Yoga 101

I have really been enjoying teaching Yoga 101 workshops at Purple Yoga. I have a heart for beginners. I love going back to basics; I love getting into details, a strong foundation on which to build is so important. I do a lot of talking when I teach the workshop – there is so much information! However here is what I think are five key pieces of information for the new yoga practitioner.

1) Know that yoga is a holistic practice. Through movement, breath, and mindfulness we integrate mind, body, and spirit. Yoga goes beyond physical exercise and rather than pushing beyond your limits or ignoring pain, yoga teaches you how to listen to your body. I always say to my students: yoga meets you where you’re at. First come to knowledge of and love and acceptance of where you are right now, and then you grow from there.

2) Take care of your wrists. Every time you come into downward facing dog make sure you have good placement: hands about shoulder-width distance apart; spread the fingers apart; turn the hands out (slightly) so the index fingers are pointing directly forward, look for a straight line from the index finger down through the forearm; press the full palm into the mat but press a little more on the index finger and thumb side of the hand. All of this will help take pressure out of the wrists and build strength. Downward facing dog is not an easy pose my any means! There is a lot going on there and I spend extensive time on it in Yoga 101. Interestingly enough, for many beginners their wrists are their limiting factor. The good news is conditioning the wrists can happen pretty quickly as long as you take good care. Soon enough they will not be your limiting factor.


3) Bend your knees. Your legs do not have to be straight in down-dog or in forward-folds! So many of us have back issues, bend your knees to take care of your low back. Hamstrings are notoriously tight; bend your knees to save yourself from over-stretching or compensating in other parts of the body. In fact, even when the legs are straight like in triangle pose, they are still not locked out. When the legs are straight, keep them engaged, it’s so important to strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee. Keep your quads strong and think about engaging and lifting the knees (maybe even have a micro-bend) do not lock them out or push into the back of the knees.


Photo credit: Yoga Journal


He’s bending his knees… good job man!









4) Stack your joints. When the joints are bearing weight, this is important not only so you don’t injure yourself, but this also helps you out by using skeletal structure to support your body, not just muscular strength. In standing poses, try to keep the knees over the ankles; do not allow them to go past the toes. In plank and side-plank keep the shoulders over the wrists. Do not hesitate to modify plank position, especially when building upper body strength! It’s important to have good form when lowering into chaturanga, that’s how you build the strength in your triceps and shoulders. If you’re in full plank but flopping down to the floor instead of truly lowering to chaturanga you’re not building strength. See in the photo in chataranga: she hovers above the floor, the elbows do not poke up past her back and the elbows are hugged in towards her torso (this helps protect the shoulders). Also, elbows are stacked approximately over the wrists, chest comes forward a little, approximately between the hands. This can all be accomplished modified with knees on the floor.

Photo credit: Fit Sugar

Photo credit: Fit Sugar

5) The breath is the most important part of the yoga practice. It is conscious breath-work that connects mind and body. It can also be one of the most challenging things when you’re new to yoga. I will do a whole post all about breathing another time, but for beginners I feel it suffices to say that as long as you’re breathing, everything is ok. Deep nostrils breaths in a smooth and steady breathing pattern calms the central nervous system. When you find your breath is labored or you’ve begun to breathe through your mouth, that’s a good indication that you need to reconnect with your breath and possibly dial things down a notch. Listen to your body; come back to your breath.

Listen to your body

Your yoga practice can be as good or bad, as easy or difficult as you make it: you can move through it like a wet noodle, unengaged, distracted, half-hearted; or you can be present, engage, move with strength and integrity, keep focused on your breathing…. Good advice for yoga and good advice for life!

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