A Beginner's Guide to Yoga

A Beginner's Guide to Yoga

By: Lisa Greenbaum, E-RYT 500 PUR Yoga Teacher

So many have thought about doing Yoga but just don’t know where to start. Completely understandable as there seems to be a zillion teachers and programs all saying different things. On top of that add on the zillion excuses that we can come up with as to why we actually haven’t tried, the “I’m not flexible enough” or “I don’t want to look silly” etc.. But listen, Yoga has been around for thousands of years, gaining popularity in the western world over the last twenty; there must be something to this. One very big secret: everyone can touch their toes, you just need to bend your knees enough!

What I often say to my students is that Yoga finds you when you need it the most. Along with that, Yoga brings us back to our bodies. When we step on to our mat, before anything else happens, we are feeling our bare feet, gently flexing our muscles, rolling out our shoulders or neck a little bit. We are already stepping outside of our day and back in to our body. When we start to breathe a little deeper in and out of our nose, a calming sensation will immediately come over us and we will find ourselves deeply rooted into the present. This sensation, almost like coming home; this feeling, no movement required, THIS is why so many people continue to come back to their mats again and again.

The first time I practiced yoga I was bored out of my mind, I will fully admit it. Yet something drew me back so I could try again. Once I understood and really started to feel the effort needed by my body to hold the poses the practice began to change for me. Most general yoga poses such as Warrior 1 or Warrior 2 are in essence very easy for most people to hold, it’s the dynamic tension that is often missing. Actually contracting our muscles and creating the work inside the pose, that is where the real heart of the practice is.

When to breathe? Just always, Yoga breathing is meant to easily flow in and out throughout the practice. So let go of the worry as to when we should inhale or exhale and just allow your breath to feel natural. Generally as this happens we will find that we will want to inhale as we open up into poses or expand our chests, and then exhale as we close in or relax down into a stretch. In the Yoga Sutras, the oldest known written book on Yoga Philosophy there is one line only about the physical practice of yoga, which is that all poses should be steady and comfortable. Breath is the best way to measure this. If we can breathe comfortably than our pose will be comfortable. If our breath is labored or shallow chances are that our pose is also feeling strained and we should adjust as needed.

Of all the different styles out there, start with one that looks appealing. If you love a challenging workout try a Vinyasa flow. If you are looking for precision of postures to build strength try Iyengar or a Mobility and Strength Class. If you prefer something calmer or quieter try Yin Yoga or Restorative. Check out our list of descriptions for all of our classes HERE including the different levels offered and then read about our Teachers HERE. Most Yoga offered is for all levels to appeal to everyone. The word Hatha refers to all physical Yoga and often in a class format to poses separated by either Mountain Pose (standing still) or Child’s Pose (resting on the floor). The word Vinyasa refers to a flowing style of Yoga and is taught with poses joined together generally by a Plank, Crocodile (held tricep push-up) Cobra (small back extension) and linked back to Child’s Pose or Downward Dog.

When it comes to alignment for the poses themselves, and this is for all poses, it is most important to listen to our own bodies. We know our bodies best. As we practice Yoga more and more we will start to become more in tune with the subtle nuances and shifts in how we feel from day to day, but ultimately we are in charge of our own practice. Trusting ourselves and listening to the cues from our teachers is an important way to avoid injury.

Finally, when it comes to trying Yoga, try more than once. Try a few different styles and teachers until you find the right fit for you. In any city you will find women only, men only, beginners classes, athletic classes, even naked Yoga – something for everyone! But just like figuring out your favourite cardio workout, it might take some time, so have patience in the process.

We are only as strong as we are flexible. We should be working on our flexibility/stretching 4-7 times per week (that’s pretty much everyday) so adding Yoga is a very easy solution to this. Yoga alternates stretching and strengthening in every pose through the class. With a regular practice, your range of motion will improve. Along with that your balance, coordination, clarity of thoughts, more restful sleep, more energy throughout the day, less stress and a generally calmer and more focused demeanor. The benefits to Yoga are endless, what are you waiting for?

PS: Here’s what some of the credentials mean for Yoga Teachers: 200 hours (200 hours of training) 500 hours (500 hours of training) RYT is Registered Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance, E-RYT is Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (minimum of 1000-2000 of teaching hours) C-IAYT is Certified with International Association of Yoga Therapists.


What Does It Take to Stay Mentally Healthy?

What Does It Take to Stay Mentally Healthy?

A strong mind doesn’t come freely. Maintaining good mental health requires effort, especially if you’re predisposed to mental illness or have other health conditions. If you’re looking to improve your mental well-being, here are three key steps to take.


Manage Mental Health

Whether you have a history of mental illness or not, it’s important to care for your mental health. At the most basic level, that means taking care of your physical health through diet, exercise, and sleep, as well as developing strategies to minimize and manage stress. As tempting as it is to relax on the couch when you’ve had a bad day, going for a walk, cooking a healthy dinner, connecting with friends, or completing another act of self-care can improve your mood, energy and motivation.

For some people, mental health is more complicated. If you have a mental illness, self-care probably isn’t enough to quell the symptoms. Instead, a healthful lifestyle and self-management strategies should be paired with treatment from a mental health provider.

Physical conditions can also affect mental health. As The Mighty discusses, chronic health conditions can lead to depression and anxiety. For some people, the physical and mental anguish is enough to lead to suicide. If you’re struggling with an illness or chronic pain, it’s important to seek treatment so the symptoms don’t bleed over into your mental health.


Limit Drugs and Alcohol

Drugs and alcohol can be dangerous for those with mental illness — and those without. As the addiction treatment center Swift River points out, "Mental health issues such as anxiety, trauma and depression often co-occur with drug and alcohol addiction." The reason is twofold: People with a mental health condition may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of self-medicating their condition. This maladaptive coping mechanism not only stops people from getting appropriate treatment, but also exacerbates mental illness symptoms. Additionally, substance abuse can contribute to mental health problems; drug and alcohol abuse can trigger dormant mental illnesses, and the cycle of addiction can lead to trauma and mood disorders.

The interaction of mental illness and substance abuse has another dangerous side effect: suicide. According to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, alcohol and drug abuse are the second greatest risk factor for suicide, and 90 percent of people who commit suicide have a mental illness, a substance use disorder, or both.


Know When it’s Time for Help

Staying mentally healthy means knowing when it’s time to ask for help.

If you’re living with a physical health condition that affects your daily life and causes you mental distress, seek treatment from a health care professional. Even if you’re already under treatment, your doctor can suggest self-management strategies to improve your quality of life.

If drugs and alcohol are interfering with everyday life, find help overcoming your addiction. Using drugs and alcohol to escape problems, neglecting other responsibilities in favor of using, and not feeling like yourself unless under the influence are some of the signs of a substance use disorder.

If you’re living with symptoms of depression, anxiety or another mental illness, look for help from a mental health practitioner. Even if you don’t have a mental illness, a doctor can help identify strategies to manage stress and negative emotions. If your depressive symptoms feel overwhelming and you’re thinking about hurting yourself, reach out to a crisis center. You can’t afford to ignore the warning signs of suicide.


Good mental health is never a sure thing. Even if you’re mentally healthy today, you could be putting your wellness at risk if you’re not doing these three things. The good news? Basic mental health self-management is actually quite simple, and when it gets hard, there’s help available.


Article provided by Melissa Howard