Get started with Yoga for Mental and Physical Wellbeing

February 8, 2020

First off — good luck on your yoga journey! Yoga has made a tremendous change in my life, and I hope it will help you too.

I've written this article in collaboration with YogaKali. If you want to jump start your yoga journey, I recommend you read through these resources first:

What are the benefits of practicing yoga?

You don't have to wait long for the effects of yoga. Health benefits can be seen after the first training. Yoga stretches muscles, improves joint mobility, calms and calms the body, and these are just some of its advantages. Despite the rather static character of the exercises, it turns out that yoga and slimming do not have to be mutually exclusive. Check what kind of yoga can produce effects and after what time you can see them.

What are the effects of yoga? Yoga is an exercise system based on the Indian philosophy. During yoga training we exercise not only the body but also the mind, because with the correct technique of diaphragm breathing and meditation we calm thoughts and focus on the present moment.

The effects of yoga are therefore visible almost immediately. By stretching the muscles and activating their deep structures we improve our posture and mobility. Yoga can also help you to lose weight. There are many types of yoga, but the most beneficial ones for weight loss are ashtanga (dynamic yoga) and bikram (hot yoga).

How many calories can you burn?

There are different types of yoga - from calm to more dynamic and involving our body. If we would like to burn the excess calories we should bet on the latter. Ashtanga is a dynamic form of yoga in which the movements of individual positions are synchronized with the breath. This kind of yoga helps to burn around 300 calories per hour. Hatha Yoga is most popular in the West. It is based on constant movement, where during one hour of the session we burn about 200 calories.

Whereas Bikram Yoga is probably the best form of weight loss. During the session you should perform 26 positions and two breathing exercises. Thanks to such an effort our body will burn around 500 calories per hour. In turn, practicing Vinyasa Yoga will burn up to 600 calories per hour.

The advantages of yoga Yoga has a lot of positive effects on the human body. It reduces back pain, gets rid of headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome (from which more and more people suffer). Yoga also reduces blood pressure and insomnia. According to doctors, yoga gives even more benefits to the human body:
it increases the flexibility of the body

  • strengthens muscle strength and vitality
  • improves metabolism
  • contributes to weight loss
  • improves the heart and circulatory system
  • improves the body's ability to exercise
  • by strengthening the body, it protects us from injuries during a fall.

Effects on mental state

Unlike other exercises, yoga allows you to improve both your physical condition and your overall "well-being". People who practice yoga have a better judgment of the situation and focus on their tasks, which is even necessary in order to fully realize themselves in their professional work, for example. Doing yoga is a bit like meditation, because it allows you to see your life from a different perspective and increase your self-awareness.

Yoga first of all allows us to unite with our body, us, that is, our mind/soul. The word yoga itself means union. It is the union of body and mind, constituting unity, that is each of us individually. The body is our vessel, which, being healthy, allows us to fully enjoy life. Like a mantra, I repeat that health is our natural state and a healthy spirit in a healthy body.

Without the slightest doubt, yoga develops the body, stretches, strengthens, slenderizes and improves the figure, but yoga first and foremost allows us to deal with spiritual and emotional weaknesses. On the one hand, it satisfies ordinary human needs, such as the 10-minute relaxation that some people do not like at first, because it is a waste of time. Nowadays it is almost a shame to admit to doing nothing, effectiveness is the key word. Other gadgets, which are supposed to improve our lives, actually make us work even more, faster, more effectively...

Every asana (position in yoga), apart from the obvious physical aspect, strengthens or stretches the masculine, has a spiritual effect, which we do not know about at the very beginning of the path with yoga, and if the teacher mentions it, we look at him as if he were a trustee. It takes time to notice these subtle changes in life, and it takes time to be willing to see that yoga has given us this, only that yoga does not need to be thanked, it has always been within us.

My personal yoga benefits:

  • I lose weight - that's what always interests everyone most. Well, because if it makes you lose weight, it's worth it. During the first two months of exercise, I lost a few kilos and a few centimeters each from different parts of the body - waist, waist, thighs or calves.
  • I am calmer - thanks to yoga I relax. I also learned to turn off the stream of thoughts and concentrate only on the present. Besides, with the exercises I have incorporated meditation into my everyday life, which has completely changed my way of being and perceiving the world.
  • I have learnt to breathe correctly and, consequently, I am healthier. I had eternal problems with my throat, but thanks to yoga I finally learned to breathe through my nose and now I attach great importance to proper breathing, which in yoga is the key issue.
  • I have more energy - there is probably some professional explanation for this (in the style: good oxygenation gives an energetic kick), but I can only talk about subjective feelings - thanks to yoga and meditation I sleep better, I am less tired, I have more willingness and strength to act. This is what I have been waiting for!
  • I eat better - I have never taken the text "my body is my temple" seriously, but since I pay so much attention to it during exercises, it seems natural for me to have an approach that says not to make the stomach a dump. I still get lost, but I have deliberately given up a lot of shit and slowly intend to exclude most of it completely from my life.
  • My body is changing - it's not just about lost pounds, it's about improving body elasticity, strengthening muscles, better looking skin. This has never been an end in itself, but is a miraculous side effect of lifestyle change.
  • I'm growing - it's about spiritual development and meditation as well as physical development. Asanas, which were a problem for me until two months ago, I now perform without any problems. I have relaxed, I don't care about bullshit and I live in accordance with my beliefs and values. It is a great success after years of anxiety and stressing over every triviality.
  • My intestines work better. Whaaaaat? It may not be the most elegant issue, but it is worth mentioning that yoga has an effect on better digestion and metabolism. Since I regularly exercise, I can finally forget about what constipation is. Sounds tempting, right?

Should I do yoga if I want to gain strength and improve flexibility?

Your goal is to improve your strength and conditioning. Because you aren't eating enough, you're at a caloric deficit.

You need to minimize the deficit, because a higher deficit means that you recover slower and your body starts burning muscle for fuel. You minimize the deficit by minimizing the amount of work you're doing.

You need to maximize intensity. Why? To give your body a reason to keep your muscles. If you don't use them, your body will consume them, whether you're at a deficit or not. Intensity means speed and power but not endurance. Please read about sprinters vs marathon runners: http://www.fitmole.org/sprinters-vs-marathon-runners/

To that end, I would choose a yoga class that minimizes burnt calories and maximizes muscular intensity. Someone mentioned weight lifting. I would agree that weightlifting is a better choice given these parameters, but if you have your heart set on yoga then that's all there is to that. You can find a strength oriented yoga class. Or you could try gymnastics if you're really interested in that kind of thing.

How to get better at yoga poses

Listening to your body is a skill. It takes practice to develop. More so than any particular asana!

Below are some tips that come to mind, in no particular order, for how to build the skill of listening to your body:

  • Practice yoga at half the speed you normally do. The first step in listening to your body is to slow down. Literally! By slowing down you will discover your threshold for where pain lies without crossing over into it. This is what instructors mean when they say to "find your edge".

  • If you're taking group classes don't feel pressured to keep up with the rest of the class. If a queue that an instructor gives does not feel good, skip it. Go into downward dog or child's pose. If the instructor's queues are too fast, slow down. Even if you're still at Step 1 while the rest of the class is at Step 7, don't be embarrassed to go at your own pace.

  • In vinyasa flow, the transition between the poses are also poses. Make your transitions into different asanas as smooth as possible. This again means slowing down.

  • The 70% rule: On a scale of 1 to 10 -- with 1 being barely awake and 10 being in pain -- you ideally want to be at around 5-6 when practicing, which is engaged but not in pain (your edge). When first getting into a pose, start by hanging out around the 2-3 range (layer 1 of a pose) and slowly turn up the volume by deepening your breath and making subtle adjustments. By allowing your body to acclimate, it will want to naturally open up into the pose in a safe way. As a side note, what might be a "7" feeling today might be a "9" tomorrow, or a "5" the next day; whenever you practice you want to find wherever that "7" is and learn to move into it with a loving attitude.

  • Read the book "Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness". This book will give you the tools for teaching yourself how to listen to your body.

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Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness
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Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness
  • Discover the path to inner peace with this guidebook that combines hatha yoga and meditation strategies from world-renowned yoga master Erich Shiffmann.
  • World-renowned yoga master Erich Schiffmann offers an easy-to-follow, exciting new techniques—the first to combine hatha yoga and meditation—to all who are seeking healthful beauty and inner peace.
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I'm not usually one to preach what yoga should be -- but honestly, yoga should feel GOOD! Learning to do what you need to do, at your own pace, in order to make yoga feel good will help build the skill of listening to your body. This skill is highly applicable off the mat as well.

How can I be more flexible?

You don't start something already being skilled at it, you practice so you CAN do those things. Also the goal is not to be the most flexible but to benefit from your practice.

I suggest doing goblet squats and barbell squats if you can. They did wonders for my hip and hamstring flexibility.

Barbells might be hard to access unless you have a gym, But a 5-10kg dumbell isn't hard to get your hands on.

Start by attempting to understand the proper form, this help you prevent injury. It is very easy to use improper form and injure yourself. Next realize that your arm, legs, and waist might be different in length or length ratio. In these cases you will need to use a block or straps even if flexibility were not an issue. When done improperly you can transfer stress and strain from the muscle to the joint. Be honest with yourself. Do not compare your form to others in the class.

Any yoga classes you recommend?

I like Open Door Yoga. They're a smaller studio (they say on their schedule if they expect more than 20 students in a particular class) and you usually see a diverse group at their classes. They have a very reasonable new student pass, too.

Seriously, don't worry about fitting in. Everyone starts from nothing and no one is looking at the newbies. There will be instructors you click with and instructors you don't click with. Try a few different classes to get an idea of what works for you. Check out the session you want to attend online--most studios have class descriptors and will say if a class is beginner-friendly or more suited to intermediate/advanced students.

When you get to the studio, tell the instructor that you're a beginner and bring up any injuries. A good instructor will ask before they begin the session anyway--and if they don't check in, I personally would think twice about returning. The instructor will recommend different modifications throughout the session to account for injuries and abilities, and I guarantee you won't be the only one to take a quick break at some point during the class.

Hatha yoga is probably what most people think of when they think of yoga and it's great for beginners. Yin yoga is very slow and meditative with deep stretches held for a longer period of time. It's also good for any level. Avoid power yoga--it's meant for people with some experience. I think hot yoga is an acquired taste, to be honest. Some people love it, some people hate it. I would probably start with hatha yoga to get the foundation down, then try out different styles and options as you build confidence.

Please think carefully about learning off of YouTube. A random person on YouTube isn't going to correct your pose or help you modify a pose to meet your abilities. You can really hurt yourself if you don't know what you're doing.

Start doing yoga with realistic expectations

You very likely may not experience any tranquility of mind until you've practiced for awhile, and that's okay. You may have to take some time to learn the movements and how to tie them to you breath at a foundational level first. This might take a few classes up to weeks or months.

Some people try yoga for the first time expecting a mediatative experience only to find their first experience to be like a confusing game of twister, very unlike any kind of mental calm. This happened to me. I stuck it out and it took me a long time to find the place where I developed the baseline comfort with the movements and poses that I could start focusing on the pranayama and mental aspects, and start reaping those benefits.

The journey is different for everyone, but if all yoga practitioners are out there telling neophytes that you should be experiencing mental calm from day 1, it can turn off people for whom their first few yoga classes aren't like that. It's a process.

I think my first ever yoga class was at a 24 hour fitness gym. I remember that the class was full, the yoga was fast and I was confused as hell! Thankfully I've moved on from the gym into a more meditative and personal practice.

What is hot yoga all about?

In my experience, hot yoga is more difficult in every way. That's not to say hot yoga is bad - many people love it. But it might be a good idea to try a regular (not hot) hatha class to get your body used to the flow and poses before diving into a hot yoga class. You might be surprised by how challenging yoga is, especially if your body is very tight and sore already.

Hot tip: put a half full stainless steel water bottle in your freezer the night before and then fill it up the rest of the way before class. Icy cold water for a full class!

Also make sure you hydrate well the day before and after. Some people go to hard on the water the day of and forget about before and after.

Also on the very very off chance you feel lightheaded - make sure to sit or lie down. That way if you do pass out a) the instructor will see it and b) you’re close to the ground.

Is it okay for a guy to go to women's yoga class?

My main issue with going to a class is that every time I have been to one, it's always all women and I feel like I'm "that guy" and violating a sacred space for them. It may only be in my mind, but it takes over the majority of my concentration because I'm so worried about not looking at the others so they don't think I'm there to be a creep. I just want to do my yoga and leave, not pick up chicks. It also feels like I'm doing something wrong in terms of what my perceived gender role is when there are no other guys in the room. Maybe I've just picked the wrong days to try a class.

But in reality, most of these things are in your head. When women realize you're not a predator (they probably already have some experience with bad guys in their yoga class), you will be accepted. Just stick to yourself and do your yoga.

If you're nice and respectful it should be ok. You'll draw a bit more attention at first because you are a guy. Usually, women that are uncomfortable try to ignore you. Most folks there just want to get their work out in.

I think you'll be surprised by how welcoming most yoga communities are.

When it comes to practice, there are certain poses which, in my opinion, are easier for one gender over the other. For example, I think toe stand (padangustasana) is easier for women because women tend to have a lower center of gravity and a wider pelvis / base. I also think some inverted balances like headstand are easier for women to get into due to having shorter torsos. The pivot point in their pelvis / center of gravity is still closer to the ground. On the other hand, headstand is easier for men to hold because men tend to have thicker necks. Handstand also might be easier for men since shoulder strength is probably not a limiting factor.

So there are differences, but I don't think they necessarily contribute to an overall advantage for either gender. I am also male, have been a weightlifter, and got into yoga about 3 years ago. I found that yoga also made me much more aware of muscle imbalances I had. For example, my core was way weaker than I thought and I think it's taking longer to catch up / be able to carry the weight of other muscles than if I had started at 0 so to speak.

If you've got any health problems, work with a yoga instructor

I've found it helpful that if you have an instructor that doesn't offer a lot of modifications and you find a pose that you just don't feel safe attempting to just do another pose. I've had instructors that give mods and I've had instructors that recommend to just do down dog if you don't feel like you can do a pose.

See if there’s a Corepower Yoga in your city. I had dabbled in yoga for several years (maybe a class or two a year), and always felt really “meh” about it, even though it seemed like something I would love. I finally tried a C1 class at Corepower and have been doing yoga for about a year now, consistently. It’s the only studio I’ve ever been to that has a TRUE beginners class. The C1 class is basically the same sequence every single time, no matter what location you go to.

They take the class really slow and will stop to do demos of the various foundational poses. I was really surprised to find such an awesome environment at a chain/corporate type yoga company, but I truly love Corepower so much. All of the Corepower studios I’ve been to have been clean, beautiful, and the teachers are welcoming and helpful. 100% owe my current love of yoga to them.

Now that I'm doing online videos instead of classes, if there's a move that's not happening that day, I'll just substitute a favorite pose or something that I know works the same muscles. I think if you're making an effort to keep going it doesn't matter if you can't get into all the poses at this point in your practice.

To be safe in your yoga journey I highly recommend finding an instructor who can work with you privately who has a strong knowledge of anatomy. If that's not an option I recommend YogaGlo. I'm an instructor in CO and study with Amy Ippoliti and she's absolutely brilliant. She is incredibly knowledgeable has tons of classes on YogaGlo for beginners especially. Props are also an incredible resource but don't feel you have to spend a ton of money on stuff.

An old fabric belt works just as well as a yoga strap, although I would splurge on some cork blocks since they are very stable. Building off that, modifications are everything! Beginning yoga can sometimes be very frustrating especially watching videos and not being able to do everything or ask questions. Don't be discouraged. Do the best you can, reach your limit, and then back off. Listening to your body is going to be your best asset. Feeling a stretch is good, feeling any pain or tingling is not and could cause damage. Lastly, have fun, stay positive, practice often, and know this community is always here for you!

Learning yoga at a studio vs. learning yoga at home

I would suggest the following tips for at home and in studio practice

Studio

Not all studios are created equal. Generally the bigger the class, the less individual attention the instructor can provide. In crowded classes there is also less space to move around and more opportunities to become distracted. In that regard I would recommend going to a studio that does just yoga (not a gym) and if possible to attend during times there are less people around (ex: before 8am and before 5pm). You will have more opportunities for individual adjustments that way. I remember I attended class once at 4pm on a Sunday. There were only 2 people there and I got some awesome 1 on 1 adjustments, it felt like I booked a private session!

You can start off with classes at your local yoga center, but I'd recommend avoiding Bikram Yoga as it puts unnecessary stress on your body, and after much practice, you can eventually begin Ashtanga Yoga, which is a more intensive and complex form of yoga, but is ultimately more rewarding. Don't forget that it's not really about the poses, but the mind, and keeping yourself grounded. I found that yoga, for me, works in the opposite way of cannabis, where my mind becomes focused and reaches what I feel is my center, while cannabis expands and scatters my mind, so I'd suggest avoiding any cannabis use in your lifestyle to make the most of the benefits of yoga.

Home

I first started doing yoga at home using the video from P90X . It was convenient and at the time I was too self conscious to step into a studio. To make the most of your home practice you'll want to minimize distractions as much at possible. Turn off your phone, alarms and electronic devices. Clean up the area that you are practicing in so your mind doesn't wander to the unmade bed or dirty dishes. Dim the lights or slightly close the blinds. Creating an environment free of distraction is important no matter where and when you practice.

I like to do online videos in the morning, short 30 minute classes that get me ready for the day and are fairly easy and I can add my own poses and practice handstands and stuff at the end. But when I really want to deepen my practice and learn new stuff, I will go to class!

What yoga apps do you recommend?

Theres an app called "Yoga Studio" that costs $5, if you're interested. It has tons of classes on there of different lengths, styles, and difficulty. It's a good way to get introduced to yoga, I think it's completely worth it. It's the first app I've ever purchased.

There's this another great phone app called GAINYoga that I've been using for years. It helps you build a complete routine. It's free and you can specify how long/difficult the workout is. It's super personalized; I'd highly recommend it.

What yoga Youtube channels do you recommend?

The videos by Adriene are some of the best resources I would consider.

I personally like Do Yoga With Me a lot, they have a very nice beginners program and the instruction is spot on. Especially for beginners.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDQNqZMv1V0

I love Yoga with Kassandra. Yin yoga is my absolute favorite and she has tons of videos.

Yoga4You with Anneriek is solid, too, but she doesn't seem to upload very often. I like her yoga for sacrum!

And Ekhart yoga. I don't like the ambiance of her videos because they're in a very set-like studio but she's great with instruction. One of the first, and now favorites that I use as well.

How did you start yoga and why do you keep practicing?

Years ago, I began experimenting with meditation, although I don't remember why; I have always been a curious cat. Shortly after I began that practice a friend introduced me to Paramhansa Yogananda and later I was loaned some of his books.

Meanwhile, my meditation practice was a bit boring for me and I knew I was gaining some depth into the practice or should I say, myself. I wanted to meditate for longer periods of time yet I lacked the physical ability to do so. I realized it would be helpful to practice ashtanga.

Some years later, I was introduced to Mooji. While listening to one his live satsangs, I noticed he always kept two pictures next to his table; I came to find out later that one picture was of Papaji and the other, Sri Ramana Maharshi. Sri Ramana's eyes in the picture emanated something that attracted me to him. I then found one of his most prized works for his disciplines, "Nan Yar?" or "Who am I?". In it he described yamas and niyamas.

That was the beginning of my yoga practice - not only ashtanga, but yoga as I understand it be the whole, laid out in a paragraph's worth of text. Sri Ramana's method was self-inquiry, which does not require much ashtanga; in fact, one might deduce that no ashtanga is required, but that is another discussion.

I am extremely careful when dealing with the philosophy of things after reading something Swami Satyananda Saraswati wrote in his book, "A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya." He writes that the philosophical aspect of some things can easily be absorbed by the mind as falsely having realized a truth. The intellectual-mind will absorb many pieces of information, but that does not mean an ounce of wisdom is gained. So, I am cautious when dealing with the philosophical or should I say, psychological mind. Sri Ramana was not a huge fan of philosophies, and I follow his methods very closely.

The reason why I continue my practice is very simple. As time goes by, I feel less and less "doing" and more more into "flow" while also being it. I used to be obsessed with developing perfect posture since some of my friends have them (they were born with it) and I thought it was the most awesome thing ever. So now I keep it simple; I don't analyze my experiences so much anymore, I'm more chill and just doing what feels good.

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