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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!