit.
- Humour: good humour is strength of character. Laughing at ourselves, we challenge our difficulties and overcome them. Don’t give up on that handstand: laugh and try again.
- The outside world: by definition, things that are common in normal life but are not part of your experience. Leave it all outside the door. Allow your perspective to change and even the most intractable of problems will shift.
If you put the phrase ‘yoga leggings’ into a search you’ll see a lot more than you wanted to see. (And a lot of it is not tasteful, especially on Twitter!)
As ever, when it comes to what the body needs rather than what the ego wants, BKS Iyengar was a pioneer. He designed and perfected all the yoga props we see in use today. Arguably his most universal gift to the yoga community is what we now call Pune Pants. The design allows complete freedom for the body whilst protecting the modesty of the people in the class. They are designed like a pair of bloomers but with an extra piece in the gusset so you can bend, extend, squat and twist with no limitation imposed on the movement of the body by the fabric clinging to your skin, and pulling it in the wrong direction.
Try Eka Pada Sarvangasana (see image from RIMYI, left) in your usual lycra, then try it in cotton Pune Pants…..see? Your groins will love you for it!
For more choices, lovely Indian fabrics , hand-made in the UK, see this site: www.frannixon.com
So if you want to see yourself as others see you, push your fist into your leggings – if you can see your knuckles, we can see your knickers. And you won’t have to throw away all your cosy leggings – just wear them underneath in the winter. The opportunities for colour co-ordination and fashion statements are endless…..
Photo credit: Ray Burmiston http://www.rayburmiston.com
Zubin says: Spend one whole season with these potent thoughts. They have the potential to help you transcend the many ills which have befallen you or will strike you in future time and space.
If I ask you, “Tell me, till what point can your eyes see?” Most probably, and reasonably, your answer would be: until the horizon. But with a powerful instrument, one can stretch that horizon to far-off stars.
A discerning yoga practitioner, with the fine instrument of Yog, can learn the usages of our rich embodiment and look within and beyond the surface horizon, to see the marvellous world of associated body, mind and breath.
Just as an astronomer would peer through a powerful telescope to see and explore our expansive universe, use these ten themes to explore the universe of your own embodiment.
10. Goal is not the exclusive fitness of the body or mind but a unified condition.
‘Holics’ of any shape or size are deranged personalities. Workaholics were seen as extremely productive but it came at a high cost of their physical and mental breakdown. Hence ultimate fitness is never about exclusively building up your body or mental aspects but rather associated conditions to be engendered. The modern person should be aware of marketing spiel designed to trap him or her into buying their products. Energy drinks have no lasting energy, only a shot of extra sugar. A yogic deep breath in fact, will change the status of your body and mind.
So last but not the least, the human being has to give a deep thought and reflect on their act and behaviour, not of becoming but of being. A human ‘being’ is the end sought after and not a human ‘becoming’ all the time.
9. Trainers Vs real Teachers.
Coaches and body trainers have become ubiquitous. The problem is their very little and shallow knowledge of our embodiment. Take for example a trainer preparing someone for the marathon. Making a person orient to an act is one thing, and making that person orient to the whole range of life that the person will face is another. Say there will be upheavals in life; the person’s body, mind and breath have to be taught to cope in all such situations.
What is the end you are aspiring for; Patanjali speaks of kaivalya and dharmamegha samadhi, that is supreme aloneness and a downpour of wisdom and enlightenment. Trainers can take you so far. But a philosopher-teacher or a poet or a grammarian, ayurvedachar and a yogacharya like Patanjali all rolled into one, can help you transcend your limitations at every stage.
8. A long-term investment not a short-term plan.
Imagine if you were to give a young, strapping lad a walking stick as a birthday gift. It would be deemed worthless and impractical of course.
So when we are talking about long-term, we don’t mean so far out as to be deemed worthless. We are talking about doing a little prospective practice to compensate for our short-sighted approaches to our own health and wellbeing.
If we are having a problem, what we can’t see are the problems that will emanate from that root problem. So our practice has to be a little prospective to also build up the immunity for a later onslaught.
Mere repetition will not get us to that space. It is constant experimentation and trying to educate different parts of our being that will propel us to that associated, absorbent state.
7. Linear Vs Concomitant forces.
Yoga philosophy includes the eight steps enumerated by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. It is assumed that they are linear, that they are to be climbed like steps; and in this scheme, asana precedes pratyahara, that is the withdrawal of the senses.
But life is never a linear process. One lives with so many relationships and at so many different levels. In the same way, in Yoga, one starts with the asana to feel the rhythm, and gradually try to play out all the notes, the entire scheme of Astanga Yoga, as one goes along. This movement from an effortful effort to an effortless effort is the only linear progression Patanjali prescribes.
6. Memory building and not muscle building more important.
In the first chapter of his foundational yoga philosophy book, sage Patanjali enumerates the qualities to be developed: shraddha, virya, smriti, samadhi, pragnya, that is faith, courage, memory, absorption and keen awareness. Our gymnasiums are replete with the one-dimensional perspective of building muscles but it is more dynamic to develop lasting memory in our cells.
Take any skill that you may have picked up: say cycling. It is a memory imbibed at the cellular level by your body and mind. In asanas, you are developing and sometimes re-transforming the memory of the cells to respond. And since we are talking at the cellular level, this will sensitise us to another important aspect.
We pay so much attention to what and how much we ingest, our nutrition; but how much do we think about emptying or excreting at the cellular level. An empty vessel has more uses and hence asanas work tremendously to help you to exhale deeply in certain zones and regions, thus accelerating the emptying process. The next time you are on your head in Shirsasana, see it as a deep inter-penetration (and ultimately exhalation) in those passages of the head, face and skull region.
5. Merely Doing in the body parts Vs learning its Usages.
When a person cycles, or swims, one is using different parts of the body to propel oneself forward. In due course of time, one will develop certain muscles and strengths.
Now compare this to the education imbibed in the asanas. In standing asanas, one not only uses the legs, but starts learning the usages of the legs, for example, on the back, the spine; this education will come in handy later when one practices asanas of different depths like backbends, balancing or twisting postures; one will begin to identify the contribution of the legs to the overall assembly. The practitioner will imbibe the knowledge of what connections the legs make with the different body parts, even the eyes and ears.
We use our minds on different parts of our bodies; why can’t we, with proper application, learn the usages of how to use our arms for our backs, our legs for our spine, our breath for our body and mind and so on.
4. Our embodiment has the potentials to be read like a book with the same benefits.
Normally, one would read or learn anatomy and physiology text books for knowledge and understanding about the different aspects of our body. The same goes for the way we have explored the mind – an entity apart from our physical processes. But we increasingly come to see that the body-mind is a fused entity.
The practitioner assumes different asanas to read the skill-set and disposition of the different parts of the body. When I am in Trikonasana or Parsvakonasana, is my inner and outer surface parallel? What about the length of my frontal leg and the back leg, is it the same? How can I make it the same and so on. Sometimes let me start with my body, but not end in the physical dynamics alone, let me see how I can balance my emotional self by creating new memories through my breath patterns.
In Yogasanas, the whole embodiment complex is read like a book. The same book will be read for not only physical skill but also to develop mental and emotional fibres like will, volition, adaptive potentials and reasoning. Whenever one hears the word Yogasana, one imagines sweaty bodies exercising; that is just one aspect of their dynamics; they also have other potentials like healing potentials, remedials and corrections.
3. A unique condition, wherein our body, mind and breath support each other.
The practice of Yoga bestows a unique gift on its practitioner: associated body, mind, senses and breath. Come to think of it, all our endeavours, sports and educative explorations develop exclusive body awareness or mind awareness. Most of our athletes develop the physical side at the cost of their mental faculties. The practice of yogasanas and pranayama uniquely help to associate the body, mind and breath with each other and create a synergy of sorts in the altogether unique entity.
When one starts accessing the body through the yogasanas, the body-mind-breath complex develops a symbiotic relationship in the expanse of the consciousness. The different aspects of mind like intelligence, emotions and intuition can reverberate in the whole psyche and the body slowly gets the vital support of the mental and pranic elements. There is unique synergy which the practice of yoga creates.
Like missiles can be fitted with nuclear war-heads, similarly the body actions can be headed and aided by breath dynamics which will transform the capabilities of that instrument. And with less catastrophic and more beneficial effects on the human race.
2. Our outer social gates are always open but yogic practices will help us to be open to the inner social culture within us.
The human being is essentially a social creature, a gossipy animal. Social media is replete with antics of our movie stars and celebrities. In this era, we are naturally more selfie-conscious than Self-conscious. We have the technology to capture our surface appearance but we fail to develop more vital tools to sense our ever-changing nature within. Let us stop and reflect: can I sense which spinal muscles I access in different positions, sitting, standing or bending? Can I tell if I am breathing equally from both my nostrils, can I enhance my rib cage action sufficiently in my breathing process?
We have so much information about the world around us but very little about ourselves. Am I using my joints and muscles evenly while walking or is my weight only on my knee joint? Do I have access to my back thighs? Can I use my breath cycles to filter the mind stuff?
Our minds are channeled to the world outside and sometimes in the process become disproportionately dependent on its feedback. This makes us easily prone to wildly swinging positive or negative conditions.
Yogic practices open out the inner gates. One starts looking at the processes and impulsions behind one’s actions. A deep observation and education of our inner culture will open out new possibilities.
1. Yogic practices are the vital apps to manoeuvre on unfamiliar terrain within.
As anyone living on our planet well knows, apps have become more important and indispensable to our lives than even tools like the Swiss army knife. When you are navigating in unknown terrains, the one indispensable tool is a navigator or an app like GoogleMaps. The path of Yoga gives a similar kind of support system like GoogleMaps in an unknown land. Our internal world is an unknown mass, very difficult to find and understand new pathways or live in different mental or breath channels. Normally an average person exists in three positions: standing, sitting and lying down. We merely operate and live in and through these three positions. Now just imagine if we can expand the scope of these positions, what could or would happen. Through the hundreds of yogasanas, we learn to wire and rewire our internal nervous and muscular connections, so that stress doesn’t build up. We learn to create apps (leg apps, arm apps, spinal muscles apps, breath apps) for ourselves to touch our whole embodiment.
The practices of yoga help to familiarise the practitioner with these internal pathways, and more vitally, discover and connect to the junctions of body, mind, breath, senses and speech, where further new possibilities open out.