Should You Teach Yourself Yoga?

by on December 1st, 2010
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Maybe you know yoga would be good for you, and you’ve been thinking about trying it but can’t commit to a class. Should you try to learn it on your own? You can teach yourself yoga, but there are some things to keep in mind to make sure what you do is effective and not harmful.

Use what you know from another physical discipline.

If you are a dancer, weight lifter, hula hoop master or expert in any physical discipline, you know what your body feels like when you are moving it effectively. I’ve been a massage therapist for twenty years, and have mastered the art of giving massage in a way that feels good to myself and my client. This awareness helps me practice yoga without the feedback of a live person, because I understand feedback from my body.

Learn the basics first. Do not attempt advanced yoga without a teacher.

There are a number of advanced poses can hurt you if you don’t know what you’re doing. There are plenty of easy poses that will make you feel great and won’t hurt you. Start at the beginning and stay there safely as long as you are progressing and getting the benefits. The benefits of regular yoga become evident within the first few days and they increase steadily.

Use a reliable resource as a trusted source.

Richard Hittleman’s 21 day yoga program is a classic. I like the video AM/PM yoga from Gaiam, featuring Patricia Walden and Rodney Yee. I have an old dog-eared book on Bikram yoga by Bikram himself, before he became famous. Make sure that any book you use has detailed diagrams, and that the DVD you are watching has been filmed so that you can really see how to do the poses correctly. Yoga Journal Magazine is also a very useful resource.

When I am learning a new sequence from a DVD, I watch it a few times first. I try to get a good understanding of what is being presented before I attempt any of it. This is good strategy for avoiding the pretzel phenomenon.

Attend a class occasionally to correct mistakes before they become habits.

Attending a class will expose you to different styles of yoga, as well as help you to learn the way you individually like to practice. I like to practice yoga slowly and mindfully, while others may prefer a more vigorous approach. Observing the different ways that teachers approach the discipline has helped me customize my own practice. Placing yourself in the hands of an expert for an hour also gives you the chance to interrupt any bad patterns, if your teacher is paying close attention.

If it doesn’t feel good, stop and get help before you hurt yourself.

Learn the distinction between Good Hurt and Bad Hurt! Good hurt is that oh, that stretch is deliciously painful as the muscle unravels feeling. Bad hurt feels like you are harming yourself, which you probably are. Know the difference and if it feels bad, stop. If in doubt, stop. Don’t start again until you consult an expert.

Practice regularly.

Relearning the same old poses again and again from the beginning will get boring, and is not motivating. Making visible progress on a pose you’ve been struggling with is. It is challenging to stay committed without a regular class or a workout buddy. If you stay with it for a few weeks, the way you feel will keep you coming back to your yoga mat.

Personal Experience

More from Elizabeth Danu:
Not Interested in Meditation? Try Tai Chi for the Same Benefits
Change Your Breathing, Transform Your Health
How Controlling Inflammation Can Halt Cancer

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