Beginner’s Guide: there is No Wrong Path in Yoga.

Via on Sep 20, 2010

…one doesn’t want to end up in the middle of something that doesn’t have anything to do with you. (Although I am a long-time user of the internet and am well aware of the way discussions evolve and devolve around here. That I get.) Nonetheless, the questions I’m asking feel ill-timed, if nothing else.

~Anonymous commenter at Yogic Muse.
Yikes! I can really see what this person means! If I was shopping for a yoga class on the Internet (which I did, over ten years ago) and I had run across the recent talk flaring up about yoga (one example here), I would be confused, too!

Here is the full comment:

“I’m someone who is not involved with yoga yet. But I’m interested in it.

It’s a confusing world to try and enter. There are sooo many different types of yoga, that for someone with no background, it’s hard to figure out where to go. What type of yoga would work best for me? I’ve no idea. (And because I live in a ginormous west-coast city in the US, pretty much every type is available to me.)

When I’ve gone looking, it looks as though the yoga world is in the midst of something which, frankly, is hard to truly understand from the outside. And it feels doubly difficult to figure out where to go as a new person, as one doesn’t want to end up in the middle of something that doesn’t have anything to do with you. (Although I am a long-time user of the internet and am well aware of the way discussions evolve and devolve around here. That I get.) Nonetheless, the questions I’m asking feel ill-timed, if nothing else.

I’m looking for, and frankly, expecting a lot from yoga. I do want health/exercise benefits. In fact, I have no choice. (Aging bodies need some help. There’s only so much time in the day. My goal isn’t really to be a full-time yogini. And that needs to be okay.) Truthfully, I probably woundn’t be looking at yoga at all, if there wasn’t a physical component to it. As a long time meditator, I’m not sure what else yoga offers me that I don’t already get from that practice, but I’d like to find out.

I apologize if there are multiple errors in perception in this comment, as I’m sure there may be.I really would love some input on this. Thanks.”

Thank you, anonymous commenter, for this comment! I look forward to addressing some of your concerns—from my perspective, because this is what I have to offer. I’d also like to invite Elephant readers to offer support, too—in the comments. It’s one of the greatest things about working in this Internet medium that it’s a community affair! It’s not just about me telling you what I think about something… It’s also a chance to have your thoughts on the subject of the post to be read also! Thanks—in advance—for sharing your voice with us. And if you prefer to quietly read—without commenting: thank you for reading!

Ojibwa path as yoga path.

Ojibwa Life Path
Thanks to Nathan for sharing the Ojibwa path image and concept in his excellent talk at Ancient Dragon Zen Gate (ancientdragon.org), Chicago, IL.

In the Ojibwa Path of Life, the path is shown as having digressions as a part of it. So as we read the diagram from left to right, we might be on a path, and at some point along the way realize that something is off about where we are: what was once helping us along, is no longer fulfilling. So it becomes time to make a change. We return to the center and start a new path that is helpful for a while, and then it becomes time to change again. The path is always moving forward, it’s just not a totally direct route.

I actually think that the little prongs on the sides, representing “digressions” as we move along the path, become resources or repositories of the wealth of life experience as we go forward. So no aspect of the path is wasted.

For example, some of my early yoga instruction came from a book: Richard Hittleman’s 28-day Exercise Plan (recently seen on the bookstore shelf right near Tara Stiles’ new book). From where I am now in my yoga path, the book that helped me 20 years ago no longer seems directly relevant for my yoga practice today. But, that book helped me along in my path of yoga, and I’m sure it continues to inform me on some level.

So if you’re new to yoga and wondering where to start, my first thought is: just start! The yoga path is sure to change as you continue to learn about it. Some of what you learn in those first few classes might inform your practice for years to come. And there might be some things you come across that just seem goofy! Along the way, you will make the right choices for you.

How to choose the right yoga “style”.

When starting yoga, I think one of the most important factors can be convenience. Is there a yoga studio that is near your house or workplace that looks interesting? Maybe, try it! If you have physical concerns or specific goals, it would be good to call first or stop by and ask questions to make sure that it might be good for you.

Are your friends doing yoga? If they are, ask them about what kind they are doing. And if it sounds like something you might like: try it!

Yoga Journal has offerings that might be helpful: a quiz to see what style is right, and an article describing the different styles. Readers: feel free to offer more resources in the comments.

The benefits of yoga, and benefits for meditators.

This is my favorite part of the comment:

“I’m looking for, and frankly, expecting a lot from yoga. I do want health/exercise benefits. In fact, I have no choice. (Aging bodies need some help. There’s only so much time in the day. My goal isn’t really to be a full-time yogini. And that needs to be okay.) Truthfully, I probably woundn’t be looking at yoga at all, if there wasn’t a physical component to it. As a long time meditator, I’m not sure what else yoga offers me that I don’t already get from that practice, but I’d like to find out.”

Good for you! Yoga offers a lot! Beginning students can benefit from yoga once a week. It’s true! Sometimes people who’ve never tried it look at me suspiciously when I’ve said it, but I’ve seen it to be true. Just start with an amount you can do: it will make a difference.

I think that yoga helps out with the aspect of meditation that is about “cutting through” distractions. Similar to a meditation technique that advises paying attention to the breath, to “cut through” the mental riffraff and distracting thought waves that keep us from being present, work in a physical yoga class can help students to be present with their bodies in the here-and-now.

Yoga can also help meditators feel more comfortable in their bodies during their meditation practice. And physical fitness also just helps people to have the energy, strength, flexibility and vitality to enjoy a full life.

Yoga looks like you (yes, You) and me.

Once you get into yoga (if you’re not already doing it), take a picture of yourself doing yoga: that’s what yoga looks like.

Here’s me doing yoga:

Brooks Yoga

Yours in yoga,
Brooks
Yogic Muse

About Brooks Hall

Brooks Hall is a Yogic Muse from Chicago, Illinois. In this capacity she teaches Yoga, writes about Yoga, and generally enjoys it. You can find her at: brookshall.blogspot.com.

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14 Responses to “Beginner’s Guide: there is No Wrong Path in Yoga.”

  1. Beautiful blog, Brooks.

    I certainly hope your anonymous commenter is watching for your reply, because your sensitive response will surely be of great help to him or her.

    Bob Weisenberg
    YogaDemystified.com

  2. Andrew says:

    This is a great article. For some time now, I have been thinking about this topic. I think that it is somewhat of a false narrative out there that there are so many different "styles." It gives the impression to someone new to it that they are totally different, and that there is a big possibility they are going to the wrong place for them. I would say, do as Brooks advises—just try one. See if you like it. One thing that is common with most yoga places is a fundamental presence of non-judgement. It's hard to try something new, but I can guarantee you will be welcomed with open arms, wherever you decide to go.

    I just think the differences between the myriad different styles out there is over emphasized. It's mostly just a result of the Capitalist system we live in—-rather than the various styles of yoga being radically different fro each other, its more a case of savvy entepreneurs trademarking their approach to instruction.

  3. Jeb Cadwell says:

    Nice article Brooks…it helped me just now discover your blog too. This is Jeb Cadwell, from long-gone Priya Yoga. Peace!

  4. M.A. says:

    In the interest of full disclosure, I'll start out my comment by saying, yes, I work for YogaVibes.com. However, I hope that my comment will not be any less useful or seen as agenda driven.

    One of our goals at YogaVibes is to bring people to the mat, whatever the reason, in the belief that, as Sri K. Pattabhi Jois said, "Practice, and all is coming." We film classes in a real class environment, all body types welcome, and we believe that offering these classes online will reach an audience of yogis who may be unable to practice in a studio for myriad reasons. We have a series, called "Brand New Beginner", specifically designed to help the new yoga student begin a practice, and we have classes from teachers around the world and from diverse yoga backgrounds, available for students interested in practicing at home or on the road.

    As an instructor, I do believe that finding a class which resonates with you and which you can attend in person is valuable. However, as an instructor, I've also seen students enter my class anxious, fearful, and self-conscious, and I believe those students could benefit from starting their practice at home with YogaVibes, using it as a tool to build confidence and understanding of yoga and basic yoga terms.

  5. Jay Winston Jay Winston says:

    A little while ago, I was heading to yoga class but came to a fork, and it occurred to me that I knew one of them would lead me to yoga, but wasn’t sure which was the right path. Then, however, I thought “wait a minute–Brooks says there’s no wrong path in yoga.” So, I picked one at random and starting down in until I saw a bunch of people and asked about yoga. Turned out they were a bunch of drunken hoodlums who beat me up, took my wallet, and tattooed “YOGA SUX” on my forehead.

    P.S.

    That didn’t really happen.

  6. Ramesh says:

    Great reply and post, Brooks. Reminds me of the Bengali song: "You come in the form of a snake, and in the form of the bite, and also in the form of the snake charmer." Spiritually speaking, there are no wrong turns… our obstacles are our best friends.

  7. AMO says:

    No one person can define what yoga means to anyone else. I do wish there were less conflict within the yoga community because it does scare people away. IT'S JUST YOGA. Really. It's not complicated. It's not life threatening. It's not confusing. We inject all of those things into it. The whole conversation about gurus, lineage, spiritual aspects, is off putting to most Americans. It may be inviting for "seekers" but not for the average American. I went to yoga to learn to relax. I started hot yoga to heal my broken body. The emotional and spiritual path that set me on was incidental and NOT in my plan. That is actually the old story behind why the asanas were "given" to us isn't it? It was because, as I recall from the Baghavad Gita, we were incapable of focusing the mind in contemplation that we were given the asanas and that through the physical practice of aligning the skeleton, strengthening the muscles and so on, given a focus to teach us to – well, focus….

    We should stop being so sanctimonious. It's ugly. It's not very yoga like. It scares people away and it is a waste of energy. Years ago, when I first started couples therapy my therapist suggested that I simply live my life as I thought was right, that in so doing my partner would either join me in living this way, or, one way or another, would go his/her own way. She was right. Today, many years later, having lived according to my values, I am partnered with someone who shares them and lives accordingly alongside me. Just do your yoga people. Brooks, you are a living example. Thank you for keeping it simple sister….

  8. Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

    I love your discussion of the Obijwa path and the accompanying graphic. That really resonates with me, both in terms of yoga and life in general.

    In response to your reader's comment: my personal view is that when asana practice is combined with deep, conscious breathing and a meditative focus, amazing things happen (if you are open to them). So the fact that she has an ongoing meditation practice already is a huge resource to bring into yoga. Personally, I'd look for a class that feels really good and helpful physically, teaches how to work with breath, and provides good opportunities to integrate what's already in motion with her meditation practice.

    That said, yoga is all about learning to tap into your intuition, so whatever speaks to her on an intuitive level is the place to begin. As the Obijwa path and Brooks discussion of the evolution of her own practice show, you're not wedded to where you start – the important thing is just to get going, feel out what's right for you, and trust the unfolding process.

  9. Dena says:

    I, too, love the visual of the Ojibwa path. So true.

    I would just like to add that the student in search of an appropriate class might check Yoga Alliance's website (http://yogaalliance.org/teacher_search.cfm) for certified yoga teachers in their area. If a teacher is not certified, be sure they are at least well trained and experienced. Also, at the risk of seeming way too into the commercialization of the practice, September is National Yoga Month. (http://www.yogamonth.org/) Many studios are offering a free week of classes. There are more days behind us than ahead for the month, but a person in search of their yoga style might save a few bucks by taking advantage of the free week at several studios and seeing if one of them feels like home.

    Another thought is to see if there are any yoga festivals or conferences going on in your area. Sometimes, you can buy a festival pass and sample all different teachers and styles in one weekend. If you do that, though, you run the risk of overdoing the physical practice, so be sure to pace yourself for your current physical condition.

  10. Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

    Thanks, Everybody, for sharing your thoughts! I really appreciate reading them.

  11. [...] with the different information they get. The types of yoga alone will overwhelm a beginner and even yoga exercises for beginners are numerous and may become [...]

  12. Laura says:

    love this brooks! it's funny in my case yoga practice led me to deeper meditation practice…a full asana practice/hatha yoga is no longer possible for me right now physically…but I still find the poses I can do quite beneficial…and I must say that because I practiced yoga for so many years (16 or 17 I think) it is easier for me to be present and grounded in my body for meditation….one could say yoga cultivated the ground of my being through movement so that my stillness practice would well rooted. Both are structures that inform our daily interactions (off the mat/zafu) so that we live more mindfully. Finding a teacher who one feels comfortable with and confident in ….someone you trust…has always been key for me. So, Anonymous…I think it's ok to studio hop-a lot of studios offer free classes for first time attendees…find the fit for your heart/mind/body/spirit…you will know it when you have found the right space/teacher/practice…you will know.

  13. Steve S. says:

    Thanks for the information. I too am like your anonymous respondent, and am looking to start Yoga.
    On a side note, I found the Yoga Mag. quiz inane. Some of the "answers" are just…

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