What are some guidelines for practicing yoga?

Anne Spicker
As with any exercise class, pay attention to how your body feels when you practice yoga. If you are new to yoga, go slowly. Keep in mind that every body is different. Our differing levels of flexibility, fitness and anatomical structure mean our practice will be different from the person on the mat next to us. My training taught me the importance of letting go of expectations, competition, and judgment. Every day’s practice is different from the previous day. It is important that each time we step onto our mat, we are open to whatever our bodies are able to allow us to do at that moment. When we set expectations, we limit the possibilities. As we proceed with our practice it is important to do what we are able to do safely, with proper alignment and awareness of the sensations within our bodies. When we ignore these and compete with others by trying to perform asanas exactly as we see others do, we risk injury. And we end up judging our practice as less than it is. And after all that, relax and enjoy discovering how yoga can benefit your brain, your mind and your body.
Dawn Marcus
There are many different types of yoga, ranging from "restorative" to the more physical "power" yoga. Some people find heated yoga classes healing and therapeutic, while others might find the heat overwhelming. Explore different yoga options to find the style that's best for you. Work with a yoga instructor who can understand any physical limitations you may have and help you develop modifications for those poses that may not be suitable for your body.

Following are the key guiding principles in the practice of yoga:
  • Breathing. Yogic breath is the single most important element of yoga practice. Relax your breathing by breathing in and out slowly through your nose. Be sure to breathe through your nose and not your mouth. Controlled breathing helps you link your mind and body, helps you stay focused, and reduces stress.
  • Alignment. Yoga poses need to be performed with your joints properly aligned. The body can be compared to the wheels of a car that wear unevenly when the car is out of alignment. Make sure your joints are aligned while practicing yoga to ensure that your body is stable.
  • Drishti. Drishti is a fixed, relaxed gaze that is practiced in conjunction with yoga. Focus on looking at one spot while in a pose to assist you in staying focused on the pose and to calm your mind.
  • Uddiyana bandha. Many bandhas, or "locks," are practiced in yoga, but uddiyana bandha is especially important for people suffering from lower back issues. This a core stabilization practiced in every pose. To use uddiyana bandha, draw your abdominal muscles in and up to support your lower spine. This will strengthen and tone your body's core and protect your lower back.
  • Respecting/honoring the body. Yoga is the art of listening -- most importantly, listening to your body. There are options for modifying any pose. Use modifications any time you feel pain from a pose. The breath is a great tool to gauge your effort level in yoga practice. If you're gasping or struggling for breath, you should either ease up on the pose or stop and rest. Ultimately, yoga practice should make you feel good, so be sure all the poses you use are moving you toward feeling better.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.