It begins with the breath
Yoga breath flows lightly in and out through the nose. Avoid manic huffing and sniffing and simply softly constrict the breath in your throat, like you would do if you were whispering to someone. When you breathe deeply you should feel and even see movement all the way down to your belly. If you find yourself exhaling when the teacher is asking you to inhale, don’t worry about it. It takes practice to breathe in steady rhythm and match that breath to movement in a group setting.
Bend those knees
Most people don’t walk into a yoga class with deliciously long hamstrings. When forward-folding or going into downward-facing dog, give yourself and your legs and your lower back a break and bend your knees to relieve tension. Once you find yourself in the pose, you can slowly re-straighten the legs and find the stretch. As a general rule, prioritise the actions of the spine over the legs. Meaning, let your spine release in a forward fold before you try to challenge it with straight legs. Let your spine lengthen in down-dog, before you challenge it with straight legs. For now, give your spine more love and as your practice deepens you can work more on the legs.
When you raise your arms over your head, make sure your palms face towards each other and your arms are straightening as much as they can. If you find that your shoulders are crowding up towards your ears, widen your hands further away from each other and feel that your shoulder blades are spreading out rather than purely lifting up. It’s important to get stretch and reach across the back of the shoulders and side body – so go for it!
Walk the Line
As you learn standing poses, like Warrior II, side angle or Triangle, align your front heel with your back heel as a default setting. As you develop your practice you may explore front heel to back arch alignment for a deeper opening, or if you find yourself restricted, in pain, or unstable you may explore a tiny gap between the heels. But as a general rule, stick with this alignment for now.
Keep your balance
Being able to balance in tree pose, or high lunges, or whatever else finds you wobbly is not just about strength. Find one un-moving spot in front of you and fix your gaze on it. Breathe slowly and deeply through the nose as you keep your eyes fixed on this spot. This should help you stay upright and increase your ability to concentrate!
Sitting ain’t easy
As Westerners, we’re not used to sitting on the ground. Due to tightness in the legs and hips we may get all sorts of downward pull that makes us slump and ache when we try to sit cross-legged or kneel. The best way to help yourself is to sit on a blanket or a block or two. Give your bum and spine a bit of a lift to balance out the muscular forces pulling it down. It may still be difficult and take some time to overcome, but try this simple adjustment for now.
It’s a practice
Remember that yoga is a practice that accrues cumulative results. Everyone will be on a different schedule and all you can do is pace yourself and get on your mat. It takes awhile to figure out how to make the shapes and flow, just as it takes a bit of time to move from piano scales to sonatas. As you get confused, ask your teacher for advice rather than getting frustrated. Most teachers have had all sorts of struggles with practice and found a way to work through it. Be kind to yourself, stick with it, and see what happens
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By Adam Hocke
Adam has been practicing vinyasa flow yoga since 1999 and has trained extensively with Jason Crandell. He offers precise, strong, and accessible classes to physically awaken the body and develop mindfulness both on and off the mat. His teaching is down-to-earth and direct, exploring traditional practices from a modern perspective. A native of South Florida, Adam spent ten years in New York City before becoming a Londoner. He teaches studio classes, workshops and courses throughout London, and retreats across the globe. As a writer, Adam contributes regularly to magazines and web publications on yoga. Visit Adam at www.adamhocke.com
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