We all have different reasons for starting a yoga practice. Some of us are looking for something to redirect our attention. Others are looking for the physical benefits of a strong practice. Some people come looking for peace of mind and more balance in their lives. Whatever your motivation, a yoga practice will benefit you in more ways than one.
These days it’s easy to start a yoga practice. With technology around every corner, there is no shortage of yoga apps, videos, books, audio books, podcasts, or public classes that you can leverage to start acquainting yourself with yoga. Since there are so many resources out there, I’ve decided to give you a breakdown of what I believe is a solid foundation for deepening your understanding of yoga and what it means to have a yoga practice.
The word “yoga” is defined : To yolk, or union. I can only speak to my yoga practice, but for me yoga is the union of the solar and lunar, it is the coupling of divinity and humanity, it is the ultimate in non-dual experience. To practice yoga is to embrace the teaching that we are not simply humans who happen to have a soul, but rather we are divine embodiments having an experience in effort towards awakening.
Once you’ve decided to invite a yoga practice into your life you can begin to learn about yoga’s rich history and cross cultural pollination. Here are my reading recommendations for cultivating a deeper awareness of what yoga is in practice.
Light On Yoga
B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga is the modern authority on Hatha Yoga. I have studied this book for over 12 years, and I find it an invaluable resource. In his book, Iyengar details the effort and return for each pose, the proper alignment for each pose, and the proper internal lock and breathing for each pose. This is the most thorough resource you can find that accurately and comprehensively details each Hatha Yoga pose from basic through full expression.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are by far the foremost informative text on the practice o Ashtanga yoga, the eight limbed path of yoga. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali does an amazing job of explaining the path an aspirant must take to achieve liberation through the practice and dedication to yoga. I personally love the Sutras, but I also see that they can sometimes be taken out of context. One of the central ideas to Patanjali’s Sutras is that a yoga practice is not isolated to asana; it is the application and practice of yoga mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is a practice in composite wholeness.
The Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita is my favorite classic. It is a testament to natural law and Divinity that a text so ancient could be so universally applicable to each individuals internal struggle to know the Self. The Gita is worth the read if you are interested in yoga, in particular yoga philosophy. If you’re more interested in the physical aspects of a yoga practice then you may want to skip this one, or save it for later. The Bhagavad Gita is an amazing account of the internal landscape within each human. I highly recommend reading this particular resource with a friend or a teacher to help you find a deeper connection to the metaphor within the story.
A Few Tips to Start With
I started practicing yoga 12 years ago, but I didn’t really start practicing daily until about 3 years ago. My primary problem was motivation when I started. I found that having a teacher that I connected to really helped me want to practice. When I started in Kuwait I had a private teacher that taught a small group of us every other night at the hospital. When I moved to Israel there were very few options in the suburbs, so I practiced with Ashtanga videos. When I moved back to the U.S. I found a teacher at a local studio that I really enjoyed, and ultimately that got me out of bed each day to practice. Now, three years later, I practice to connect to my breath, I practice to feel into my body, and I practice to expand my consciousness.
Know that whatever initially brings you to the mat will inevitably evolve into a much more intense and meaningful experience. Listen to your body, and work slowly towards your physically and intellectual threshold. Be kind to yourself and remember that your practice is just that, it’s a practice. There is no destination, there is not better than. You are perfect exactly the way you are. The experience is simply about exploring the possibilities.