Many people rave about how much they love practicing yoga, but like any new activity, you may need to work at it a bit to reach that place of total devotion. Adopting a new state of mind and routine, and adjusting to moving your body in new ways, can take some time to get used to. But even five to 10 minutes per day of mindful stretching can brighten your mood, firm up your muscles and soothe you. If you’re like many others who practice yoga, you’ll be craving much more soon enough.
To set yourself up to embrace yoga and enjoy the myriad mind-body benefits it offers, try these tips:
Make Yourself Comfortable
Wear clothes that make you feel your best and allow you to move easily. Avoid shirts and pants that are very baggy as they can flap around while you change positions—that’s OK if it’s comfortable for you, but you may prefer clothing that stays put while you move.
Set the Mood
A yoga class may incorporate music involving bells, drums or chanting, but if you practice at home, feel free to play any tunes that relax you. If you’re surrounded by the pleasant sounds of nature, like a nearby ocean or birds chirping, you may want to use them as your soundtrack—whatever nourishes your spirit. In addition, make sure you’re not too hot or too cold. Open a window if the room is stuffy, or pick a spot in the studio out of the sun if you tend to get overheated.
Start with Simple Poses
Try these popular moves, and then slowly add in more challenging twists and inversions.
- Bridge (strengthens back, buttocks, hips, legs and ankles, stretches the chest, neck, shoulders and spine)
Lie back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Gently walk your shoulders under your body and clasp your hands underneath your buttocks. Press wrists to the mat underneath you, and slowly lift your hips six inches off the floor to breathe deeply for 30 to 60 seconds; repeat as needed. (There’s no need to take this to a full back-bend; just raise your lower half off the mat.)
- Cobra (strengthens the spin, stretches the chest, lungs, shoulders and abdomen, stimulates the abdominal organs)
Lie belly down with your legs extended behind you, and try to touch all of your toes to the mat. Bring your palms to your lower ribs and use your hands and arms to press your chest off the mat. Keep looking ahead (and slightly downward) to stretch the neck, hold your position and breathe for 30 to 60 seconds.
Don’t Do it if it Hurts
One of the basic tenets of yoga is ahimsa, a Sanskrit phrase that translates loosely to “do no harm.” That self-care philosophy starts with you. If you’re in a class and a pose feels uncomfortable, go into a peaceful, restful pose, such as Child’s Pose: Kneel on the floor and sit on your heels, exhale and lay your torso down on top of your thighs. Yoga is about respecting your body, not keeping up with the person on the mat next to you.
Practice as Often as Possible
Even if you can only sneak in a few minutes of deep, from-the-belly breathing and stretching in your office, do it. The more you increase flexibility and cultivate a purifying breath—and reap the benefits—the more likely you will be to call upon these yoga foundations when you need to release tension in your body or calm down.
Keep it Consistent
Although you may only have 10 minutes to practice today, tomorrow is a new opportunity. To get to a place where your routine becomes second nature, aim to practice four days per week, even if you’re short on time.
Give Yourself Time
Allow yourself a few months to develop your relationship with yoga, especially when it comes to the more challenging poses. If classes don’t suit you, try following a yoga DVD, following an online instructional, downloading a yoga app or booking a yoga retreat with a friend. Make yoga a priority, for both your body and your mind, and allow yourself the grace to grow and change with your practice.