Flexibility has always been something that has come naturally to me. If you have any sort of dance or even any sports background, your body is used to being pushed to the limit. However, the older you get, if you don't use it, you lose it, as my grandmother used to say. Doing a split without excruciating pain is a thing that I truly miss from my youth. Since discovering that I no longer have the hips and joints of my younger years, I have been in search of ways to remedy this in 2021. The most common answer to my problem is yoga. Yoga has been out here saving lives, hips, knees, backs, and all the joints.
Like most things, finding out where to start with your yoga journey can be a little confusing. If yoga has been on your mind but you don't know where to start, let this article serve as a reference to get started. There is a lot of Instagram content that shows many beautiful images of people practicing yoga who are of all walks of life. Some of the poses can look a little intimidating but everybody has to start somewhere. And just like anything else, it takes time to perfect your practice. To get the best answers to how to start a yoga journey, I reached out to The Hippie Heathen, CEO and founder of Sisters of Yoga. Below is the insight and wisdom she had to share:
Determine Your Why Before You Start
How many times do we start things just for the sake of starting things without really thinking about why and if we should even start? Tie says starting your yoga practice has to begin with intention. “Before you even start yoga, it is good to take a moment to determine what is your reason for even starting yoga," she explains. “Like any other goal, you need to know why am I doing this. This can keep you going when it gets uncomfortable, uncertain, and, difficult.”
Whether it's to lose weight, gain strength, or become more flexible, understanding your why will push you through. To confirm your needs and intentions, Tie says to asks yourself, "Why yoga, why now, and what are three things you are hoping to gain out of your yoga practice."
Practice Alignment With A Beginner Yoga Class
We are still in the midst of COVID and trying to deal with the resulting pandemic. Even though gyms and things are still open, we still need to practice social distancing and wear our masks. It is recommended that when starting a yoga practice to do so under the direction of a yoga teacher. Tie acknowledges that this helps with getting the poses and alignments correct. With a yoga teacher in your presence, you can get quick direct assistance to avoid mistakes. However, with COVID, things are a bit different. "I recommend starting with online instruction where there are specifically true beginners and start with alignment," Tie notes.
This will give you the correct foundation so you know what you need to watch out for in certain poses. Also, this will save you from future injury. Tie tells us that she started her journey from home seven years ago and was self-taught for two years. She suffered a few injuries by not going to a yoga studio in the beginning and this is the basis for why she believes starting with an instructor in a studio is best. A great alternative to adjust to social distancing is looking into doing a private 1-on-1 with a yoga instructor if you feel comfortable. During the pandemic, it is a great time to sign up for virtual private sessions, as they are more common right now. Whatever class you decide to take should be based on your comfort level.
What To Expect In For Your First Yoga Session
"Expect your teacher to help you flow through your poses. You can also expect some hands-on adjustments if that teacher wants to do that. If you don't want hands-on adjustments your instructor will give you a cue to let them know. Most of the time if you are new they will not touch you." This is important because as we already stated, yoga involves a lot of alignment and adjusting your body, so consider that before you take your first class.
When you go to your first class Tie says that you should go in with a positive attitude, "Go into a class with an open mind. If you go into a class feeling like this isn't for me, it's not going to be for you."
If you put negative energy in the space then that is what you are going to get out of it. "Expect to be challenged," Tie clearly states, "Expect to surprise yourself. Expect to find some calm that you didn't know you could find, you can expect to find so many different things."
Beginner Yoga Poses
Downward Facing Dog
This pose stretches out the full body and helps with building a foundation for all of the other poses in yoga. It is the foundational pose in yoga for building strength in your shoulders and your legs. Downward facing dog is an all-around full-body stretch.
Child's pose is really good for grounding down. It is a really good pose for doing root chakra work, surrendering, stretching your hips, and just checking in with yourself. It is a pose that is dedicated to going into yourself. (Sidebar: Tie says this is a really good pose for women when they are on their cycles to relieve pain.)
The plank pose is another really good arm strengthing pose and a good pose to prep for other poses that are commonly practiced in yoga.
This is a great pose for building a solid foundation in your legs and building confidence in your practice. It is also a great beginner pose for opening up your full body in a strengthing pose.
The cow-cat flow are two poses that are made into one small flow. It is a great pose to open up the body and great to do in the morning. This pose actually helps to limber up your spine. It is recommended for lower back and back stretching. It can be used for synchronizing your breath because one movement is an inhale and the other is an exhale. This flow is a great one to start your practice with.
Wide-Legged Forward Fold
Forward pose is always a yes. It helps with low back pain and helps you open your hips. It can also be helpful for relieving headaches and tension in your neck and back.
Tree pose is the first balance pose. You are learning to balance with this pose and it is a foundational pose.
Another great pose that is always a YES! It is literally the pose that you go to when you just don't have anything else to give. You literally lay into the floor. It is a beautiful pose of surrender and connecting to the earth and to the Source. It is a great pose for meditation and for you to practice at the end of your flow.
You can find this pose in alto of flows because it is a foundational pose for building stability in the body. It is going to open up your hips and it is going to ground you down to the earth. It is a confidence-building pose because you feel like a warrior and you will feel in control of your body.
If you are working on splits, low lunge is a great pose to begin work there. This pose will help you open up your hips and your hamstrings. If you are a runner or you lift a lot of weights, this is the pose you should add to your stretch routine. This pose should be done daily for optimal results.
Also known as cobra, this pose is perfect for beginners because it a backbend that will not make you uncomfortable. Furthermore, it is a backbend that will help you build the foundation for more advanced backbends. Use this pose to warm yourself up before you go into practicing backbends.
The Emotional Component To Making Yoga A Practice
"When you are practicing these poses, there are a lot of times where you are moving energy around. You are shifting energy in your body around and a lot of times things that you have trapped in your muscles that you haven't dealt with and can come up as many different things. It can come up as joy, it can come up as anxiety, fear, or sadness. Heart-openers, which are a set of poses that open up your heart space, we feel vulnerable or more open. It will cause you to have many experiences if you allow it and tap into it." Tie notes that off of the mat is where the real gold is. "On the mat, these same practices you are learning are preparing you for off of the mat.
"The balancing you are learning on the mat is teaching you how to have balance in real life. Learning to strengthen your heart space is to teach you how to be open in your life and your relationship with yourself. Increasing your flexibility on the mat teaches you how to be flexible in real life."
She continues, "Many people say how does this teach me things in real life? Well, with flexibility, it is mental. Do you know how many things you go through every day mentally. You are literally taking yourself through a process [that strengthens you mentally] and it becomes a domino effect that spills over into your life."
How To Make Yoga A Practice
Once we decide that we are going to try yoga in our routine for health and wellness, Tie suggests that we practice two to four times a week for at least 15 minutes or at the most 60 minutes with an instructor. As you begin to search for an instructor, remember it is about trust and finding someone you vibe with. Similar to the process of finding a therapist. It is very important to work with someone you like.
To connect with Tie Simpson follow her on Instagram and check out her Beginner's Guide to Starting Yoga for more. Also, check out Sisters of Yoga for many resources about yoga for Black people on Instagram.
Featured image by Jacob Lund/Shutterstock