Explore, then refine
Many people are interested in beginning a yoga practice because they’ve heard of its health benefits. Others have taken a few classes, but aren’t sure what to do next. I’ve been practicing yoga semi-consistently for over a decade. I’ve done in-person classes and workshops, worked privately with yoga therapists, and used a streaming service. I like yoga because it builds functional strength, improves balance, and moves my joints through their full range of motion. All of that keeps my body healthy and will help me age more gracefully.
Notice I didn’t mention flexibility. I’m not particularly flexible, so if you’re like me, don’t worry about it. The important thing is to figure out what you’re looking for and what you’re likely to enjoy. My practice has changed significantly over time, as I let go of what I thought I “should” be doing (vinyasa flow in a hot room, arm balances, being able to touch my toes), and settled into what I enjoy. For me, that means 20-30 minutes a few times a week at home in my bedroom–I like the quiet. I usually prefer a slower pace, with just enough effort to keep things interesting.
Below I’ve listed my take on the various styles of yoga, as well as good jumping off places depending on your individual needs.
Vinyasa: A faster pace style, more physically demanding, poses are linked together in order to “flow”. What I do when I want to pep myself up or get a “workout”.
Hatha: A catch all term, but usually means a slower moving class where each pose is done separately and held longer. This is my go-to style.
Power yoga: To me, a lot like vinyasa. You run through pretty much the same sequences, with slight variations, at each class. The name says it all. I did more of this when I was younger and felt a stronger desire to push myself physically.
Yin Yoga: Very, very slow pace, fewer poses, mostly seated. Some people find this deeply relaxing. I have never been able to enjoy it as my hamstrings are so tight that seated poses are very challenging for me.
Restorative Yoga: Uses a lot of props, as the body is supported in poses that are held for long periods of time. When I worked with a yoga therapist, we would often incorporate restorative poses at the end of a session. I find this type of yoga most helpful when I’m sick or going through a period of intense stress. It’s like being held while doing yoga.
Kundalini yoga: In my experience, classes tend to focus on “awakening” a different chakra. There might be singing, chanting, mudras, etc. Some people love it, and if you’re interested in energy work this might be perfect for you.
If you are completely new to yoga and feel intimidated
If you want to get your feet wet in the privacy of your own home, I know many people who love “Yoga with Adriene” on YouTube. Her style of yoga is low key. She’s reassuring to the point that she is often petting her dog, which some people love. Plus, the content is free. The videos are organized into various “30 Day Challenges”. If you are the kind of person who loves to set resolutions and start programs, you will likely enjoy this. Just remember that it’s fine if your 30 day challenge takes 90 days. I think Yoga with Adriene is like doing yoga with a new best friend.
The streaming service I like is glo.com. It’s my preferred way of doing yoga. I love that you can sort by style, intensity level, length of time, teacher, etc. They also have several “Beginning Your Yoga Journey” series of classes to get you started. The appeal of Glo is really the quality of their teachers. My favorites are Gustavo Padron, Jason Crandall, Marc Holtzman, and Dice IIda Klein. This is a good place to start if you have a semi-regular exercise routine already and you’re looking to add some yoga to the mix.
If you’re scared you might hurt yourself (which can and does happen), then start with a few private sessions before deciding what to do next. The person I recommend is Kathy Davis of Yoga Elements. She is trained in Iyengar Yoga, which focuses heavily on proper alignment to maximize the health benefits of the pose and minimize the risk of injury. Kathy is a great teacher who knows how to modify poses to meet the student’s needs.
If you need accountability or a more social experience
Many people are more likely to stick with something if there is a supportive peer environment. They find it more enjoyable to do things in a group setting, or they want a teacher present, but don’t need as much one-on-one attention.
I have many patients who swear by the yoga classes at the YMCA. As with everything at the Y, the “come as you are” vibe is welcoming. I always enjoy participating in a class with people of mixed ages and abilities. It’s humbling and inspiring.
If you’ve heard of “hot yoga” and want to give it a try, 95 Yoga House is a good option. Take a few of their “Foundations” classes first. Power yoga is no joke, and you’re at greater risk for hurting yourself trying to match the more experienced person next to you. Many people love the heat of these classes during the long winter months.
Remember, for those of you who are fit and like to push yourself, be careful. Injuries from yoga are all too common, especially if you are doing a style that has a lot of repetition. Be careful of connective tissue injuries. Those can take several months or more to heal. It’s easy to get excited and hooked on yoga, but unless you are in your early 20s, I would not recommend going to a class more than twice a week for at least a month. I’ve had too many people end up in my office with an injury from doing too much, too quickly.
If you’ve heard about Aryuveda and are are curious to learn more
Have you taken an online dosha quiz and found out that you’re a pitta-vatta and now you’re wondering what that means and what you’re supposed to do about it? Aryuvedic medicine has a lot in common with Traditional Chinese Medicine. Both healing traditions focus on promoting health through understanding and addressing constitutional tendencies, as well as living in harmony with the seasons.
There are two great yoga teachers on glo.com who are also Aryuvedic practitioners: Marc Holtzman and Felicia Tomasko. They have both classes and programs with an Aryuvedic focus.
If you have physical limitations, but are trying your best to stay active
I work with many people who have experienced a significant injury or illness, so a yoga practice needs to be tailored to their specific situation. Whether it’s a back injury, fibromyalgia, cancer, or something else, sometimes bad things happen to us. Those are often the times when we need the most support. Working one-on-one with a yoga teacher or yoga therapist can be very helpful for body, mind and spirit. The person I recommend (and who I’ve worked with myself at times) is Dana Doke Prahl. Dana will design an effective, personalized yoga routine for you, no matter how limited you may feel yourself to be. She’s also great at teaching pranayama, which is a yoga word for breath work. Changing the way we breathe is one of the most powerful ways to reset the nervous system. It’s helpful for any illness that is exacerbated by stress, which is pretty much every illness.
If you’re interested in a home practice or it’s difficult to find time for a class
I love practicing at home, but it does require a different mindset. One of the things that often trips people up is the belief that yoga won’t “count” unless the experience is exactly like what you would find in a class. Going to a great 60 minute yoga class is like going out for an expensive meal in a restaurant—it’s enjoyable, you take your time, and there’s no way that any of us could recreate that at home, day after day. My home practice is like the food I cook during the week—relatively easy and simple to prepare, just tasty enough that I’m not bored.
I’m happy that I found glo.com because I can vary my practice depending on my mood. Some days I have 30 minutes and I’m feeling strong. I might do a vinyasa flow or a dreaded core workout. Some days I’m in a mood and I feel relieved and understood that I can do a “10 poses in 10 minutes class”. There are classes to do when you’re not sleeping well, when you’re sick, if you’re trying to settle yourself before a stressful event, if you want to smile and celebrate. I like the variety, though most days I come back to my favorite hatha classes with Jason Crandall.
If you’re bored and need to freshen things up, or if you haven’t practiced in awhile and need to start again
I get thrown off track all the time. That’s why I say I’ve been practicing yoga “semi-consistently” for many years. Below are the things I do when I need to restart.
Pick a different teacher for awhile. That may mean I pick a new teacher on glo.com, or go to an in-person class. Typically I will quickly revert to my favorite Jason Crandall classes or a variation of the routines my yoga therapist gave to me years ago, but the novelty of a new teacher or a new setting is what I need to get started again.
Sign up for a workshop. Sometimes I’m bored and need to re-engage with yoga intellectually. I’ve done online workshops on yoga and anatomy, yoga nidra, yoga and aryuveda, etc. I’ve also done in-person workshops, mostly things like refining arm balances, inversions, etc. These can be hit or miss—some have been great and some I’ve felt the teacher was asking students to do things that were risky. No matter the outcome of the class, it got me fired up again.
When I go way off track, I email my yoga therapist, who is now in Hawaii, and ask if we can do a Skype session. Sometimes I need another person to take care of me.
Finally, I remind myself that this doesn’t need to be complicated—I just need to move. I roll out my mat, turn on some music, set a timer for 20 minutes, and trust myself enough to do whatever feels good in that moment.