(Or what yoga teachers aren’t telling you about finding your personal yoga)
If you are serious about yoga at all, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to develop your own personal yoga practice. It’s even more necessary if you’re a frequent traveler, because you can’t rely on consistency from a studio.
There are only so many yoga teachers and Youtube channels you can follow before you find yourself at the heart of the matter: you need to know your own body to find your best practice.
Yoga should be personalized.
Sri. T Krishnamacharya, the father of modern hatha yoga, emphasized the importance of teaching to the individual. For yoga teachers, this means knowing your students’ posture, susceptibilities, and habits, in order to know the best poses for them. Everyone’s body is different, and every day is different from the day before.
This is why certain “styles” of yoga that have branched off from hatha can be problematic. For styles like ashtanga or Bikram (which is problematic for another, http://nypost.com/2017/05/25/arrest-warrant-issued-for-bikram-yoga-founder/worse reason), students are required to do the same poses in the same order every time. This is not at all tailored to individual bodies and needs. Practicing yoga in this way greatly limits the full range of benefits one can achieve through a yoga practice.
Where group classes fall short
Even for those of us who practice more customizable hatha/vinyasa yoga, if you’re expecting to get as much out of yoga as possible from a big group class in 60-minute segments at your local studio, you’re going to be disappointed.
For beginners, yes, it’s valuable to have a teacher who can look at you and correct your alignment. But in practice, this doesn’t often happen in large studio classes. There are too many people and too many poses to be able to ensure that every student is properly engaged at all times.
The problem is exacerbated if you’re a frequent traveler, visiting new yoga studios in foreign countries. The teacher has no time to get to know you, and may not even speak your same language. Even worse is trying to rely on Youtube yoga channels to help you get your daily practice in.
Only you know you.
When it comes down to it, alignment actually comes from within. It comes from the muscles that you’re engaging and the sensations you’re feeling.
Only you can know that about yourself. Only you can connect that intimately with your body.
So, rather than relying on studios or Youtube, you want to be a person who wakes up early in the morning and flows through your own beautiful, personalized practice before you even have a cup of coffee, perfectly preparing you for your day.
What you need to know to get started.
1. Start with your breath
Connecting with the breath is the most important thing in yoga. Luckily, the breath cues that we use as yoga teachers are actually so intuitive!
Yoga teachers tend to tell you just what pose to do on your inhale, what pose to do on your exhale, without ever mentioning the “why.” If you’ve ever wondered why we inhale for certain poses, and exhale for others, there is actually a really simple way to know.
Inhale. Think of the natural movement of your body when you breathe. When we inhale, the lungs expand, causing the abdomen to rise—collarbones broaden, ribcage expands, belly inflates. So in yoga, we inhale for poses that expand the chest and abdomen, making more room for the lungs, and allowing us to take our fullest possible inhalation. Think: backbends and heart openers.
Exhale. Likewise, for poses that restrict the space in the abdomen (which would make it harder for the lungs to expand), we exhale. By exhaling for poses that compress the chest and abdomen, we effectively help to press the air from the lungs, allowing for the most complete exhalation. So, exhale for forward folds, lateral bends, and twists.
The exhale is also a relaxing breath (think of it like a sigh), so if we’re trying to deepen a stretch or find a restorative pose, we do so on the exhale.
There’s a lot more that goes into yoga breathing that we cover in our Yogatrotter courses.
2. Learn your body
If you want to find your personal yoga practice, you also need to get to know your body intimately. Meditation is probably the best way to do this.
Meditate. “Body scanning” or, in the Buddhist tradition, vipassana, uses a technique that asks you to feel every part of your body, inside and out, physically and energetically, while seated in meditation. We observe every sensation, every sense, every emotion, and every thought as they are felt within the body, without judgment. Through this method, over time, we can become more aware and mindful of our bodies’ needs.
Align. To know your body’s best alignment, you also need to be super aware of your posture. Most chronic pain that we develop outside of yoga is caused by the way we sit or stand—typically hunched over a computer, or squished into airplane seats. When you bring this improper postural alignment to the mat, combined with a failure to engage the proper muscles in poses, you’re not only likely bound for injury, but you aren’t getting the full benefit of a yoga practice. Once we understand the patterns that we habitually form in our lives, we can work to counteract them in our personal yoga practices.
3. Know your asana
Lastly, of course, you need to know some poses (asana), and their benefits to your body. When you have an understanding of the “why” behind each posture, you’ll be able select poses that help the specific problems, pains, and limitations that you’re feeling.
When you commit to a personal yoga practice, in time, your body will intuitively flow into the varied poses that it needs to get you through the day in comfort and peace.
Sign up to receive updates about Yogatrotter’s upcoming Straight Talk Yoga Basics course. It goes way more in depth about all of these topics and more, so you can start building your personal yoga practice right away.