I first began practicing yoga January 2019. My goal was just to practice to become flexible. That's all I cared about. I want to do a split. When I started I could just barely touch my toes so successfully doing a split was very far into the future. I started out by following a few yogis on social media. They were mainly women who have been practicing for 10 years or so. You know the ones who post the beautiful handstands and legs behind their head poses. Normally these types of yoga posts would discourage someone from feeling comfortable to start a practice, but for me it served as major inspiration. I knew deep down that they had to start somewhere to be able to achieve the poses we envy.
What is Vinyasa Flow?
There are many different types of yoga. I started with Vinyasa flow yoga classes. It's the style that flows as a workout and incorporates a breath to pose style that can be done fast-paced for intermediate yogis and even very slow for beginners. Each movement is a synchronised breath. Each movement in a series is cued by an inhale or an exhale of the breath. This does, however, take time to master. 1 year later and I feel like I've gotten the hang of what this actually means. And this is the beauty of yoga; it's about your journey and what you're learning about yourself and your body on your way to touching your toes.
Once I started vinyasa classes the obsession with some of those extreme poses quickly left my mind. Vinyasa flow classes helped me think more about strength, listening to my body with aches, pains, and even the progression with managing my breathing with each pose.
If you want to start taking yoga but no idea where to begin, I suggest practicing Sun Salutation A, which I included below. This sequence will be the most practiced sequence you will do in your journey. For every 1 hr vinyasa class I've taken, Sun Salutation A is probably done 10-15 times. It is very simple to learn so I hope I haven't lost any of you yet.
I don't have an empty, spacious spare room to practice yoga with a ton of space or any fancy recording equipment. This is me; in my living room, slid the coffee table out the way, and stuck my phone in our flower pot. I'm tall with lanky long legs so space is already limited for someone like me, but I really try to make it work. I say this to let you know you don't need a ton of space or flashy things to accomplish a simple sun salutation if you are interested in starting a yoga practice. Sometimes, I don't even use my mat. Just show up with a positive mindset and focus on what you want to achieve today.
In this video I have a recap of one of the Democratic Presidential Debates playing in the background. Feel free to listen to any music or flow while you watch TV.
Mountain pose: Stand with feet hip width apart. The goal is to stand tall, lengthen your spine, and stand up straight. Find your center, which means try to avoid any swaying.
Open your arms and your heart (chest) to the sun. Inhale as you sweep your arms to the sky and take a small, gentle stretch back.
As you fall forward and bend, take your exhale. Bend your knees a little if that's what your body is telling you to do. You can stay in the forward fold as long as you need to.
Inhale and step your foot back into a low lunge. You can stay here and get deep into the lunge to really stretch your hips, inner thigh muscles, and hamstrings. This lunge will be a key component in achieving splits later in your practice.
Fifth Position (pictured)
Bring your feet to meet each other in a high plank. Stay here for 20 seconds or more. Core strength is important and this pose will help you get started with learning how to "engage your core" during physical activities. This is something that was a challenge to me for a long time.
Chatarunga, my favorite pose. From plank, exhale and bend your arms as if going for a push up.
**Challenge 1 is not letting your legs touch the ground. Now you have your shoulders, core, and legs engaged in this pose. I feel chatarunga is the basis of yoga. Doing chatarunga daily will aid in building the muscles needed to improve in your yoga practice.
**If chatarunga is too hard for you at the moment, don't worry! There is another way to achieve the same thing. Modifying poses to what fits you and your body at the moment is another great part of yoga and is an example of how we are listening to our bodies
Shown below is "Knees, Chest, Chin to the Ground" (that's typically what's said in a yoga class for the modification)
** Keep your elbows tucked in. No flappy arms. The movement is still similar to chaturanga, but instead of holding a full plank to push-up, it's a plank to modified push-up. So knees hit the ground first, followed by tucked elbows, drop your chest to the ground and finish with your chin.
Then continue to perform the rest of the flow.
Seventh Position (pictured)
Upward facing dog: so we all know downward facing dog (shown in next step) but "up dog" is the reverse.
Inhale as you draw your chest forward and straighten your arms. Push your shoulders back and lift your heart to the sky. Tuck your toes so you are pressing on the tops of your feet lifting your thighs off the floor and fully engaging your leg muscles. Keep your elbows tucked in toward your sides. This will feel really weird and maybe a little hard at first because you are engaging so many muscles at once building up your body's strength.
Downward facing dog: Exhale as you lift your hips up, untuck your toes, and balance on your hands and feet in an upside down U shape. Your heels do not need to touch the ground. Engage your belly and push your sit bones toward the sky. Stay here for five breaths or more.
Shown below is step by step to get to downward facing dog.
Slide 1, lift up your legs and hips.
Slide 2, fully in downward facing dog.
Slide 3 is a drill you can do to stretch your achilles. Pedal each foot one by one and stretch down through your heels.
The end goal is to have your feet flat on the ground while standing in down dog.
From downward dog, take the same leg you started with and step forward back into lunge as discussed in step 4. Bring your second leg to meet at the top of your mat, take a deep forward fold again, and stand up straight in mountain pose, back where we started.
***Repeat the sequence from beginning to end with the next leg. If you started your lunge with your right leg, end with your right leg, then repeat with your left.
This vinyasa flow sequence will help you get warmed up as a stretch in the morning, warmed up before weight training, even a solid stretch after a long day sitting at a desk. It's short and simple enough you can repeat as many times as you like. Remember you can hold each position for as long as you like, as well. Hold your planks for 20 seconds, hold each post for 5 breaths or more.
Always remember to have fun with it. Nothing in this beginning step should get you discouraged to not want to learn more! No matter, age, height, weight, flexibility. I follow yogis who started their practices at age 50 and are still going! (i.e. Susan Bishop and Rika Henry)
Simple stretching helps in blood circulation and strengthening your heart. You don't have to have a goal of doing crazy handstands either. Your goal can simply be to touch your toes successfully or to just add a small amount of physical activity to your every day routine.
Whatever it is, I hope this guide helps!