Yoga can be overwhelming for beginners. There is so much to remember and put together that confusion can set in. It’s easy to get discouraged and quit. Over the years I have seen it happen more than a few times.
Finding a good teacher that you connect with can be very helpful in navigating through your beginning journey and beyond. Understanding some underlying principles can help as well. Here are a four yoga basics that will help guide you on your yoga journey.
In yoga just as in life we need an anchor, a stable place from which to move.
Yoga Basics #1: Inhaling and Exhaling
Yoga is about connecting the breath with movement. This allows you to move deeper into awareness by catching that flow of grace that comes when we can connect the two. Breathe in and out through the nose unless otherwise specified; that way, the breath is filtered and warm. This type of breathing helps to settle the body and mind.
The hardest thing for me to remember when I began was when to inhale and when to exhale. I tried to “memorize” the movements and the breath; inhale to plank, exhale to downward facing dog, inhale cobra, exhale forward fold. I didn’t realize there was a underlying principle.
Basically: inhale when opening, rising, lengthening, or twisting the upper back. Exhale when releasing, closing the body, moving downward, twisting the lower back. Once I learned this, I was able to let go of the need to memorize and more easily go with the flow.
Yoga Basics #2: Anchoring and Radiating
In yoga just as in life, we need an anchor, a stable place from which to move. When we are stable and grounded, we can then focus on rising into the pose.
Always start with grounding in any pose. Consider your anchor in each pose. For standing poses, the feet and legs are the anchor. For sitting poses, ground down through the sit bones. When lying prone for a backbend, press downward through the pubic bone and radiate out through the abdomen. When twisting right, anchor the left buttock down.
Our center of gravity lies about 2 inches below the navel. Learning to move from this center can make the body feel more integrated in the pose. Energy flows from the center outward to the extremities. Practice extending out from your center and linking the breath with the extension. Inhale, extend outward, and, exhaling gently, flow back inward.
Yoga Basics #3: It’s About Your Edge
The edge is that place where you feel the pose without stressing, holding, and having pain. Your edge is unique to you. As you move into and out of your edge, you are opening with each asana.
When we go past the edge and force ourselves to a point where we are gripping and holding our breath, the body begins to do the opposite of yoga. It begins to tighten and withdraw. This is the place where injury often occurs. Each pose has many edges, each one an opportunity to open and to grow. Move into your edge with awareness and keep breathing. As you exhale, mindfully release and soften.
As you breathe into your edges in a pose, wait for your body to cue you to go further. You may feel a release and then an opening. If this occurs, respectfully move further into the pose with attention, finding a new edge.
Yoga Basics #4: Doing and Undoing
When we fully engage a muscle, the mind comes to that area. Engaging the mind in all over awareness is a great practice for being in the now. This is how an asana practice can be transformative in mind, body and spirit.
According to the Yoga-Sutra, an asana practice should be steady and comfortable. The stretching done during practice is meant to expand, not strain. Strain blocks our ability to listen and to hear what the body is telling us at a deeper level. Go to the deepest level that you can without strain (your edge) and hold the posture there.
In the beginning it may feel that it requires everything you have to be in the pose. As you practice, the effort slowly reduces. Over time the proportion of doing and undoing will shift. The asana begins to feel more comfortable and freedom comes into the pose.
As your practice progresses, counter the effort of doing with undoing. Once in the pose, scan the body. Find where you can begin to relax and soften while still maintaining the pose. Let tension move out of your body.
A committed yoga practice can be immensely rewarding. When we can grasp these basic principles, we open the possibility of moving more into the moment and to deepening our practice. We can fully experience the many and varied benefits of yoga. You can start with these 10 great yoga poses for beginners.