Starting a regular group yoga practice there are three typical results:
- Improved movement, mobility and ease that comes quickly and continues to expand;
- Some gains but hitting a sticking point (most of the population are here); and lastly,
- Discomfort, pain and even injury (ouch!).
Why the range of results even though you are all doing the “same” thing?
Many yoga postures, including some commonly used in classes’ labelled “beginner,” are complex. They challenge the body in all three planes of motion (side to side, twisting and front to back) and require strength, stability as well as mobility. For the average person this is too much to ask of their body to start. Forcing yourself into what you believe the postures “should look like” will not help you…and could actually hurt you. Unfortunately, people in first world countries often lead sedentary lives and there is truth to the saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it”.
To become more mobile you have to respect your starting point and move from there, not try to jump to the end point (such as full expression of lotus!). Gaining awareness and strength from your starting point might not reflect the yoga practice you envisioned but remind yourself why you are in class in the first place (for instance to increase your mobility and NOT get hurt) and that can give you the motivation to restrain yourself.
When you move in this respectful way your body WILL get stronger and more mobile, giving you the results you want.
Do you want to stay within your current limits? Here are some pointers:
- Get clearance from your doctor to do yoga, especially if you have had recent surgeries or injuries or have been sedentary for a while.
- Choose an instructor with a good reputation and education to back up their authority to teach (unfortunately, yoga teachers are not required to have a standardized level of knowledge before they start teaching). Don’t be shy about asking for this information. After all, you demand this of other professionals in your life, why not your yoga instructor? Just because a yoga instructor is uber-mobile (aka flexible) doesn’t mean they “know their stuff”.
- Ultimately you are responsible for yourself. Take this responsibility seriously. Only you can feel your experience and know what simply doesn’t feel right. Don’t let anyone take you to a place you don’t want to go or you don’t feel is appropriate. Pushing yourself will set you back, not move you forward. After your class you should feel good, maybe a bit tired depending on the style of yoga, but good, not beaten up. The following indicators could mean you’re pushing beyond your limits:
- Breath holding;
- Muscle tension;
- Clicking or popping of joints;
- Jaw clenching;
- Rigidity; or
- Moving or recruiting muscles or joints not required for the posture, something I call compensations. A practiced teacher can spot this quickly and can guide you to where you need to go.
- Don’t worry about trying to look like the person on the mat next to you or your instructor. If you can’t easily move to where the class is going, reduce your range of motion or ask the instructor for a variation. Good instructors will cue posture variations usually from the most accessible to the least, empowering students to choose what’s right for them.
Following the above guidelines will get you stronger and more mobile by moving the way your body is designed to move and respecting the “whoa” signal whenever it pops up.
If this sounds foreign to you and you are unsure of where to start, try a private yoga session. I offer private yoga in Kimberley and Calgary. These sessions are all about you and you walk away with a written personalized program. These sessions will allow you to progress quickly and educate you on how to make good choices in a group yoga class.
Not in Kimberley or Calgary? I am working on it! On-line courses and programs are in the works; stay tuned to my Facebook page or my newsletters to be sure of launch dates.