What Do You Need To Get Started With Yoga?

Downward Dog Yogi in Dark Corridor
Shiva_Pashupati

Beginning yoga is not easy for most people. However, humans have been studying yoga scholastically for over 2700 years. Yoga may even be as much as 10,000 years old. We may never know the true age of the practice due to the fact that the tradition was originally transmitted orally. Many consider the Pashupati seal of the Indus Valley Civilization to be the oldest record of Shiva and indicates the practice of yoga likely existed 5,000 years ago.

With the tremendous benefits this sort of activity can provide, it is no surprise that it has been adapted for the modern world. From improving your flexibility to soothing joint and muscle pain, to assisting with mental health and disabilities, to even healing major bodily injuries and improving the quality of sleep yoga has a tremendous amount to offer modern human beings. Starting a yoga practice is much simpler than you might expect. To help you begin, this post will explore what you’ll need to start your journey inwards.

(Image Source)

Guidance

Before you even think about spending money, you will need to look for someone who can guide you to setting goals and exploring what you want from the practice of yoga. This is where yoga studios come in handy, but if you are athletic and healthy, you might just flip on a youtube video and follow an instructor like Yoga with Adrienne. There are also several services that offer online yoga like glo.com or poweryoga.com. Bryan Kest, the founder of poweryoga.com, is one of my favorite instructors and I can’t recommend him highly enough.

It is relatively difficult to start yoga without personalized advice and instruction, especially as we age and our bodies have more issues. Private instruction can be excellent for this, though it will often be more fun to go somewhere with a group of others to practice yoga. These are quite common in outdoor parks or membership gyms. However, I recommend finding a local studio and practicing with a few different teachers until you find one that you like. Everyone is different, and everyone has different goals in yoga. Create goals and find teachers to help you achieve them.

Clothing

Once you have a guide, it will be time to start thinking about the clothing you’re going to wear for yoga. Wear clothing that breathes and allows for your full range of motion, especially if you are trying hot yoga. Shorts, leggings, and obviously yoga pants are all acceptable, but ensure that the fabric isn’t transparent when wet, because you will likely sweat during a class, and if you try hot yoga, you will probably sweat through your clothes. Many students wear skin tight clothing to keep it from moving when you are upside down and in downward dog, but I always take my shirt off when I practice and wear board shorts to avoid unnecessary laundry. The biggest thing is that you need to make sure that your clothing isn’t going to restrict your movement or get in the way.

Equipment

Yoga equipment is very simple. The vast majority of classes only require a yoga mat. My favorite brand is Manduka. You may also want to get a foam roller, a block, and a strap, as some yoga positions can be more relaxing with props.

Finding Space

Dancer's Pose with a beach sunset

Whether you’re practicing yoga with a group or by yourself, it is crucial that you have an appropriate space. Avoid any areas with bugs, rodents, or dirt/filth. The ideal space helps you to feel calm, privacy to make sure that you are comfortable. Outdoor areas can be perfect for this: gardens, parks, and even beaches all offering tranquil environments that can enhance your yoga. You will often be able to find more than one class or studio near you and you can often try discounted introductory packages to compare and find the right space for you. If you live in Roseville or Auburn, make sure you check out East Wind Yoga, where I teach!

Mental Preparation

Most people talk themselves out of practicing yoga. This is the biggest barrier to beginning for most people. Keep in mind that you DO NOT have to be flexible to start yoga. In fact, inflexibility is the reason many of us practice! You can always improve! Make sure you talk to your instructor about any injuries you may have, or health complications that could affect you during the stretching and workout routines. 

In short, yoga has never been more popular, with people across the world embracing the practice and the tremendous health benefits it can provide. Remember that you just have to show up and the rest usually takes care of itself! Try to let go 😀

Continuing Work with Ashtanga

Waking up early in 2020

Krishnamacharya

The new year has brought a new wave of inspiration for my yoga practice and working on the Ashtanga Primary series early in the morning. I’ve been waking up at 5:30, 6, and sometimes even earlier to ensure that I can do most of the series before I have to leave for work.

The entire series usually takes me a couple of hours, because I mediate for 10 minutes before and do some easy yin stretches if I need to before starting the series. Often I don’t finish, but about half of the time, I do. I’ve also practiced the intermediate series a few times, but I am working on getting my flexibility back so the primary series is what my body needs right now.

Adjustments

Patthabhi Jois

With that said, I am taking a long time to get warmed back up in the series. My shoulder are requiring a good amount of patience and stretching to re-align the ligamentation underneath my shoulder-blades and there’s no point in rushing. Rushing leads to loose ligaments that need to be re-tightened and stabilized.

Things are going great in the series, but I’ve had to back off a lot. I am also landscaping full-time right now. My wrists and hands have also needed a lot of care and slow stretching and supporting the series with yin has been the theme so far.

Performance Improvements

I think that on Saturday I held a handstand for a full minute really easily. My sinuses have improved and so has my digestion. My skin is also clearing up and I’m finding that I have a ton of energy during the day, but I am still adjusting to doing yoga every day. Ashtanga requires a lot of time and energy output, focus.

The First Ashtanga Workshop of 2020!

Saturday at 1 we had an awesome practicing the series! We only got through about half because of the orientation and making sure that people had adjustments available, but we did a lot! The opening chant was fun and we got a good chance to chat before the workshop began.

What an awesome group of people! A lot were fairly advanced and a few were probably close to the finishing postures of the series. I’m super excited to see what week 2 will bring.

Growing from Surya Namaskar

I’ll conclude with my biggest takeaway of practicing so often this year and that is self compassion. Some days, its okay to not finish. Some days, finish everything you can, especially if you wake up early and have time. A little amount of yoga and stretching goes a long way with the body and mind.

The two sun salutations are special in this way. You can wake up and practice them anywhere. And they are special movements for the spine, the nervous system, and the mind. I always feel soothed and more connected, clearer of mind and more focused after moving in unison with my breathing. The discipline of waking up early to unify the mind and the body are extremely rewarding in terms of mood and my ability to stay positive and not succumb to stress.

Its the little things that add up to something great. I’m excited for the second workshop this week. If you are going, practice a little every day and see how your body feels during the sequence!

The Sciatic Nerve: A River of Energy Suppyling Human Legs

Sciatic Nerve

The Anatomy of the Sciatic Nerve

Also known as the ischiadic nerve or ischiatic nerve, the Sciatic Nerve is the largest nerve in the human body. The Sciatic Nerve runs down the leg behind the bicep femoris and powers the thigh muscles.By KDS4444 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53368293

The nerve begins in the Sacral Plexus Gray Sacral Plexus

 

 

 

 

 

 

as you can see from contrasting the above depictions of the nerve. Notice the outer thigh innervation and middle leg innervation from the upper nerves in the second photo. Contrast that to the inner thigh/back-leg innervation from the lower set of nerves. The sciatic nerve is a combination of the nervous tissue from L4 to S3 and continues down the leg to branch into the Tibial Nerve and the Common Peroneal Nerve at the popliteal fossa.

The Sacral Plexus and the Greater Sciatic Foramen

Here is a fantastic depiction of the sacral plexus and the nerve’s points of joining and separation through the Greater Sciatic Foramen which is covered by the piriformis. Here prentice-hall-sacral-plexusis a great view of the coccyx and sacral plexus which runs down the back of the leg. As the nerve travels, it is hammocked by the piriformis and then the bicep femoris before it branches. You can see a really great example of the support of the bicep femoris below

Posterior-View-of-the-Lower-Limb-Anatomical-Course-of-the-Sciatic-Nerve
Posterior-View-of-the-Lower-Limb

 

You can also see that as the nerve travels, it branches below the bicep femoris and the popliteal fossa which is also known as the knee pit. The biggest bone in the body, the femur supports and protects the sciatic nerve. We could definitely get into more detail about the branching of the nerve, but for now, let’s stick with the major components, we can get more specialized later.

 

Implications for your Yoga Practice

  1. If you haven’t started finding ways the stretch the muscles surrounding and supporting the biggest nerve in your body, its time to start. Finding ways to relax and stretch the piriformis and strengthen the sciatic nerve should be one of the primary goals of your practice. A healthy sciatic nerve will be most helpful in maintaining a pain-free leg!
  2. It is necessary to work into the layers of muscles surrounding the nerve tissue to truly release tension from it. This means that although an adjustment from a chiropractor might help in the short-term, you should be focused on re-aligning the leg muscles in your daily posture to create space for the sciatic nerve.
  3. Your hamstrings can be the primary instigator of your back pain! Quadriceps are filthy culprits as well! Find ways to stretch your legs and your back will often carry less tension as a result. And legs stretches can allow you to stretch the back in deeper ways. There are certain points inside of your hip/sacrum connection where your back and your legs are the same thing!
  4. This is a huge reason why downward dog feels so fantastic. You get to stretch the muscles around your biggest nerves! Downward can be one of the most sustainable yoga poses. It shouldn’t hurt! Just uncomfortable at first.
  5. Just to take the downward dog thing further, this is also why sun salutations are such a universal stretches in yoga and so good for relaxing the nervous system. I think sun salutations might be one of the best exercises you can do for your back.

15 Yoga Asanas for your Sciatic Nerve

  1. Hero’s Pose
  2. Downward Dog
  3. Foward Fold
  4. Sun Salutation A
  5. Low Lunge
  6. High Lunge
  7. Pyramid Pose
  8. Warrior 1
  9. Eagle Pose
  10. Triangle Pose
  11. Revolved Triangle Pose
  12. Half-moon
  13. Revolved Half-moon
  14. Half Pigeon
  15. Finishing Ashtanga Streches

References

Foot Reflexology Chart

Movement Shapes Your Body

Foot pain from your spine?

Your Foot Bone’s Connection to your spine

How can I break my Neck in my Foot

 

Yoga Practice: How to Start Now

Free 1 Hour Flow Yoga Class

You’re Starting a Yoga Practice

But first, what the heck is Yoga?

Yoga is simple. It is paying attention to your breath and posture for set periods of time.

Unfortunately, our world has over-complicated it with sexuality, superficiality, and our schedules for our selves. Yoga studios are some of the most interesting phenomenon in the past thirty years, in my opinion. The people who do yoga are not yoga. We are called yogis for a reason. We grasp for yoga with our yoga practice. Even the supposed gurus are not yoga. They too must practice yoga to understand. Yoga is too simple for anyone to claim. Practicing yoga is about your BODY right now, your BREATH, and your MIND, right now. It’s about how your life-force energy is flowing through your body. It’s about the essence of life.

You can start yoga right now. You don’t need a teacher. You don’t need me. You don’t need a yoga studio. You don’t need fancy pants or a fancy yoga mat. You only need your self.

Now, you might ask yourself; ‘well, if it is so simple, then why have I never done it before?’ The only answer that I have to that questions is that you don’t know what you know. Again, it’s simple.

Your First Breaths

Yoga is about awareness of your breath. To start, you have to put your body into a comfortable position. Understand that the idea is to allow the body to stay in positions (they call them asanas in yoga, which translates directly to posture) for certain periods of time, so keep it reasonable. If it feels like too much, it probably is too much. The real guide is your breath; if you lose your connection with your breath, lower the intensity of the posture for your body until your breath is flowing strongly through your nose again.

That’s right, you are going to breathe through your nose for an entire 1:30 minutes eventually. If you practice and put some time into it. Simplicity is beautiful, isn’t it?

See, what you probably don’t realize is that your breath flows more efficiently through your nose, at least in terms of oxygenating your blood. When you sprint and run, you are mostly trying to expel carbon dioxide which is why exhaling through your mouth feels so good. We can do this sometimes in yoga as well. But it is important to understand how powerful the force of your breath is to bring life back into your body. This is what we are doing in yoga, breathing life and energy back into worn joints so that they can regenerate. We are simultaneously lengthening and strengthening our muscles with our breath, going back and forth like steel being smelted on an anvil to strengthen ourselves for the world around us. Our bones, ligaments, and joints become powerful machinations of efficiency when a yoga practice has been well-honed. Everything flows easier, especially in your circulatory and digestive system.

Moving Beyond Breath

Now you are ready to start. Close your eyes and begin to breathe exclusively through your nose. It might be useful to take a few exaggerated exhales through your mouth to start, then shift all of the respiratory flow into the nose. If this is difficult, then spend some time during your day trying to breath through your nose; the more time you spent trying, the easier it will get.

Your body should be comfortable, so you can focus. The idea behind a yoga practice is regeneration, healing, and awareness, so bring your mind into a peaceful place where you can focus completely on your breath. Your breath is a healing force; your breath is also linked to your consciousness in ways that we do not fully understand.

By focusing on your breath, you can give your entire attention to your body. Inner space is vast, but don’t be overwhelmed; you will have as much time to explore this space as you choose to create for yourself. A yoga practice can last a lifetime if practiced responsibly.

The Ujjayi Pranayama Technique

You are already breathing through your nose, so the first and hardest part of this technique is already accomplished. Start to pay attention to the way air is flowing in the back of your throat. Can you restrict your throat muscles slightly to slow down the flow of air? It should start to sound more and more like a wave, or the raspy sound of the ocean. Once you have spent a significant amount of time with the Ujjayi breathing technique, you will be able to variate and change the intensity of the breath with your postures in the yoga practice. With more intense poses will come more intense breath, necessarily to keep your body sustained in the position.

Equal inhales and exhales that are unceasing and complete will rejuvenate your body over 90 minutes, even if you are lying still on the floor. The breath is your yoga practice. The Ujjayi breath is powerful; there is also no reason to limit its use to the yoga room. In stressful life situations, breathing techniques can help to keep you connected with your body and grounded in your thoughts.

The Breath will Guide your Yoga Practice

Your connection with your breath and the Ujjayi technique is the most vital aspect of the yoga practice. It is what allows the subconscious mind to integrate your thoughts and conscious feelings, soothes your bodily systems, and relaxes the central nervous system. If the pose gets too intense for the breath, lower the intensity of the posture in your body.

When you are finished practicing, you lie down to rest with your back on the floor and your head on the floor. The idea is to let your body sit completely still on the floor for about 5-15 minutes, depending on how long your practice was. This is time where you let your breathing return to its normal state in a natural and easy way.

That’s all you need to start practicing yoga, or to start an official “yoga practice”. Don’t listen to anyone that says you need anything because all of the props that exist are made to make the practice more comfortable. You are set and ready to go.

The ONLY Rule: Enjoy Yourself!

If it’s not fun, then what’s the point of a yoga practice?

You are ready to start your home yoga practice now. Remember to do what you love!

Closing your eyes always feels great. The magic starts to happen when you really start to let go of everything outside of your body and focus your attention completely inwards.

 

Here are a few more articles, in case you want to look at some additional information or more great resources:

References:

The Ultimate Reference: BKS Iyengar’s: Light on Yoga

  1. Yoga International
  2. Yoga Basics
  3. Gaiam
  4. MindBody Green
  5. Yoganonymous
  6. About Health

 

 

Yin Yoga Meditation

ashtanga workshop w/ Elliot cover

A Unique Approach to Meditation

Meditation is one of my favorite things. Yoga, sitting cross-legged while doing various mental exercises, running, teaching yoga, and performing other focused exercises are examples of what I define as meditation. Anything where there is focus and concentration.

Yin yoga has become more and more prevalent in my own practice, as I have seen it grow in popularity in general over the past few years. I prefer ashtanga for a more regular practice, but Yin offers an excellent counterbalance to the strenuous application of the four ashtanga series. And best of all its all online for free at Yinyoga.com from a guy named Bernie Clark. It’s a really cool website and you should explore it if you want slow deep ligament and tendon focused stretching.

The Balancing of Yin and Yang

Yin yoga is not a complete package, however, as no system of yoga or even physical condition can really provide this. If too much time is spent lengthening, softening, and stretching the muscles then they will be easily strained when performing physically demanding tasks. There needs to be a balance between the soft stretching of yin and the more active stretching of yang yoga like Iyengar, Hatha yoga, or Ashtanga and other more active physical activities. Even more engaged, active physical activities like running, circuit training, even weightlifting can be combined with a yoga practice to extraordinary gain.

The Benefits of Yin Yoga

Because the benefits of yoga are extraordinary. Yin yoga, in particular, has a myriad of physical benefits for the body, not to mention the mental and psychological benefits for the mind. The benefits of yin yoga are a bit different from those of the yang styles, but in a way that is completely complimentary.

Science has shown that Yin yoga has the following benefits:

  • Myofascial releases of tension resulted in increased healing processes
  • Improved immune response
  • Increased metabolism and serotonin levels (happiness neurotransmitter)
  • Improves sleep performance
  • Improves circulation around joints which can alleviate arthritis, osteoporosis and chronic pain
  • Stress reduction
  • Anxiety reduction
  • Depression reduction

As you can see, Yin yoga boasts quite a few benefits, though some people have a hard time starting the practice. It can be difficult at first to breath properly for the duration of a long-held stretch and it is easy to get agitated or just lose focus. Yin yoga is something that you practice over time and its pretty normal to have a slow start and to take some time to develop a consistent practice; but when you do you will be very happy with the ever-increasing depth of a yin practice.

As you become more advanced in one style of yoga, particularly Yin yoga, you start to find yourself becoming almost too good at poses; sometimes muscles can be too flexible and not strong enough, but this is fixed with a changing yang practice. This is also one of the reasons Ashtanga is easier when you practice it every day; the muscles get used to the same stretches. This is also why you perform poses twice in Bikram classes.

Yin Yoga is a long road that I know I will continue to talk about and expand upon. I might even have a bigger section of my blog eventually devoted to the practice, so please let me know what you are interested in learning/reading about!

 

Ahimsa | अहिंसा

Ahimsa is the Yogic concept of non-violence, or non-harm to other beings. Himsa means to strike, injure, or harm and adding an ‘a’ before a word in Sanskrit makes the meaning opposite; in this case meaning non-injuring, non-harm. This is especially important in the yoga practice that occurs in the studio, but plays an equally important role in getting you to and from the yoga studio and all around in your life. Ahimsa is one of the Yamas, or principles for living that Patanjali expounded in writing the Yoga Sutras. I believe it is one of the most useful and important concepts in yoga and philosophy in general. Words, deeds, even thoughts have the ability to create harm; and by renouncing violence you allow life to flourish around you.

All beings have a divine spark within them, trees, plants, flowers, animals, and humans. God, or divinity (however you want to define it, “the universe” is also useful here) is intrinsic in all things, so harming another being is really harming the shared divinity within yourself and the other being. By hurting others, you hurt yourself because of the connection we all shared. Separateness is an illusion, as any astrophysicist, molecular biologist, or mathematician will tell you, electrons are constantly colliding and interweaving in everyday objects that appear to be still. Everything is vibrating and melting, but the human eye does not perceive these realities; instead we construct a conscious image that is useful for things like eating, hunting, and surviving. By truly allowing other beings to grow and flourish you are allowing yourself to prosper simultaneously.

But the concept is even more useful on the yoga mat. Instead of working against the body, work with it to relax and sooth the tension and stress within muscles. Mostly this becomes apparent in the breath, in how relaxed and focused you are on the sensations of the muscles. Injury is probably the easiest way to completely halt the journey of yoga; avoiding it is the key to progress and cultivation of joy within a yoga practice. Make your yoga sweet, not forced, and gentle instead of moving through physical strain, even in the intensity of a pose like Warrior 3. You can amp up your breath to match a difficult pose, but don’t force your body to do things. Mindfulness and care of your body will keep you on the yoga mat working to relieve the stresses of the body even with very intense asana practices rather than being injured and not being able to work on the physical asanas and prana-yama.

As I mentioned earlier, it is also an extraordinarily useful concept off the yoga mat. Mahatma Gandhi was a huge proponent of Ahimsa; you could offer that Martin Luther King Jr. was too, though he was likely unfamiliar with the Indian concept. Violence is cyclical, meaning that is progresses in a downward spiral and the only way to allow for it to cycle is to put energy into it. If everyone in the world could find a way to be non-violent with one another, than world peace wouldn’t even be discussed. It would be a given.

I lived in Paris when I was 20. I also drank a good amount in this time, because I was a rebel, liked being a rebel, and loved to party. So one Saturday night, while in the center of the city (I lived in the 13th, a solid 45 minute or hour walk from the center of the city) my friends and I decided to take one of the night buses home. We were at a club before, drinking and dancing on tables so we were all tired and still quite drunk. All 5 of us got on the public bus and right when I got on, I knew it would be a shit-show.

There were a few younger guys in the back smoking what was obviously hash and cigarettes. They were being pretty rough, so my ground and I sat in front of them, by the door. But these kids were drunk so eventually someone smacked me in the back of the head, for no reason. I turned around and looked to see what happened, I was a rugby player back then so I was a bit more inclined to violence than I am now. I saw a guy just a bit older than me, staring back drunkenly. His friend started to apologize and I said thanks and just turned around. But I was pretty heated; it took every ounce of energy not to yell, or get up, or get my friends to start something. I took the headshot and sat quietly.

When I was 14, I got my black-belt, so I had committed myself to only using violence in self-defense and this did not fall under that category. This is the biggest reason I didn’t react. But as the older kids continued to push each other around in the back of this public bus, the police pulled the bus over; the driver had called in because of his passengers breaking the law. Five squad cars pull up with their lights blaring and we all exit the van. I see the kid that hit me and the others that were causing the trouble get to put the side and the rest of us were allowed to walk from there; we were at the Bastille which was 15 minutes from my foyer, or apartment building. As I began to walk home, I saw the one that was behind me resisting an officer that was questioning him. Then the officer searched him, found more drugs and a switch blade. A big one.

I probably would have been stabbed if I had given that dude just a comment. If I had defended myself, I am sure that someone would have been hurt badly. Sometimes it is really better to end the cycle of violence immediately, as soon as you come into contact with it. Absorb it for everyone else, process it yourself and you just made the world a better place. The story reminds me of the commitment to pacifism. If everyone could sit still and process their own emotions including fear and anger, the world would be peaceful. But it requires commitment from each individual, everyone has to be disciplined to serve the same vision.

Ahimsa is powerful. It shifts the ego lens inward rather than externally making you more aware of your projections of insecurity and fear. Use it in the yoga room and your practice will flourish. Add some love and knowledge to the mix and you will be flying in no time. Then take it outside the studio and live by it; violence in society is never a good thing. Help to make the world a better place.