A Basic Guide
To Practicing Yoga /2
Basic principles practitioners should keep in mind
By Alvin Lee
In A basic guide to practicing yoga /1, I described the various types of yoga practices to help you choose the right one for you. Different types of yoga notwithstanding, there are basic principles that you should be mindful of when practicing yoga.
If you have ever been in a yoga class, you would notice that the yoga teacher almost always gives you the cue to inhale and exhale. Breathing is an important aspect of a yoga practice as the volume of air in your lungs and abdomen affects the way you move. Additionally, the constant reminder for you to breathe allows you to consciously connect your movement with your body.
A lot of teachers will emphasize on the alignment of your body during your practice. This is to, firstly, prevent injury, and to help get into the pose correctly to gain benefits of the pose.
As mentioned earlier, every body is built differently. Hence, practicing yoga allows you to intimately explore your body’s physical boundaries. In the same vein, you may also discover parts of your mind and/or emotions that you may not have connected with before.
Focus, Attention and Concentration
Students in a yoga class are likely to experience a refreshing effect of being mindful and focused in the practice, compared to being constantly distracted with social media and other such “goodies”. Hence, what distinguishes a good practice and one that is so-so, is the level of attention that the practitioner pays to the present moment, no matter how easy or difficult the pose is.
But I can’t practice yoga! I can’t touch my toes!
When I ask people who have not practiced yoga before to practice yoga with me, their answers come fast and furious such as “I am not flexible and I cannot touch my toes!” I would often respond that it is precisely why they should practice yoga to improve their flexibility or to alleviate their stiffness. There is a common misconception that you need to be flexible already in order to be able to practice yoga well. That is like saying that you cannot swim even though you have not learnt how.
Simply put, all that you really need is to want to be more connected with yourself, to feel better and more positive. Hence, that is why a yoga practice is called a practice. A consistent yoga practice allows you to gradually cultivate your mind and body, step-by-step, breath-by-breath.
Why should I practice yoga?
The mental, physical, emotional and overall health benefits of a consistent yoga practice are too numerous to go through here. If you Google it, you will find a plethora of information extolling the health benefits from practicing yoga. But I would like to share and highlight the main benefits that I have experienced.
Peace of mind
I am a bit of a worrywart but when I am on my yoga mat, I am brought to the present moment as I let my anxiety-inducing thoughts, frustration and other such distractions ripple away. It is also during my practice that I allow myself to be still and be present with my breath and body.
Connection with myself
In a world where we sit too much, and being easily distracted, it is easy to feel disconnected with our bodies. In my yoga practice, I feel a lot more connected to my body as I breathe and observe my body as I practice. After my practice, I always feel a lot lighter, like I have released all the mental, emotional and physical baggage.
Releasing these baggage frees up mental and emotional space to cultivate more desirable qualities such as patience, empathy, mindfulness and more. It is the consistent work and effort put into practicing, and into cultivating these qualities that I think have made me a less stressed and more positive person. Consistency really is the key.
There is a common misconception that you need to be flexible already in order to be able to practice yoga well. That is like saying that you cannot swim even though you have not learnt how.
Great! I am ready to practice but how, what, who, where?
As mentioned at the beginning, there is a yoga studio at almost every corner in Montreal, making it easy to be overwhelmed by the different offerings.
First, you have to assess your needs and your body type. Do you want a physically demanding practice or do you want a gentle, relaxing practice to help relieve stress after a long day? Are you naturally flexible or do you need more work to improve your flexibility? Or do you want to build strength? Do you have a pre-existing injury that you need to be mindful of? In which case, please inform the yoga teacher before class. Are you more comfortable in a large or small class? How much time are you willing to commit to practicing yoga on a regular basis i.e. a one-hour class a week?
Thinking about these questions will help guide you in your search for a yoga class that meets your needs. Even then, I would recommend you to drop-in for a few classes at two or three studios over a period of time to accurately gauge your comfort level. Also, it is important that your chosen studio is convenient for you to travel to. Nothing kills motivation faster than having a difficult commute after a long day, especially if and when weather conditions are less than ideal. On a practical note, most yoga studios provide yoga mats for free or at a small fee. You may also choose to get your own mat. Showers are also available at some studios. So, do your research to see what options are suitable for you.
Also, it is important that you feel that you have a good connection with the teacher, with how he/she teaches, and that you feel cared for. The teacher should let you know and feel that they are there to help you focus and improve your practice.
I hope that I have shed some light on yoga, and more importantly, impressed upon you that there are no prerequisites, and that anyone can practice yoga, no matter your body type or motivations.
Originally from Singapore, Alvin is a yoga teacher, enthusiastic life hacker, self-help junkie, global traveller, experimental cook, pop culture critic, fitness fanatic, marketing consultant with artistic tendencies all rolled into one. He moved to Montreal because he loves the city’s culture, history and wonderfully broad-minded society. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org