(H)OM(e)made Yoga

With the nearest yoga studio 40 miles away, taking a class isn’t a realistic option for me most days. Aside from teaching, which is for the students, my yoga practice has been mostly solo and home-based for the past four years. Really for six years, since before that I was a grad student who couldn’t afford $10-$15/session.

As a student and instructor, I firmly believe that nothing can take the place of working in person with a qualified teacher in an appropriate level class, even if just for a half-dozen sessions. I recommend that to anyone. A good teacher can tailor the class to individual students’ abilities, work one-on-one within the class to help each student feel best in the asanas (poses), offer encouragement, answer questions, and more. There’s really no substitute, but unfortunately many of us (including myself) have full-time jobs, major commitments to training and/or family, live in inconvenient places, or are on tight budgets.

The next best option for beginning yogis, I believe, is some type of visual media: DVD, Web-based class, podcast, cable show, etc. More and more instructors and studios are providing classes online, some for purchase and others free of charge. I haven’t explored many offerings, but a good search engine result for “online yoga classes” should come up with plenty. If you have TiVo and a satellite dish service, you can record “Namaste Yoga” on FitTV or “Exhale,” broadcast on the Oxygen network.

To have the optimal experience, take the time out to simply watch the video before trying a new routine. It is frustrating and counterproductive to be hanging out in Downward-Facing Dog craning your neck to see what’s going on on the screen, and in some poses (Bridge, Shoulderstand) could compromise the cervical spine.

Above all else, listen to your body when practicing solo. If anything causes sudden, sharp pain, dizziness, lightheadedness, or shortness of breath, carefully come out and take a break.

Yoga Conditioning For Athletes

These titles are just one yogini’s suggestion. There are hundreds on the market, and I’m sure another practitioner would have different recommendations. Yoga is a very individual and personal experience, and part of the yoga tradition is connecting with the teachers we feel drawn to. If you want to begin a yoga practice, trust that you will discover what you need as you go. A DVD or book that ignites one person’s enthusiasm for practicing will sit on someone else’s shelf collecting dust and taking up space. That’s why, if you have access, I suggest first sampling from the public library, renting from a video store or Netflix, or downloading free online classes.

All DVDs I mention should be available through Amazon.com or Yogajournal.com’s “Shop” section.

The title I recommend most to runners and other athletes is Yoga Conditioning for Athletes. I love this practice and in the past, have done it after every week’s long run during marathon training. The whole hour-long routine is a complete practice with stretching, strengthening, and relaxation. The DVD also includes short, sport-specific routines, and instructor Rodney Yee tailors his instruction to explain how the poses benefit sports performance. It is very easy to follow with three people demonstrating three different levels for each pose.

New and intermediate yogis will do well exploring the titles produced by Gaiam.com. The Web site offers previews and categorizes titles by level of difficulty. Every Gaiam DVD I own features an experienced instructor, is beautifully filmed, well-organized, easy to follow, and has quality content. Some of them do have more of a “workout video” feel than a yoga practice feel, but that’s just my experience.

New yogis who want more in-depth instruction can try the series Step by Step A Total Guide To Beginning Your Home Practice produced by Yoga Journal magazine. Each of the three DVDs has a practice routine, but the special features include in-depth instruction of every pose. This is the next best thing to taking a Level 1 class.

I gravitate to vinyasa (“flow”) yoga for its dance-like feel, creativity, and more moderate pace. This style is also called “Power Yoga” and emphasizes strengthening as well as stretching. I have nearly 20 DVDs of ths style, but my two favorite titles are Eoin Finn’s Power Yoga For Happiness and Shiva Rea’s Yoga Shakti. Both titles let practitioners choose short or long practices. Finn’s instruction is playful and fun, yet he has a way of helping students experience poses on a deeper level. “Yoga Shakti” has an especially cool Matrix feature where you can select and sequence your own routine.

And finally, to anyone who needs a good laugh while learning a pose or two: Yogabeans!

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