Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back to the Future of Yoga

Recently, I spent four weeks being my own receptionist while in between studio managers at Om West, my Pointe Claire yoga centre. I noticed within the first week of answering calls and emails that most people wanted the same thing: A course for beginners that would make them feel comfortable and where they would learn how to practice yoga safely without feeling silly.

So, I started teaching a new course this week: Yoga Basics for Beginners! It's a four week program designed to introduce new students to the fundamentals of the yoga practice. This is something I've wanted to do for a long time, but didn't get around to organizing it until now.

It's great. I have more than a dozen people registered in my Tuesday class and about the same in my Saturday class! Their enthusiasm and keen interest in learning about the practice has totally re-invigorated my teaching.

Having spent so many years leading people through intermediate and advanced practices, posture to posture, I realized I really missed teaching yoga 101. So, this Yoga Basics program is awesome for me as an instructor and great for my studio. After all, there more people out there who don't do yoga then there are avid practitioners. I hope to make this an ongoing thing at Om West.

Here's an excerpt from my handout "Young Yogi here some things you need to know…"
  1. There is no right or wrong way to do yoga & anyone can do yoga-- Yoga is an art, a healing science, a lifestyle and mindset and ANYONE can do yoga, regardless of age and ability. The great yoga master, TKV Desikachar, wrote in The Heart of Yoga: “The starting point is never the teacher’s needs but those of the student. This requires many different approaches; there is not just one approach for everybody (…) It is not that the person needs to accommodate him- or herself to yoga, but rather the yoga practice must be tailored to fit each person.”
  2. Practice on an empty stomach-- Meals should be taken at least 90 mins prior to practice, so you digest fully and avoid eating heavy food. A small snack before practice is ok, especially for diabetics, hypoglycemics or pregnant women.
  3. “Don’t make and Asana of yourself," (David Swenson, Ashtanga Yoga Master)-- The original intent of the yoga practice has little to do with yoga postures (‘asana’). Yoga postures are meant to build strength, stamina and increase flexibility so that the practitioner can maintain a steady pose for long periods of time without discomfort. So as senior yogi Hart Lazar says: “Let go of competition, especially with yourself at a younger age!”
  4. Breathe-- The breath is key. It's the life of the pose! In yoga, we breathe in & out through the nose during regular asana practice. My basic rule: if you can’t breathe in a pose, you are in too deep!
  5. Seek stability before flexibility-- Be sure that you are stable & grounded in a pose before seeking depth or a greater “stretch”. You don’t build a house without a solid foundation, so think of your postures in the same way.
  6. When not to go upside down-- Inverted postures, like shoulderstand, are not recommended during menstruation as there is a natural downward flow of energy during this time and reversing this flow can disrupt the cycle. (It can also cause a flood!)
  7. Keep the potpourri out of the studio-- Refrain from wearing perfume, cologne or essential oils when practicing with a group, because these smells get stronger the more you sweat and this can be distracting, not only for you, but also for everyone around you.
  8. About chanting-- Most classes begin and/or finish with OM chanting. “OM” isn’t a word. It’s a vibrational sound that helps release tension from the body and helps to connect to the breath and the body. Ashtanga classes traditionally start with an invocation in Sanskrit which pays tribute to the lineage of teachers past & present. Other yoga styles may also chant as part of the practice.
  9. What’s “Namaste”?-- Most yoga classes finish with a gesture and the saying “Namaste.” In Sanskrit this means: “I honor the divine spirit within you and recognize that this is the same spirit that is in me."
  10. Better out that in-- It’s possible to feel a little sensitive or emotional after your practice. This is normal, as yoga and meditation dislodge deep tensions from the mind and body. Clear the residual tension by resting, drinking a soothing tea/water, eating good food and practicing again tomorrow!
However, most importantly, find what’s right for you. Have fun and enjoy your practice. There are many different types of yoga and many different teachers. It’s important to discover what and who resonates with you, and this may change over time. In fact here some web directories to help you find yoga classes near you:


  1. this is great... even thus I took an introductory class (8 session) about 18 months ago, it is good to be reminded of those essentials... I try to keep them in mind each practice but sometimes, I tend to slip... trying to be "better" for example.... but it is true that there is no good or bad yoga session.. and I am amazed to see how different one practice can be from another one... even on following days...

  2. this course is a fabulous idea! i just went to my first yoga class over the summer and was so nervous about making a fool of myself. if only the commute from the Chicago suburbs to Montreal wasn't over 15 hours. yes, i actually google mapped it this morning. someday i will take a class at om west. thanks for keeping me inspired!