You say Yoga, I Say Pranayama

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, my profile pic might clue you in to the fact that I am a big fan of yoga. You might also see me posting my photos for the @prAna #taketheleap 30 day yoga challenge, or talking about some of the yoga events I attend.

I planned this shot for weeks and weeks.

I planned this shot for weeks and weeks.

yogaontherocks

#wewearyellow @ the Yoga on the Rocks event at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Summer 2014

My little sister got me hooked on yoga in 2011 when she dragged me to a class at her favorite studio. My stubbornness went something like:

“Why should I pay $16.00 to go to a class when I have YouTube and Gaiam DVDs?”

“Videos don’t give you the same level of instruction, they can’t correct you,” she explained.

“Great. Because you know how much I love people telling me what to do.”

“It’s a class, Jennifer, of course they will tell you what to do. Just shut up and come with me.”

She won the battle with that logic and I went to my first 90 minute hot vinyasa flow class. Turns out, my little sis is one smart, sassy cookie. Thanks to her, yoga is a huge part of my life. In fact, I now have a long term goal of becoming a yoga instructor. I am quite far from achieving that goal, so please take note that I am not a yoga instructor. That being said, I couldn’t help but notice the teachers repeating the same corrections to everyone. And holy wow, once enacted they made yoga so much less hurty for me. With all of the yoga challenges going on and people trying yoga for the first time, this is good info to share. So here goes!

Breathe – Primarily, yoga is about breath. Basically, pay attention to your breath and try to regulate it throughout your entire yoga sequence. Breathe at a pace that is comfortable for you. Try to make your inhalation take as long as your exhalation. I use counting to help me slow the breath. I slowly count to six as I inhale, I hold for three, and I count to six as I exhale.

Tuck Your Tail  when you are doing a standing pose. This engages your core and firms up your trunk to make back bends easier and extend reach. Check it out with mountain pose:

WRONG. OUCH.

WRONG. OUCH.

In this photo, my butt is sticking out like a duck’s and I am not fully extending my arms. Reaching higher won’t solve the problem, and if I bend backward more to extend my arms, my lower back hurts.

Tucked Tail = AHHHHHH. I AM A GODDESS.

Tucked Tail = AHHHHHH. I AM A GODDESS.

In the second frame, I have tilted my pelvis forward, or “tucked my tail” to root my core. Doing this allows me to fully extend my arms and bend backward with no pain or pinching. You can see how much further my arms are extended, and my glutes are engaged. My chest is open and so is my heart. In yoga speak that is a very good thing!

Keep your back straight. This is hard because we can’t see the curve in our back. Again, think about making sure your core is engaged. Yoga is very much about core strength.  When you’re hunched over, it’s hard to engage the abdomen.

No, no and more no.

No, no and more no.

With my back is curved, my bottom foot is not at a 90 degree angle and by curving my back to bring my head to my knee, I’m sacrificing a lot of the hamstring stretch I should be getting in this pose. Bending from the waist is more effective.

Not as impressive "looking", but waaaay more effective.

Not as impressive “looking”, but waaaay more effective.

With my back as strait as possible, I lower as far as I can by drawing my chest to the floor. My back foot is at a 90 degree angle to my leg, and my arms are not as far forward. In this posture I feel the stretch from my foot all the way up to my sciatic. This is a GREAT pose for runners!

Keep your hips level with each other. This is one your instructor will guide you on depending on the pose, but to give you an idea, consider pigeon pose. In this photo, my hips are really tilted to the left and although it feels comfortable, it is not making the most out of this challenging and amazingly awesome pose (also FABULOUS for runners).

I look like I'm missing my red SOLO cup.

I look like I’m missing my red SOLO cup.

Whereas here, my hips are level to each other, my left leg is straight, and you can actually see my other foot! With this correct posture, I am getting the full benefit of this hip opening pose.

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Roll your shoulders back to get them to play nice with you. Many poses have you clasping your hands behind your back or twisting with an extended reach. Roll to get into position first, and don’t forget to tuck the tail if you’re standing!

Take a Class. Or Five. For real. Once you have a basic foundation and understanding of yoga and your body’s limits, the videos and poses you see outside of class will make much more sense and hurt much, much less.

Variations are GOOD. – There is no such this as go big or go home in yoga. Use blocks to alter poses until you can fully extend. If it hurts, don’t push. If you can’t get into pigeon pose it’s okay. Do the best you can and keep practicing. That’s why it’s called a yoga practice. Crow pose and inversions are not for beginners. Trust me. You can get hurt doing yoga. Just ask my little broken toe.

Hint: When falling out of headstand, tuck and roll, do not flop.

Hint: When falling out of headstand, tuck and roll, do not flop.

Yoga is about your personal journey with your body and spirit. Yes, yoga is a fitness activity, but it began as a spiritual practice. Many fitness activities are focused on competition, spiritual activities are based on self reflection and discovery. In that way, Yoga is a private practice done in a group setting. There should be no judgement of you, by you, or anyone else. Only acceptance of your body, its gifts, and its limitations. Take it slow and forget about the destination. Live in the present and enjoy your journey in everything you do. Namaste!

Are you doing a challenge this month? Have you tried yoga or are you worried you’ll break your little toe? Let me assuage your fears in the comments!

12 thoughts on “You say Yoga, I Say Pranayama

    • I like to add vinyasas between major segments in my practice as a transition and signal to my body to prep for a change. Such as between my hip opening segment and my standing segment. The breath also helps to link poses and vinyasa into one flow of movement and breath. Yoga Journal is a great resource, too. Good luck! 🙂

  1. I am doing something similar with my part of the #take the leap challenge and doing a “yoga clinic” each week. I decided that I was tired of all the common mistakes that people were making! So many people scoop out their butts like a duck. DUCKS DON”T DO YOGA PEOPLE

    • YES! I keep seeing photos and thinking “these people are going to hurt themselves”, especially beginners trying to attempt advanced poses. Dropping into runner’s lunge without warming up will hurt! Thanks, Susie!

  2. Great post! And, I’m “glad” to see that I’m not the only one who has broken a toe doing yoga! I broke my middle toe last year jumping through from downward facing dog to a seated position. I said it is only because I do “warrior ninja yoga.” ha!

    • Warrior ninja yoga. I LOVE THIS. I wish I had thought of that! I plan on getting a tiny lotus tattoo right at the base of that toe. I earned it! 🙂

  3. I love vinyasa yoga and I love going to yoga classes! I enjoy disconnecting and just being on the mat for 60 minutes. I value the guidance of the instructor and always feel refreshed when I leave. Can’t wait to get back at it post-pregnancy!
    Karen @karenlovestorun

    • Awesome, Karen! There is something so rewarding about spending time on the mat. Have you considered prenatal yoga? I know nothing about it other than it does exist. ☺️

  4. Fantastic post – everyone starting a yoga practice should read this. 🙂
    I love my local studio and the fantastic corrections that the teachers provide. Getting the fundamentals down correctly has helped me build a stronger practice and improved my running.

    • Thanks Kim! Yoga does wonders for one’s running goals and recovery. I don’t think I’d last as a runner if I weren’t a yogi too. Thanks for sharing and reading, Kim!

  5. Yay! I really appreciate these tips, as you know I’m getting back into yoga over here. And honestly, I am sure I’m doing EVERYTHING wrong. I definitely feel like form is so important and there are some things that I remember but it’s been awhile. Also, I love your “red solo cup” comment. LOL!

    • I hope they help you in your next exploration of yoga, Mer! I can’t wait to hear about your journey! And yes, when drinking from a SOLO cup I usually look like that by the end of the night!

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