September 16, 2013

How to Get Back into Yoga After a Break.

Photo: Chris Chavez (Spanish Banks Yoga Class)

As a yoga instructor and practitioner, I know of few people who haven’t take a break/hiatus from their yoga practice.

I actually took one that lasted several months, early in my journey. It was shortly after 9/11 and the loss of my first real job, so yoga was put on the back burner while I grappled with other issues in my life. I returned and never stopped my regular practice, but many may take multiple breaks throughout their yoga journey.

As someone whose classes are geared towards those who are new or have taken a hiatus from yoga, I am often asked how to get back into the groove.

Below are some tips that I find especially helpful for those who are returning from a break or a major physical change, for example, having just given birth. Hopefully, they will inspire those who have been contemplating getting back on the mat to actually do so.

1. Focus on the body you have now and now the one you had last month, a year ago, pre-birth, etc.

I know just from my own practice that my body can change from day to day. Even missing a few days of regular practice has a dramatic impact on my practice.

Therefore, if it has been months or years since you practiced yoga, your body is probably going to be different than the last time you practiced.

If, in the past, you were regularly doing dropbacks or handstands, for example, that doesn’t mean you should do them as soon as get back on the mat.

I know from personal experience how hard it can be for Type A personality types not to dive back in immediately, but if you have to chose between less vs. more, opt for the former for awhile.

The last thing you want to do is injure yourself, which will only cause you to further delay your return to yoga.

Also, if you took a break from yoga due to illness, surgery, or because you had a baby, please get the thumbs up from your healthcare provider before you begin practice.

Bring or print out a description of the sort of yoga you want to practice because I have met many healthcare providers who automatically think all forms of yoga are “gentle”. Also, those with no yoga experience or knowledge aren’t going to know, say,  “Iyengar” from “Ashtanga” if their lives depended on it. Therefore, it is important to give a detailed description of what the practice consists of, rather than what it is called. (If you can find one, a short YouTube clip of a routine would be ideal.)

2. Take a few beginner or intermediate classes with a teacher before doing a home practice.

Some instructors encourage returning students to begin by practicing at home. While I understand the reasons behind it (the student may feel less self-conscious at home than in a group), I think it’s important to take at least few classes with an instructor.

The main reason is that an instructor can give a student pointers on alignment or tips on modifications that a DVD, book, or YouTube tutorial simply cannot.

Even if you intend to primarily practice at home, please check out your local studios and commit to a few classes. Come prepared with questions such as how to modify, pacing, etc. A good teacher should be able to answer most of these, or at least direct you to someone who can.

And again, if you’re a Type A who used to challenge very difficult postures, you may grumble at the mere idea of taking a class with “beginner” in the title. Still, these class can be very useful to give you the correct foundation so you can return to the advanced poses quickly.

If you still aren’t convinced and have the means to do so, consider hiring an instructor for a private lesson or two. At most studios, there are instructors who give private lessons as well. As them or the studio director for options.

3. After you have decided to rejoin the yoga community, stick to a specific schedule for at least a month or two.

The consistency is important even if your schedule only allows for once a week or once every two weeks. Having it on your calendar or agenda also shows you are serious.

I know all too well how easy it can be to put things off until tomorrow, next week or next month and end up never doing them.

A friend of mine recently posted a meme on Facebook that said, “No one ever said, I regret going to that yoga practice”, and I find that to be true.

Like many things in life, just showing up can be half the battle.

Think of those weekly/biweekly classes as a reward rather a task. As a Mysore practitioner, I remind myself how lucky I am as a working mother to have that hour and thirty minutes several times a week all to doing something I want to do.

Perhaps this may work for you as well.

Sometimes taking a break from yoga practice makes sense. Coming back to it can be a challenge but need not be by keeping a few simple tips in mind.

Lastly, don’t be shy about showing up in class if it has been a long time since you were last there. Your instructor probably won’t be expecting a detailed description or even an explanation. Mostly likely, he or she will just be glad you’re back.

Indeed, you should be glad to be back, and remember to take time to thank yourself for making yoga part of your life once again.


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Ed: Catherine Monkman


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