How to start with Yoga and why stick with it (my story and tips)


How's your day going? I have received a great question from a reader, Yuki.

"Could you talk about how you started your yoga practice in your newsletter? I'm curious. So many people talk about it yet I can't seem to be into it yet, except Broga. If you remember, was it easy to get a hang of it? who influenced you? did you see any change immediately? I'd like to hear your honest story, if possible." - Yuki

This is an interesting story how I got turned onto yoga. Because let me tell you, until 4 years ago, I could not sit through one class. I was:
  • Bored out of my mind and kept looking at the clock waiting for the class to be over with
  • Did not feel physically challenged, did not sweat much and found it way too slow
  • Was grossed out by other people sweating so close to me
  • Could not relate to the flowery spiritual cues and references to the spirit
  • Could not feel the flow of prana and could not locate the chakras
  • Did not in fact believe much in chakras
  • Did not understand why the teachers spoke in Sanskrit
  • Could not sit still and my mind went bazookas when asked to close my eyes and concentrate on my breathing
  • My ankles, knees, hips and back hurt sitting cross-legged and I could not get comfortable which really distracted me
IMG_1201_Spinal Twist (500x333)

Today, right about this time, between 4-6PM I typically go to my Ashtanga Mysore yoga studio in Fort Greene and practice the Primary Series under the eye of the master yogi, 5 days a week and if I don't make it, I practice at home. This is a big chunk of my time every day, not including commute time. Most people who practice ashtanga mysore and other forms of Yoga do it between 5-7AM at the Studio and then go to work (I am at work at that time, teaching group fitness classes so I switched my Yoga Practice to the slower hours of 4-6PM since yoga must be practiced on an empty stomach).

So let me share with you how I got into yoga in a way that it stuck with me and yes, Yuki, I saw some results right away. But the results I saw by sticking with it for a week, a month, a year have been even incredible. The immediate result was stress reduction. But when you live with low stress, day in and day out, the body and the mind transforms.

This is what happens to you when you stick with yoga:
  • Your time on the mat changes your time off the mat. You bring the calm and peacefulness into the workplace. Your way of thinking and the way you treat others and relate to others shifts radically. Your concentration abilities vastly improve making you able to sit and work for hours on end without energy drops, without food cravings nor a need to eat for a long long long time. Your posture also greatly improves which makes hours of seated work sustainable and pain free. It is truly incredible. No other form of exercise has compared to how yoga changed the way I work.
  • You develop muscles you never knew you had! Practicing yoga deeply challenges your body's functional movement patterns. It targets even the smallest of muscle and teaches you how to engage, relax, isolate, recruit that individual muscle in and of itself and then as part of a group. This enabled me to go deeper in all other forms of exercises. My flexibility also improved drastically even if I've been stiff all my life or suffered massive injuries. I also developed the most feminine abs without doing a single crunch!
  • You realize that yoga sweat is very, very intense. I sweat more in yoga than in spinning. It activates very deep detoxification channels and I can feel my body clear out all the gunk through my breath and sweat. Elimination is also wild!
  • Eating healthier has started to be easier, cravings for junk food go away and even obsession and reliance on "meal time". You eat less and less. You start eating for fueling and tend to gravitate towards simpler plant-based meal. It just happens. I attribute that to the calm I feel. All stress eating and stress hunger is gone.
  • Perfecting your yoga is at the top of your goals and nothing will stop your from practicing. It happens as soon as after 1 month of daily practice. All you can think about is your next time on the yoga mat. You find yourself fantasizing about being able to do a scorpion pose (or for me an unassisted hand-stand at this point in time) and you talk to everyone about yoga and ask people to try it at least once! But this is true. It becomes one of the most important aspect of your life and everything else comes after that.
yoga teacher training
Yoga teacher training in India.
So how did it get started? I found the practice that got me into my body on the first try. 4 years ago, I could only get into my body through hard physical work, workouts that were so challenging that my mind could not multi-task and I was just right there. Into the movement with all my attention inwardly focused. Spinning got me in the zone. Power-lifting got me in the zone. Yoga never did because it was not "painful", challenging enough that way. Bikram was too grossly hot, smelly, did not flow right for my body and I resisted the cult philosophy. Broga Yoga was my point of entry. It combined a hard physical workout with the Vinyasa flow used as a way to lower the heat, brush off the edge and recover from the more intense moments. The Broga flow naturally connected me my body and mind through deep breathing naturally, almost in spite of myself.

I took one Broga Yoga Class and decided to become an instructor on the spot and underwent the training within a month of my first class. The more I practiced, the more I needed to practice and learn. I decided to explore "traditional yoga" a year later and signed up for Yoga Teacher Training in Rishikesh, India. The Capital of Yoga. I became "legit"! That training covered not only the asanas, but also yoga philosophy, diet, lifestyle, ways of life and because I had to observe all these aspects during my day to day life in India, it experienced first hand the benefits. Coming back to the US, I continued my daily practice and observing the diet and lifestyle I had started to practice and shared it over the internet daily for a week with my 2015 Fall Detox participants who loved it and really got into it. They felt the benefits right away and all were beginners. They felt the calling for their morning yoga practice. This is key.

After a while yoga seeks you just as much as you seek yoga.

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My awesome Broga students on our Tuesday night class.
In order to stick with yoga, timing's everything. I strongly recommend that you practice daily at the same time. Establishing a stable routine will train your mind to crave a regular practice time. My 2015 Fall Detox Participants came to crave the 5:30AM yoga practice we had, even though it was insanely early and many continued for a few weeks more after the program ended. No matter how much sleep they had the night prior, their mind craved it.

So how do you start your yoga practice?
First of all, know that in the yoga world, attending a yoga class is a tune-up with a hands-on teacher, it is not your yoga practice. A yoga practice is an at-home, or individual practice.
My Ashtanga Mysore practice is an individual practice under the eye of a very advanced guru. I arrive, lay my mat and start the asanas on my own, like I do at home. She observes my practice and corrects me when I need to be or assists me when I try a new pose, etc. When you attend a Vinyasa class, a hot yoga class, a Hatha Yoga class, a Bikram yoga class, you are learning, going for a tune-up. Then to progress, you must practice the asanas your learned in silence at home.
Yoga vermont
Home practice can be anywhere: in your garden, in your living room, bedroom, hotel room, etc. You don't even need a mat when on sand or grass. No shoes required. Does it get any easier?
Therefore here are the steps to start yoga at home, which can be done no matter how small a space you have or whether you are at home or in a hotel room:
  1. Learn how to breathe. Yoga is all about the breath, strengthening the breath, growing lung capacity and using the breath to power your practice. No breath, no yoga. Check out books on pranayama (or email me for recommendations)
  2. Start your practice with a brief meditation and intention.
  3. Use basic and beginning level postures. Your beginner's practice can be 20 minutes long and doing a sequence of simple yoga poses like cat and cow, cobra, downward dog, forward fold, upward salute, child's pose, seated twist, seated forward fold, and the like. Pick your poses wisely: choose all the poses that you love and only one you don't like but know you need to practice. This will keep you coming back instead of dreading your practice.
  4. End your practice with Savasana (corpse pose) lying on the floor on your back, aware of your breath and complete relaxation of your mind and body. You can then finish with a short seated meditation to close the loop and connect with the intention you expressed at the beginning of your practice.

cute family doing yoga
The cutest family taking my live Yoga and Meditation class over the internet. There is no age to start and enjoy yoga. It does not have to be perfect. It just feels good and bonds people together around what's important in life. Don't take my word for it. Try it for a week and decide for yourself.

I wish you a good evening,
Yours peacefully,