If you are new to yoga we suggest trying a beginner workshop, a hatha, or therapeutic class. All our classes are generally designed to be all levels. Let the teacher know you are new, and they will provide more modifications.
What is Yoga?
by Sam Jacobs, RYT 200
There are as many answer to this question as folks who practice yoga. Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years, under many guiding philosophies and styles of moving and breathing. Modern practices (Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, to name a few) are diverse and evolving.
What is important to understand is that yoga is a practice; something to be done again and again. The goal of this practice is an integration of mind, body, and spirit premised on physical movement with breathing and meditation. The word “Yoga” translated from Sanskrit means “to yoke,” “joining,” or “union,” in essence, bringing together body and mind, the physical and the spiritual (or a notion of greater consciousness, as you will) through connection with the breath.
Recent scientific studies support the potential health benefits of yoga and confirm what long time practitioners have understood for centuries: yoga has significant physiological and psychological effects. A regular practice can increase lung capacity and respiration, reduce body weight, facilitate the decrease in cholesterol and blood sugar, and improve the ability to reduce stress (including better regulation of the stress hormone cortisol).
What is Pranayama?
“Prana” translates to breath, respiration, life, vitaility, wind, energy, or strength. Loosely translated, pranayama is the science of breath control. One easy way to conceptualize the breath is a three-part dance: Inhalation, retention, and exhalation. Focus on and attention to the breath is the foundation of a regular practice. As your understanding of your own breath evolves, the physical and mental components of the practice follow.
Sukhasana (Easy Pose):
Mechanics: Sit in a cross-legged position and place the hands on the tops of the knees. Lengthen the crown of the head tall towards the sky and ground down through the sitting bones. Gently contract the lower abdominal muscles to support the lengthening of the spine. A block or folded blanket may be placed underneath the hips.
Benefits: This posture assists in developing body-awareness, offers a gentle stretch for the hips and strengthening of the abdominal muscles. It is an ideal place to begin a practice because the relative ease of the body can allow for greater focus to be placed on the breath.
Bhalasana (Child’s Pose):
Mechanics: Place the shins, tops of the feet, and forehead on the floor; the forehead can also rest on a block or blanket. The hips move in the direction of the heels, but can remain in the air depending on your level of flexibility; a blanket may also be placed between the hips and the heels or a strap may be placed along the creases behind the knees to add more comfort and invite increased relaxation. The legs, when placed close together, create a shelf for the torso and increase the sense of stretch and movement with inhalations along the back of the body. The knees can also be spread wide apart, increasing the sense of stretch through the hips and emphasizing the movement of the belly towards the floor during inhalations. The body is relaxed and no strong contraction of the muscles is required.
Benefits: Child’s pose is a restorative posture, and a resting pose that may be taken at any time during your yoga practice. It gently relaxes the muscles along the front of the body and offers a passive stretch to the muscles along the back of the body.
Tadasana/Samasthiti (Mountain Pose):
Mechanics: Stand erect, with feet together or feet at hip’s width distance. Engage the muscles of the legs, tone the lower belly, and lengthen tall through the spine. Arms can either rest by the sides or lift above the head.
Benefits: Mindful standing with emphasis on correct alignment and engagement gently strengthens muscles over time, and allows for greater awareness of the body throughout the practice.
Uttanasana (Forward Fold):
Mechanics: On an exhale, bend forward. Keep the fronts of the legs engaged, and the low belly toned. Allow the neck to relax so that the head hangs heavy. If hands touch to the floor, the palms can press down to the floor and lightly traction towards the feet to assist in deepening the posture. If not, no worries! Allow the arms to gently dangle by the sides of the head and relax through the shoulders.
Benefits: This pose is an inversion, meaning the head is below the heart. Such positioning of the body can provide for greater relaxation and calm. The posture stretches and loosens muscles in the back and along the backs of the legs.
Ardha Uttanasana (Half Lift):
Mechanics: With the legs straight and the quadriceps engaged, inhale to lift the torso away from the thighs. The hands may remain on the ground, or the hands can be placed on the fronts of the shins or the thighs (avoid pressing back against the knees with the hands). Pull the crown of the head forward and tone the lower abdominal muscles towards the spine. Gentle pull the shoulder blades down the back away from the ears. The back of the neck remains long, so that a long line is created from the tailbone through the crown of the head.
Benefits: This posture strengthens the fronts of the legs, improves balance, and activates the stabilizing muscles in the front and rear of the torso to assist in lengthening the spine.
Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff/Lower Push-up Plank):
Mechanics: For most beginning yoga practitioners, this pose is typically entered from stepping back following a forward fold, coming forward from downward facing dog, or pushing the body up from lying on the belly.
Place the hands underneath the shoulders, and the bottoms of the toes and balls of the feet on the floor. Bend the elbows to approximately 90 degrees, and keep the arms close by the sides. The shoulders, hips, and heels form one solid line as the low belly tones up and in. Modifications include bending the knees to touch the floor and resting the shins and tops of the feet down; with the knees down, the hips shift forward so they remain in line with the shoulders.
Benefits: The pose strengthens the arms and wrists and tones the abdominal muscles, increasing mobility and power.
Bhujangasana (Baby Cobra):
Mechanics: Lie face down with legs together, tops of the feet to the floor and hands palms down underneath the shoulders. Inhale and lift the head and chest away from the floor. The palms remain light as the legs activate and tops of the feet press down towards the floor. Elbows remain close to the sides of the body.
Benefits: This pose strengthens the dorsal muscles surrounding the spine; aids with digestion.
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog):
Mechanics: Hands are shoulder-width distance apart and legs are hip-width distance apart. The tops of the feet and palms of the hands are placed on the floor; over time, these will be the only things touching the ground in this posture. The arms are straight, with the upper arms hugging close to the sides of the body. The chest is lifted away from the floor and drawn forward as the shoulders contract down the back and pull away from the ears. The gaze can be forward or up towards the sky to increase the intensity of the back bend.
The fronts of the legs and gluteal muscles are fully contracted to support the lift of the body away from the floor.
Benefits: Upward facing dog strengthens the muscles surrounding the spine, the legs, and the glutes, while offering tremendous stretch to the front of the body and deep hip flexors muscles. Back bending can be beneficial for stiffness, sciatica, and slipped or bulging disks in the spine.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog):
Mechanics: This pose resembles an upside-down V-shape. The hands are placed in front of the head at approximately shoulder-width distance. The palms and undersides of the knuckles of the fingers are pressed firmly to the floor. Typically, the fingers point directly forward, though depending on the level of comfort in the wrists, the fingers can point inwards or outwards as well. The upper arms are activated, and there is a slight inward rotation so that the armpits are directed towards the face, and the soft inner part of the elbows are directed forwards. Those with hyperextension in the elbows may wish to maintain a small bend in the joint to avoid over-extension.
The feet are approximately hip-width distance apart, and the heels may remain lifted or press all the way down to the floor. The feet are parallel and the toes point forward. Knees may remain bent, or the legs can straighten. The hips lift up into the air, and contraction of the lower abdominal muscles assists in raising the hips away from the floor.
The back is straight, the shoulders release down away from the ears, and the back of the neck remains relaxed so the head falls towards the floor.
In general, the appropriate distance between the hands and feet can be found from transitioning from an upper plank position into downward facing dog, though the distance may be smaller depending on your body and flexibility.
Benefits: Downward facing dog stretches the entire back side of the body while strengthening the front side of the body. Though it is considered a resting pose, for many beginners, and even those with years of practice under their belts, the pose is extremely challenging. It simultaneously offers tremendous stretch along with strength building. It is also an inversion (with the head being lower than the heart), therefore offering calm to the central nervous system. Less vigorous forms of this pose include Puppy Dog pose, in which the forearms are placed on the floor along with the shins and tops the of the feet. The head drops down towards the floor and the hips lift into the air directly above the knees.
Savasana (Corpse Pose):
Mechanics: Lie on the back with the feet 12-18 inches apart, and the arms slightly outstretched away from the torso. The palms face up. All muscles of the body relax. Close the eyes.
Benefits: This restorative pose counteracts fatigue and allows for calmness of the mind. Though simple in technique, finding true relaxation in Savasana can be a challenging feat. It is typically the final posture of a yoga practice.
Suryanamaskar A (10 Steps)
1. Tadasana (inhale)
2. Uttanasana (exhale)
3. Ardha Uttanasana (inhale)
4. Step back to Chaturanga Dandsana (exhale)
5. Urdha Mukha Svanasana (inhale)
6. Adho Mukha Svanasana (exhale and hold 5 breaths)
7. Step forward to the front of the mat into Ardha Uttanasana (inhale)
8. Uttanasana (exhale)
9. Tadansana (inhale)
10. Samasthiti (exhale)