2.4
September 21, 2010

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

…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.

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:

Yours in yoga,
Brooks
Yogic Muse

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Brooks Hall  |  Contribution: 10,620