Many times in life we are presented with the chance to begin again. At the beginning of a new year, a new decade, even a new week, there is a fresh feeling of a clean slate. In this space of new beginnings, it is the perfect time to begin a yoga practice. Setting up a space for your practice can be a lot of fun as you choose the equipment that is right for you, and this can help set you up for success. In this case, success is simply enjoying the marriage of breath and movement, the union of mind and body.
SETTING YOUR SPACE
Whether you will be practicing in a studio or at home, it is important to have a stable surface with great grip. While it can be tempting to choose the cheapest mat available, the cheaper mats are often made with lower quality materials which can be very slippery and actually makes the practice harder.
For beginners, try the eKO series of Manduka mats, which are not only grippy right out of the box, they are also eco-friendly and come in some really beautiful colors.
If you are more interested in a little extra padding, check out the eKO eQua round mat which like the eKO, is also made of natural rubber. The round mat has a microfiber top which offers a little more cushion for home practice.
Once you have chosen your mat, a set of blocks can help you to fill in the space between your hands and the floor, as well as assisting in backbends. An easy way to visualize this is to think about bending forward to touch your toes. If this is not readily available to your hamstrings and low back, placing blocks in front of your feet can make the forward fold accessible by giving your hands a place to rest comfortably. Most studios have blocks, but if you have a home practice, a small investment in a set of cork blocks can help empower you to enter poses that are new for your body with a greater sense of ease.
WARMING UP THE BODY
Now that you are ready to flow into your practice, remember to really take the time to slowly warm up your body. Whether you are an elite athlete, or just returning to movement, it is important to breathe slowly and deeply, and to “drop in” to your body with full awareness. Yoga is an ancient tradition that has very specific ways of warming up the body called sun salutations. Each day we are greeted by the new possibilities that the sunrise brings, and like the new day, our body can look and feel a little different each time that we step on the mat. Standing in mountain pose with your feet hips width apart, your core gently engaged, and the crown of your head reaching up towards the sky, is a sweet opportunity to scan your body from the inside out, and notice if there is anything that needs a little extra attention or TLC. Once you have taken the time to scan your body, you are ready to move into your sun salutations.
Half sun salutation is a very approachable, beginner-friendly way to warm up the body. This particular sequence is practiced while standing and all you need is the mat and your blocks. From mountain pose, simply inhale and reach your arms up to the sky. As you exhale, slowly fold forward and place your hands on the blocks (you can choose the height of the blocks depending on your level of flexibility). Inhale and elongate your spine, so that your torso is parallel with the floor. Exhale and fold in, softly allowing your nose to move towards your knees. On your inhalation, sweep the arms up to the sky once again, and on your exhalation bring your hands to Namaste at the heart center.
READY TO FLOW
After you have moved through three rounds of half sun salutation, you are ready to move into a full practice. Whether you are practicing in a studio with a skilled teacher, or at home with an online video or book, make sure that you are listening to your body and its cues. Even the most skilled teacher cannot see what you are feeling inside, so respect your body’s natural edges, and remember that there is no competition, even with yourself. Yoga should feel good to your body and leave you feeling energized for the rest of your day. That energetic connection is something that you can find every time that you step onto your mat and enjoy your practice.