The yoga industry has become a multi-billion dollar industry, attracting hordes of us to join the trend. It’s wonderful that more people are benefiting from yoga, but it’s not so straightforward to know what you really need. Some studios are looking and acting like high-end spas. Yoga clothing and equipment is becoming specialized, even hyped. There are whole lines launched by big-name designers. You can buy yoga tank tops, bras, pants – long, short, wide, or tight. Then there is everything you can put on top of your practice wear, skirts, jackets and hoodies. There are scarves to keep you warm and looking good while you walk to and from the studio and then to use as a blanket in Savasana the final relaxation. There are yoga gloves and shoes that grip. Not sure what the deal is with those, that you can practice without a mat on a ship maybe? There are eco-friendly yoga mats, funky bags, chakra-balancing jewelery… There are hundreds of yoga magazines featuring hot, fit models in wild postures. They must eat healthy, organic, and take strangely named supplements.
And then there are as many studios as corner stores offering many styles. There is Vinyasa, Iyengar, Ashtanga, even Chocolate yoga, and Doga (Yoga for dogs). How do you choose? And all teachers say different things don’t they?. Taking a yoga class can be costly. A single class can range from $10-$25. Multiple class passes or monthly memberships are more affordable, but depending on the studio, still quite pricey. And how many times a month can you, MoM get to the studio anyway? What’s supposed to be an ancient method to simplify and unify our thoughts and outlook has become a daunting world to join. How can you start simply, without either running for your life or falling for all the crazy marketing?
My suggestion: develop a self-practice. Do it on your own floor or on 1 good quality yoga mat (they wear out quickly otherwise). Wear comfortable clothes that you find in your cupboard. Do it any time other than right after a meal. Take ten minutes or an hour, by yourself or with your little yogis alongside. More likely they’ll end up on top of you, under you, or both.
Whatever style of yoga you do, you can find something to do on your own, it’s the premise of a real yoga practice anyway. In Ashtanga Yoga, which is the style I chose, self-practice is encouraged from the start. Owning your practice, your breath and movement, is the basis of the Mysore- style practice. In such a class people move at their own pace, through the sun-salutations, a set-sequence of poses, a closing section, and Savasana the final relaxation. Each person’s practice grows in length and depth over time. There is a teacher in the room who guides, assists, and adjusts the postures. Depending on the teacher, Ashtanga can be taught quite militantly, and the name Mysore for the South Indian city where it was developed has often been mistaken to represent “my sore!” So it is important to seek out a teacher who feels right.
But also a teacher who can guide you to do it on your own. It’s certainly not easy to do day in and day out without the combined energy of the teacher and other students. It’s do-able though. One of my students, a mum of two, initially held back from self-practice because she wanted to leave her brain outside the class and just do as she was told (in her words!) It was her time off. I can understand that now. Others are afraid to forget the sequence, or afraid that they’ll hurt themselves from bad alignment, all issues that can be surpassed with some guidance, practice, and confidence.
Try to remember a few things you like from a class, and take them home mindfully. Following a teacher’s instructions while your thoughts are wandering from your neighbor’s strange clothes, to why she can balance but you can’t, to whether you’ll cook broccoli or spinach when you get home isn’t really getting us any closer to yoga.
Other than finding time for it and the random thoughts, there are other obstacles for us mums practicing at home. Except when both children are asleep, I have to deal with their fights, my hair being pulled, or face scratched. I’ve was once ambushed in an inverted posture by my two and had to call for help. They often hug my standing leg just when I am in the hardest one leg balancing posture.
I also get the adjustments though. They sit on my back in forward-folds. I haven’t gone as deeply into postures since I was pregnant.
It’s good fun when they imitate me. The first time Leila copied some of my arm movements she was under four months old. I was shocked, and realized the value of practicing with them around. Today I asked R what he was doing on my mat. “Yoga,” he said while his hands, feet and head connected to the ground in his tenth down dog of the day. Having them around lets them know my practice is for me, but that they are welcome to join in, even if it is just lying on my mat underneath me. The postures come naturally to them. If I didn’t know better I’d be jealous of their flexibility. I’m hoping that my hyper-active yogis will also imitate me in the final relaxation some day. Here are more of our Mat Moments.
I can’t lie, there have been times I wish I could be in a studio and not have to deal with screaming, running toddlers dropping food on my mat, not to mention the number of times I have to stop part-way through because someone can’t handle it. When we travel and there are studios around, it is my break to go to a class. We just spent ten days in a Canadian city where the studio down the road offered a first-timer two week unlimited trial for $25. Good deal for the five classes I managed.
A friend of mine on a tight budget did that for months. She took classes by shopping the deals at yoga studios in her city. She took the discounted one-month pass at one studio, and then a holiday special price at the next one, and the free class at another…
If you are seriously inclined to start some yoga on your own, even for a few minutes a day, I’d recommend the initial investment of studying with a teacher, someone who can guide you through a self-practice that would suit you. Eventually, you know what’s best, and the cost drops.
Workshops with senior teachers if they are available at your studio are great. They’re packed with tips that you can take home and work on for months.
Or buy a DVD that you can watch and re-watch. If it’s a good one, it won’t be surprising that you catch new tips every time.
David Swenson’s “Ashtanga Yoga -Practice Manual” is a comprehensive book available at his on-line shop for $30. It has 650 photos, including variations for all poses. It is worth it both for beginners and experienced practitioners. He is one of my favorite teachers, funny, and down-to-earth.
This is the Yoga Journal’s online home-practice page.
Just a note: learning solely from a DVD or teaching yourself from a book is not comparable to having an experienced teacher visually check in with you.
Your self- practice could be an hour of asana, 15 minutes of sun-salutations, a session of breath work in a seated position, or a 5 minute Savasana lying on your back. Whatever it is, it’s yours and it’s worth it.
Do you do your activities at home around your little yogis? How do they react? Do they participate?
Related articles: Little yogis by Wendy Altschuler (www.yogachicago.com)
My children and yoga by Paul Dallaghan (www.yoga-thailand.com)
What is “Mysore Style”? by Paul Dallaghan (www.yoga-thailand.com)
Natasha, mum of Leila and Rahul was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until her little yogis became the teachers.