A Beginner’s Dive into Yoga and Meditation

The yoga world can appear really intimidating. Modern media depicts thin, fit practitioners with their ankles behind their ears and balancing on their heads. I get why a lot of people feel like they “can’t” do yoga! But that’s unfortunate, because the physical strength is such a small part of this greater lineage of practices for your body and your mind. I’ve been practicing for over five years and I still struggle with headstands! That doesn’t mean you can’t try yoga.

But I thought I would help and do a little demystify-ing for y’all.

This is a brief overview of different yoga practices (both meditation and physical) and some resources to help you get started. If you have any questions or struggles at all feel free to reach out to me! Or come to some of my all-levels classes if you’re based out of New Orleans. I would love to practice with you. 🙂

Happy diving, young yogis!

Asana

yoga New Orleans

Asana is the name for the physical practice of yoga – moving your body around the mat. It’s what we most commonly associate with the practice of yoga in the West. This is meant to be a form of meditative movement. It gives the body time to slow down ~ depending on the pace of your practice ~ and increases strength and flexibility. Try some different styles of asana and see which one works best for you.

Also keep in mind that different teachers will all have their own unique style. If something doesn’t feel right to you at first, branch out and see if something else works better!

Here are some common styles of yoga asana:

Vinyasa

Vinyasa means “to place in a special way.” Vinyasa classes are usually set to a faster pace and focus on fluid movements with smooth transitions. They’ll include common sequences like sun salutations, and other well-known yoga poses. Vinyasa classes are great if you want to switch up your practice every day and work on gaining strength. You focus on linking your breath to your movement, keeping energetic movement and working through creative sequences. There will also often be time to play with fun and unique postures!

Vinyasa videos for home practice:


Ashtanga

A more rigorous style of asana that was brought to the west by famed teacher Pattabhi Jois in the 1970s. It’s similar to vinyasa in that the movement is linked with the breath, but different because you perform the exact same postures in the exact same sequence every time. It’s called the “eight-limbed” path of yoga and is based of the ancient yogic texts and teachings.

It’s very physically demanding and builds A LOT of strength and dedication. Teachers can help you get acclimated to the sequence and build your practice from there. You may see some Ashtanga classed labeled Mysore Style. This means there is a teacher present to help with alignments, but there are NO verbal cues. You’re on your own with your breath and the sequence, but most studios will have printed “cheat sheets” of the sequence to help beginners. It’s a wonderfully meditative practice and can be very invigorating if practiced regularly. The series starts with five sun salutations. Just start there, move with your breath, and see how your body feels.

Ashtanga videos for home practice:


Yin

Yin yoga is much slower paced style of yoga. It’s a meditative practice that has you sitting in positions for 3 – 5 minutes at a time. In an hour-long yin class, you’ll probably only get to about 7 or 8 poses! It involves stretching the deeper connective tissues (fascia) of the body in supported poses on your back or seated. It’s like restorative (below) in many aspects, but yin requires a bit more muscular energy. While restorative yoga makes you feel like you’re melting in to a padded cloud, it’s not uncommon to come in to a Yin posture and think: “Ow!” Many poses are slightly uncomfortable at first. The practice comes when we can detach ourselves from the mind, focus on our breath, soften the edges of our body and relax into the shape.

Yin videos for home practice:


Restorative

Restorative’s focus is winding down and relaxing. It’s another style that spends more time in fewer poses throughout the class. Lots of props are used to help you sink deeper into each pose and into relaxation. For this reason, it’s difficult to practice at home unless you have an arsenal of awesome yoga props. It’s a great way to soothe the nerves and check back in with the body. Feeling like you need a midday nap? Maybe look for a nearby restorative yoga class instead! It’s just as refreshing, and a lot better for your sanity

Restorative videos for home practice:


Anusara

Anusara is a little newer to the yoga-game than most, so it’s often not as heard of. It was developed in the late 90’s as a way to help students experience their own intrinsic goodness. It’s five core values are called the Universal Principles of Alignment, and include:

• Open to grace (set your foundation)
• Engage muscular energy
• Inner spirals (think rotating your thighs inward in downward facing dog)
• Outer spirals (think rolling shoulders down on to back)
• Organic expansion (YOUR best expression of the pose)

For these reasons, Anusara classes are wonderful for alignment-based instruction, and will often help you explore some of your favorite poses in a new way.

Anusara videos for home practice:


Kundalini

Kundalini gets crazy! It’s a powerful, spiritually driven form of asana. Be prepared for lots of chanting, maybe some singing, and lots of energetic movements. Its focus is to release the “kundalini energy” that is coiled around your lower spine, like a snake. For this reason there’s usually a lot of core work, advanced breathing practices (pranayama), and fast-moving, invigorating postures.

Be prepared to have everything you thought you knew about yoga turned upside down if you take a kundalini class. With all that being said they’re totally rejuvenating! If you’re down for some meditation and mantra repetition, it’s a wonderful way to tap in to some of the deeper-set energies in the body.

Kundalini videos for home practice:


Pranayama

This is the second branch of the eight-fold path of yoga (as lined out by the defining text of yoga: The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali) Pranayama deals mainly with the breath and using that to help strengthen and manipulate the prana or energy of the body.

Pranayama was considered so powerful by the ancient yogis that it often wasn’t taught until a student had fully “mastered” the other steps on the path of yoga. We’re a little more gracious now, and pranayama is often included if you go to an asana class as well. There’s definitely an ocean of pranayama exercises to explore, but here are just a few helpful, common ones for your use, each with a video to help you try it out.

Alternate Nostril Breathing: Nadi Shodhana
Clears energy blocks from the body, calms the mind, balances the yin and yang energies.

Three Part Breathing: Dirga
Increase oxygen supply, lower stress, relieve tension

Breath of Bee: Brahmari
Stimulates parasympathetic nervous system, reduces stress, it’s fun!

Victorious Breath: Ujjayi
Both energizing and relaxing, sends fresh oxygen out to the body and gives a little boost of energy

Meditation

This is the crown jewel of our yoga practice! All our asana practice is meant for our mind and our meditation. It’s totally normal to feel intimidated at first! You may feel like you’re “not doing it right” or that it’s “not working,” but don’t worry! The best way to get started is to use guided meditations and app timers to help you along.

My favorite app is Insight Timer. It has thousands of guided meditations, timers and ambient tracks to meditate to all for free. Other popular choices are Headspace, Calm and Simple Habit. But there are tons! Look around and find what works best for you.

Find yourself in a quiet place where you can be relatively undisturbed. Place a blanket or a pillow beneath your sitting bones to help lift you up out of your hips. Settle your body. Close your eyes. Focus on your breath. Notice the cool inhales on the inside of the nose, and the warm exhales through the back of your throat. Notice the thoughts as they come up, but try to not let yourself run away with them. See if you can release them with the breath, then come back to a soft focus inward. Keep breathing!

I hope you feel confident in taking some of these practices with you and applying them in your daily lives. Even 10 minutes a day can make a huge difference in your emotional and mental health. Just keep trying 😊

 

Book Recommendations

Meditation for the Love of It by Sally Kempton
Yoga Beyond Belief by Ganga White
The Four Chapters on Freedom
The Yamas and Niyamas by Deborah Adele
Living Your Yoga by Judith Lasater
Yoga: the Spirit and Practice of Moving Through Stillness by Eric Schiffman

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