Trying something new can be, in a word, terrifying—and when you’re just starting out, yoga can seem especially intimidating. We know how much courage it takes in the beginning, which is why we reached out to one of our favorite teachers, Desi Bartlett, to share her encouraging, wise words with all the newbies out there finding their place on the mat for the very first time in 2019.
Desi’s been a leading figure in the yoga, fitness, and wellness worlds for over 25 years. A proud mama of two boys, she leads pre and post–natal teacher trainings and is a vocal supporter of all things healthy and mom-related. If you’re looking for inspiration, encouragement, and info about how to start yoga when you’re just starting out, our conversation below is a great place to begin. Welcome to the mat—trust us, you’re gonna amaze yourself.
WHAT ARE YOUR INTENTIONS FOR 2019?
My 2019 intentions are about collaboration and the idea of “win-win.” I love working with yogis, artists, visionaries, and awake/aware companies that enjoy collaborating and seeing everyone’s talents, gifts, and dreams come together to inspire, lift, and serve others.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR PRACTICE?
My practice is a lifelong friend. She has been with me for decades and like any long-term relationship, it takes some effort to make sure there is quality time together, but I know it is always worth it to make the time. I know that thinking of my practice as a close friend is a bit “out there,” but no more so than thinking of nature as a Mother. Like Mother Nature, my yoga practice has incredible diversity (pranayama/breathing practices, meditation, asana/the physical practice), and nourishes my body, mind, and heart.
WHAT ARE KEY THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN TRYING TO START YOGA OR FIND YOUR PRACTICE?
The word rasa in Sanskrit means taste or essence. There are many different rasas in the world of yoga. You can find expressions and combinations of stillness, ecstatic dance, core work, alignment, deep meditation, the list goes on. I think that the most important thing to be aware of is how you feel after you practice, and in the days that follow. If you are feeling better after having practiced yoga, then you are on the right path.
It can be a fun adventure to explore different ways of practicing. Trying a few different styles with a few different teachers will often lead to an experience that makes you feel like your whole body is singing. The word yoga means union. Stay light and playful as you embark on finding the practice that leads to a sense of union of body, mind, and heart.
WHAT YOU WOULD TELL SOMEONE WHO WAS LOOKING TO FIND: A STUDIO, TEACHER, OR THE RIGHT STYLE OF PRACTICE?
It’s important to find a practice that meets you where you are. If you are a fitness enthusiast that loves to run and craves the runner’s high, then starting off with a seated meditation practice would not be an easy place to begin. A more vigorous flow class that gives you a familiar feeling before you sit still, can take the fight out of your body so that you can enjoy stillness. On the other hand, if you have not been very active for a while and you would like a gentle entry point, a restorative class can be a great place to start exploring postures in a slow, supported practice that allows you to enter from a place of relaxation.
Here’s a quick peek into some of the styles available in studios and online:
· Vinyasa Yoga: Fluidity of movement, a slow build in heat, and great music are some of the hallmarks of this style of practice in the West. If you know that you are easily distracted, Vinyasa-style practices offer a lot of variety and helps to keep you anchored in the present moment with focused movements that are synchronized to the rhythm of the breath.
· Ashtanga Yoga: Do you revel in the familiar and enjoy quantitative results? Ashtanga yoga often appeals to type “A” individuals because there is a very clear code of conduct called the yamas and the niyamas as well as distinct levels of the practice, referred to in a series: Primary, Intermediate, and Advanced (which is then divided further into A, B, C, and D).
· Iyengar Yoga: This style of Yoga was created by B.K.S Iyengar, a teacher who had a lot of physical challenges and needed to find ways to make the practice accessible to a body with some challenges and imbalances; in other words, human. We all have unique structures and idiosyncrasies in our bodies and this style helps to find alignment through the use of props. Blocks, straps, bolsters, chairs, and blankets can all be found in an Iyengar class, and this style often appeals to folks who love to build stable structures. Everyone from architects to Pilates teachers can be found enjoying Iyengar style practices.
· Kundalini Yoga: If you crave next-level bliss, try a Kundalini practice. Kundalini integrates chanting, singing, and movement. This is a great place to start if you are an artist, or very creative. You will recognize the process of channeling high vibrations and reaching a “peak state.”
· Hot Yoga: Some like it hot! If your intention is to find a practice that detoxifies you in the form of healthy sweat, then hot yoga could be right up your alley! Remember to bring a grippy towel to put on your mat so that you feel stable from the ground up (and so that you do not slide on sweat).
Remember that you can change from one style to another whenever you would like. Finding the right practice can feel sort of like finding the right life partner. It can take a little while to find “the one,” but once you do, that can become the beginning of a long and beautiful relationship.
WHAT DOES HAVING COURAGE MEAN TO YOU IN THE CONTEXT OF YOGA?
I only have one rule in my classes and that is “if you fall, you laugh.” Having the courage to laugh at ourselves is important in the practice. Having the courage to try some of the new/wild/exotic ways of moving the body, breathing in new ways, and staying light about it takes courage. Little kids are really good at this because if they fall there is no thought of “did anyone see?” or “wow, I am so embarrassed.” Most kids jump into life and activities with a healthy sense of adventure, and lots of laughter. To channel this energy as adults is courageous.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR BEGINNER YOGIS STARTING OUT?
Enjoy the adventure! We are all individuals and finding a practice that inspires joy is a little bit different for everyone. Stay light and stay on the lookout for joy! That spark of joy lets you know that you are on the right path.
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