Tips for Beginners
Downward-Facing Dog, Eagle Pose, Garland Pose, Half Moon Pose and Lotus Pose – just to name a few. This is the empowering language of yoga that can leave even a beginner wanting more. More flexibility, more strength, a stronger core, better muscle tone and even more focus. Can one practice really deliver all of this? Yoga Instructor RJ Lisander offered a resounding Yes! when I went to her to find the answers that many women who are curious about yoga want to know. As RJ makes clear in this Q&A, getting started with yoga doesn’t have to be intimidating and it doesn’t have to be scary. Everyone who tries this ancient practice is a beginner at some point, but as most find fairly quickly, yoga is not only good for your body, it’s great for your mind as well. I think RJ put it best when she said, “It helps you find balance between the extremes of everyday life on and off the mat.”
Peppermint Tea & Me: What is yoga?
RJ Lisander: For me personally, it’s been a practice of contrasts – learning how to be strong but vulnerable in different poses, in different styles of yoga and different practices. It has taught me how to understand when I can take a leap of faith and push myself into a pose versus when I just need to relax and let the pose come to me. When I work with clients, I see that yoga really is a way for them to come back into their bodies. They do that through my classes through breath and just practicing poses in a really safe environment, and that gives them a lot of confidence.
PTM: What are some of the different types of yoga?
RJ: In practice, there are lots of types of yoga. We have more vigorous styles of yoga that you would find in the Vinyasa, Hot Yoga or Ashtanga styles. But then you also have more restorative yoga, such as Yin Yoga, that’s really designed more to help the body stretch and slow down. Then there’s kind of everything in between. If you’re looking for a physical workout, you’re probably going to want to go to the more Vinyasa style of yoga. If you’re in pretty good shape and you’re looking to yoga for stress management, you’re probably going to want to find more of a connection with an individual teacher.
PTM: What are the physical benefits of yoga?
RJ: Yoga can help the body relax, so it can lower blood pressure. It can relieve stress and anxiety, it can help people sleep, it can strengthen the body, it can tone the body, it can help with digestion and digestive issues and it can help with anxiety disorders. It all really depends on what you want to bring to the practice.
It can also help you reconnect with your body, and what I mean by that is that when we go through traumas, for example women with breast cancer, and they’ve had a mastectomy, they’ve lost a part of their physical being. The body has to learn how to work with that, and yoga is one of the modalities that can help. That comes more in a private setting.
Yoga just overall helps people to better understand what’s going on with their bodies, and they can really start to make better decisions about what their needs are.
PTM: Where does the strengthening and toning part happen?
RJ: In any pose, you can bring awareness to the muscles and really work and engage them. You can focus on drawing the belly in toward the spine, extending the arms out like they’re pulling away from the body in two different directions. You can focus on standing really firmly on the ground with the legs. That can transform one pose into another that’s a little bit more work.
In the more vigorous styles, such as Vinyasa, Hot Yoga and Power Core yoga, you’re working a little bit more to support the pose, your heart rate is going to raise a little higher because you’re moving a little bit more constantly. There are long holds in some of those classes and some of those poses, so to stay in a pose, you really have to engage. Even in gentle flow classes, you’ll experience that engagement as well. So, the toning isn’t necessarily what you would find in someone who is lifting weights or in a cycling class or doing some kind of CrossFit, or TRX, but the toning is one that can be very subtle but also builds strength within the body.
PTM: What are the mental benefits of yoga?
RJ: Awareness and focus are two of the biggest mental benefits that people experience in a yoga practice. Focus comes from really having to engage the entire body in order to get into a lot of the poses and to go through the movements. From one movement to another, you have to be aware of what your body is doing, and that also creates focus because you’re working on sitting in those poses and bringing awareness to the breath. In some of the more restorative practices, you might sit in a pose for seven minutes. Your mind can start to wander, so you have to focus on your breath and the sensations that you’re feeling in that pose in order to stay present in that moment.
Other benefits include better sleep and just better general body awareness. It helps people to understand that they may have an ache in their shoulder, but it may actually be coming from something that’s happening in the hip. You become better aware of where you hold tension and that allows you to have a better sense of overall wellbeing and provides kind of a space for dialogue where you can start thinking about what’s actually going on with you.
A lot of times, people who practice yoga regularly will experience shifts off the mat – they’re calmer in general when they encounter stressful situations, they’re more aware of the language that they use, so they become more self-aware. Those are some of the biggest benefits of Yoga.
PTM: Who is yoga good for?
RJ: Yoga is good for everybody. It’s really more about understanding what your body needs and the right style of yoga for you. That might change and evolve over time, so it’s a matter of finding the right place to start and letting the practice grow and develop and adapt as your needs change.
Note: As with any new exercise regimen, check with your doctor before beginning yoga – especially if you’ve had an injury or any type of health issue.
PTM: What type of class should beginners look for?
RJ: I would say that for very beginners, looking for a workshop or a series on yoga foundations or basics would be the best place to start. They’re offered pretty much at the beginning of every season at all yoga studios and are generally going to be smaller classes with experienced teachers who are going to walk through the nuances of the poses to really help you understand them. While seasons vary from studio to studio, the beginning is usually August/September, January/February and April/May.
If you’re in really good shape and you have good body awareness, take any class that interests you. If you’re not sure, call the studio and ask for a recommendation or ask a teacher if you can observe to see if a class will work for you.
For people who are older and have a little less movement in their day to day life for whatever reason, going to a slower restorative class would be a really good way to get into a practice. But make sure that the instructor knows if there is a risk of low blood pressure or high blood pressure. The instructor can help set up breath patterns in the class that are good for you and for the whole class.
If going to a class seems scary or intimidating, start with a smaller or private setting so that you can figure out what’s right for you.
PTM: What are the best clothes to wear for yoga?
RJ: Wear what you’re comfortable with. If you’re a beginner, something that’s a little bit more tailored to the body is helpful to the instructor as they’re watching your movements to help with alignment. Be sure your clothing will be out of your way while you practice, so a super baggy t-shirt that falls over your face when you bend forward into downward-facing dog is maybe not the best choice. But something that’s loose enough that you’re comfortable with it that you can tuck in or tie on the side that stays flat is perfectly acceptable. They also have these really cute tapered yoga pants out now in different fabrics that allow the instructor to see the movements but also provide you with some modesty.
If you have your hair pulled back, make sure that it’s pulled high so that when you lay down, you don’t have a barrette, or bun or ponytail or something that’s preventing your neck from going into the right position. You want to wear as few jewelry accessories as possible and try not to wear heavy perfumes because if you sweat, that can be very distracting to others.
PTM: How many times a week would you recommend that yoga be done to get the maximum benefits?
RJ: It depends on your health goals and other things that you’re doing. If you’re doing it three times a week, you’re doing fabulous and you’re going to get maximum benefits from that. If you can get yoga in once a week or 15 minutes a day in a home practice, you’re also going to be ahead of the curve as far as the benefits.
RJ says that the main thing to remember when you’re starting a yoga practice is not to compare yourself with others. The poses will develop as your practice develops, so don’t worry about where you are versus where someone else is. Simply show up on the mat for yourself and do what you can do.
It’s cold and flu season and everyone is at high alert and paying particular attention to cleanliness. Advice on anti-bacterial ointments/sprays and preventative homeopathic concoctions seem to be at a fever pitch high. But, how much attention are we paying to the potential spread of germs when we borrow studio equipment, yoga mats and props?
Local studios and gyms are places where we exercise and sweat and detox. While this is great for the individual the shedding of sweat means the release of toxins and germs. If equipment is not cleaned regularly and properly this can lead to the unwanted spread of germs to the next person on the mat or piece of gym equipment.
In gym and studio environments the potential for infection if a cut or scrape comes in contact with a build-up of live bacteria, such as staphylococci and streptococci, which live on everyone’s skin, and spread infection, cold or flu is real. Foot fungi can survive on equipment for days. So how do you do your part to stay healthy and prevent the potential spread of germs?
Stay home if you are not feeling well: Many studios and gyms are places of healing as well as exercise and fitness development. For those with compromised immune systems unclean environments can truly set their health in a tailspin. Play it safe. Skip a day at the gym and rest. You’ll recover much more quickly from any ailment this way.
Protect yourself, with help: If you are really concerned or have a low immunity to illness and germs, take steps to protect yourself. Let your instructors and studio managers/owners know of your condition(s) and ask them for help in maintaining a clean environment. Bring, when possible, your own yoga mat and props and clean them as instructed by your healthcare professional.
Clean your equipment: Most studios will offer some sort of cleaning supplies for member/participant use. Use them. In fact, it can’t harm you to use the cleaning supply (provided it is natural in derivative) before you start your practice and then after you are done using the equipment or mat.
Cover up: If you have cuts, scrapes, skin rashes or infections please treat them as recommended by a doctor and cover them while working out.
Wear clean clothes: There is always the temptation to skip a load of laundry and double up on a lightly used work out shirt, shorts or socks (and even the occasional post-workout towel). Please don’t. Just don’t. Bacteria can build up and not only compromise your health, but that of those who come in contact with you.
Shower up: As soon as you have the chance, shower after your workout. As mentioned before, workouts mean sweat and detox and those things once released will live on the skin for varying amounts of time until they are washed off. Quick clean ups can prevent illness and rash and their spread.
Wash hands before leaving: In addition to cleaning your equipment, mats and props after use, wash your hands. Washing with a mild soap and warm water will wash away any stray germs and help keep you and those within reach healthy.
Stock up: Look at your gym bag contents. Make sure there is a washable bag to stow shoes and post-workout clothes. Keep some anti-bacterial sanitizer handy. Consider also keeping Thieves oil and a wash cloth at the ready for use on borrowed equipment, just in case cleaning supplies provided by the studio are not natural and you suspect equipment has not been freshly cleaned.
Be informed: If you are not sure of the cleaning routine and schedule for your studio/gym, ask. Most instructors will ask for equipment, mats and props to be cleaned after use. Many studios have daily cleaning routines and deeper weekly cleaning schedules as well.
© 2017-2018 Lotus Seed Meditations and RJ Lisander All Rights Reserved
Can’t wait for 2017 to be done and over? If I’m being totally honest, it was a mixed year of great joy and true anxiety. I’m grateful for the happiness and the lessons. And, as I think back on what it is that I want to release and make space for in the coming year, I have realized it isn’t just a matter of letting go. The events and the emotions and repercussions (both short and long term) will linger and have an effect on us for the rest of our lives. I’m not saying this is a negative thing, but it is a thing that I never really stopped to consider before. So, I offer the best possible solution I can think up on this topic and that is the importance of being present. And, by being present I mean really, truly being in the present moment.
- Having the wisdom of the past and the value of the lessons truly become a part of who you are and how you make decisions and act and live each and every day.
- Watch and learn from all that is unfolding in front of you and around you. The people and the events with whom we interact are all on our path for a reason. We have something to learn in each moment.
- Trust your instincts. Check in with yourself regularly through meditation, journaling, long walks in nature, whatever it is that puts you in touch with you and learn to listen to the wisdom of being with yourself. Learn to let your inner voice guide you.
- Remain unattached from a singular outcome. Being present, in part, means knowing what you want, moving toward it, yet being open to what is unfolding and adjusting as you go. The mystery of the journey often brings us greater reward than the journey’s end.
- Gratitude. Gratitude. Gratitude. Be oh so grateful for what you have. This is the fullness of life. The wanting for more is a void and does not provide nourishment, just more need. Gratitude fulfills and creates space for abundance.
- Compassion. Know in your heart that just as you have great days and not so great moments they are just that for others. We are all doing our level best in any given moment. Sometimes we just need a break, a helping hand, a smile to encourage and shift the moment. These acts of generosity and compassion are always more of what we need and the best of what we can offer others.
As I said at the beginning of this post, this is just the best I have to offer at this moment. Anyone willing to give it a try with me? We have nothing but a fresh perspective with which to start the new year.
© 2017-2018 Lotus Seed Meditations and RJ Lisander All Rights Reserved
Anyone starting or developing a meditation practice has been lured to the free phone app because it brings the masters to you, is convenient, and makes meditating easy. I agree 100% with all of those things and do, in fact, have a favorite app that I use while traveling or when I cannot calm into my own meditative space. I love it and recommend it to everyone as a supplement to their community practice of meditation. But, the most value I have found when it came time to deepen my practice was within a community of meditators. Here are 5 reasons why I believe it is so important to go to that group meditation class:
- Shared experience: Beyond the benefits of the actual practice of meditation, it is actually good for people to be social and to develop relationships with those of like mind. Those seeking to deepen their meditation practices are typically looking to enhance their health and wellbeing, reduce stress in their lives and to connect with others who share this path. More often than not, what I have found is a community develops around a meditation group where support, wisdom and individual healing are shared.
- Accountability: Groups not only give us something to look forward to, they provide a sense of routine and responsibility to the self to show up. This produces a habit, which in turn makes the practice a part of your schedule, a priority and an integral part of your life.
- Connection: Similar to shared experience, a community develops in numbers, interests, conversations, scope, breadth and depth. This is provides a dynamic space to socialize within a group of people learning to develop mind, body and spirit practices.
- Insight: Your guide and those within the group are able to provide insight through learnings, experience and different practice styles. This can provide insight into your own practice that will help you develop and deepen the experiences of the benefits of meditation.
- Manifestation: When people meditate in a group a ripple effect of peace surrounding the environment grows. This is due to waves of vibrations that flow and connect to the collective unconscious. In essence, creating a field of peace can allow us to change the environment around us, and in effect, alter the physical world for the better.
So, please, mediate! Make it a part of your everyday and make it a part of your life. Rely on your favorite app when you need it, but also, drop into a group with some regularity. The benefits of group meditation will deepen and improve your practice, and will make the word a better place.
For additional information on meditation styles, the energies created by meditation groups or meditation groups in the local area, drop me a line. firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2017-2018 Lotus Seed Meditations and RJ Lisander All Rights Reserved