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What are the Best Ways to Learn Yoga?

Yoga is a complete lifestyle that encompasses the mind, body, and spirit. My first instructor used to say, “It’s a work-in, not a workout.” It is all about harmonizing the body with the mind and breath through the practice of various breathing exercises (pranayamas), yoga poses (asanas) and meditation (dhyana). Many people often ask me what is the best way to start yoga or how to start doing yoga at home. There are many possibilities for how to start a yoga practice, but these are the best ways to start yoga.

The first thing you should know is that there are many different types of yoga. Why are there so many different types of yoga? The answer is simple, because there are so many different types of people in the world, and everyone has different preferences. The styles can be vastly different so it is a good idea to learn a little bit about them ahead of time so you can choose the type of yoga that is best for you.

Types of Yoga

Hatha yoga is a generic term that refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures (asanas), and usually, the poses are held for a longer period than in a “flow” class. This is typically where most people get their yoga start and where you learn basic yoga poses. Ashtanga is a rigorous style of yoga that follows a very specific sequence of postures and those postures are normally held for a longer period of time. Vinyasa classes are known for their fluid-like movement or yoga flow. Vinyasa teachers carefully choreograph their classes for smooth transitions from pose to pose. Generally, they play music, and sometimes it feels almost like a dance.

Iyengar yoga is a very meticulous typed of yoga, with utmost attention spent on finding the proper alignment in a pose. In order to assist each student with achieving the proper alignment, an Iyengar yoga studio will stock a wide array of yoga props, like blocks, blankets, straps, chairs, and pillows.  In a Bikram class, you sweat a lot as you work your way through a series of 26 poses. Like Ashtanga, a Bikram class always follows the same sequence, but the class is taught in a heated room, much like Hot yoga.  Generally, the only difference between Bikram and Hot yoga is a Hot yoga studio must deviate from Bikram’s sequence in some way, because the Bikram sequence is trademarked, so they must call themselves by another name.

Once you know the types of yoga and choose the style that appeals to you most, it is time to learn how to start doing yoga and that means learning the basic yoga poses. There are many ways to get your yoga start, and these are some of the most popular ways to learn how to do yoga poses.

Yoga Retreats & Schools

Photo from Jiva Yoga Retreat on San Juan Island, 2021

Many people start with a beginning yoga retreat, like the ones offered by Jiva Yoga. A yoga retreat is one of the best ways to start yoga. This is where you stay for a period of time at a certain retreat center or school and engross yourself in learning the yoga lifestyle. Generally, these retreats teach you yoga breathing (pranayama), yoga stretches, yoga exercises (asanas), yoga flow, yoga sequencing and also basic meditation principles. Some incorporate a certain level of spirituality, and some don’t. Yoga retreats (or schools) are fun but intense. You will make new friends, learn basic yoga poses, and learn some yoga philosophies, but be prepared to feel a little overwhelmed at first. It’s all part of the journey to become a yogi.

There are thousands of yoga retreats and schools around the world to choose from and you will need to put in a good deal of research to find the best yoga retreat for you. There are many things to consider besides just the price of the yoga retreat. How much will it cost you to travel there? If you are traveling away from your homeland is it a safe area for tourists? What are the visa requirements? Is the retreat center or school accredited or sanctioned by the Yoga Alliance or another governing body? Does that even matter to you? What is their reputation? Do they have good online reviews? What other things are there to do in the area in terms of recreation? How many students or guests do they accommodate at one time? How is the food and accommodations? What will the weather be like at that time? Do they teach any spiritual aspects of yoga (such as chanting)? Are you comfortable with that? These are all important topics to research before you decide on a particular yoga retreat.

Private Lessons

Beth Bauer and Erin Ryan practicing yoga together

If you feel a bit out of shape and haven’t been engaging in exercise for quite some time, private lessons may be a great way for you to start yoga. Some people feel too self-conscious about their physical condition and appearance to go to a mainstream yoga class. This is when private lessons can be very helpful. A private yoga teacher focuses only on you. The purpose of the lessons will be to teach you how to do yoga poses correctly so that you will have more confidence and eventually be ready to integrate with more mainstream yoga classes. Often these classes are taught in a yoga studio or in your home. A private instructor will teach you how to start yoga at home so that you can start practicing yoga on your own. Self-practice is an essential part of the yoga lifestyle.

Group Classes

Group yoga classes are usually taught in yoga studios, fitness centers, community centers, or yoga schools. Some classes are even streamed live over Zoom (or other media platforms). Don’t’ forget about the different types of yoga and to find classes for that particular style. If they advertise as just “yoga” with no specific description as to the type of yoga, you should call to inquire about the style. It’s important when doing beginning yoga that you have good experiences so that you will feel motivated to continue. Find out how many students attend and if the room is heated. How long is the class? Will the teacher help you with your alignment? How advanced are the classes and the other students? How much do the classes cost and how many times per week will you attend? Make sure that you will feel comfortable in the class and not be pressured to do things beyond your skill level.

Watch Videos

There are lots of great videos on the Jiva Yoga Facebook page, YouTube, or Amazon that you can watch to learn yoga. There are even cable TV shows that can help you learn yoga. Today’s digital age makes learning yoga pretty easy. The nice thing about electronic media is that you can pause it while you try it and get it right. You can rewind it and watch it over and over, or even fast forward through poses that are beyond your current skill level. The downside of videos is that you don’t get any one-on-one coaching. If you do the asana incorrectly no one is there to point it out and help you get it right. This makes you more vulnerable to forming bad habits that may be hard to break later on. It also makes you more prone to injury. Be very careful about learning and doing yoga exercises by yourself without any outside instruction, because if you do some of them incorrectly, or push yourself too hard, you can cause injury to your body.

Books

Books are a great way to learn how to do yoga, but they are more of a medium for enhancing your other methods of learning. If you want to learn how to start doing yoga, books will give you some great knowledge and insight, but they aren’t the best way to start a yoga practice because you can’t watch others in order to learn how to do the yoga poses (asanas). They will however teach you a lot about the different yoga styles, philosophy, history, and principles.

Tips For How to Quiet Persistent Mind Chatter

We all have voices in our heads. You can hear it, asking questions, rambling on, telling you to do this, or go there. Inside your head, it might sound like this, “I should take the dog for a walk,” “but it might rain,” “but it might not,” “maybe if I went for a quick one.” It’s normal to have mind chatter, but when it keeps going at all hours of the night and keeps you from sleeping, it’s time to quiet it down. The question is, how do you quiet persistent mind chatter so you can finally relax? These are some helpful tips to quiet your mind chatter.

Breathwork

Many studies have shown that taking a series of deep, slow breaths can dramatically reduce your blood pressure in just a matter of minutes. Take a seat, sit up straight, close your eyes, and start to breathe slowly and deeply through your nose. Once you’re relaxed, begin to count your breaths on every inhale. See if you can get to thirty without losing count. If you lose count, go back to one. When you’re focusing on your breath and counting your inhales, you have to focus, and the mind chatter will naturally slow down, along with your breaths. With some practice, it might even go away completely.

Focus on a Single Activity, Like a Hobby

Being mindful simply means being aware and focusing on the present moment. This is why many people love extremes sports like paragliding or rock climbing. When you’re engaged in those sports, you have to focus entirely on them, or you could make a fatal mistake! Good news, though, painting, reading a good book, playing guitar, doing beadwork, and many other common hobbies can have the same affect on your mind and help you focus.

Practice Yoga

Yoga is one of those activities that can help keep you focused and make you feel calmer. When you’re focusing on getting Warrior II just right or trying to perfect downward dog, all thoughts about your kid’s upcoming birthday party or what you’re making for dinner fade away.  Having a regular Yoga practice also has many other health benefits, like helping you build strength, flexibility, and balance. It can also make you feel more connected to your mind, body, and spirit.

Meditation

Meditation is one of those things that many people find intimidating, but it’s easy to start and doesn’t cost anything. Just sit still, maybe in the early morning hours, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and notice how your breath feels. If your mind is going a million miles an hour, start counting your breaths. When a thought arises, acknowledge it like you would a snapshot in a photo album. Then set it aside to revisit later. Go back to focusing on your breath. You can also meditate by staring at a candle flame, the ocean waves, or the countless stars in the night sky. It’s all about focusing your attention and breath on a single thing. Just five minutes a day can make an enormous difference in how you feel.

Learn to be an observer of your thoughts and mind chatter. The book “The Untethered Soul” by Michael A. Singer” is about this very topic. He says that you are not your thoughts; you are the one observing them. When you notice that voice in your head and can find a place of wonder about all the things that come to your mind, they will no longer control you. You will control them.