Thinking about your first yoga class (and your chronic illness)?

Practicing yoga feels good. It creates a greater connection between mind-body and body-world. Enjoying a practice for self and health,  we often improve our physical health and mental well-being. It is a very old practice, and while it has seen many transformations and variations, yoga really does work to improve health with conditions like migraine, osteoarthritis, stress and anxiety.

Yoga helps to reduce pain, improve flexibility and function, and lower stress and tension to promote better sleep.  It increases muscle strength, enhances respiratory endurance, and promotes balance. Yoga is also associated with increased energy and fewer bodily aches and pains, increased mental energy as well as increased feelings of well-being. It can be a safe way to increase physical activity while providing important psychological benefits as well.

And, if you are in the right class for you, it is fun. And makes you happy.

choosing the right yoga class   

Yoga classes and studios come in a wide variety of styles and environments. It can be overwhelming to know how to choose. And daunting to step into something that may be way out of your comfort zone. If you are considering stepping into your first yoga class, here are a few things to consider.

RESTORATIVE. Restorative emphasizes the sweetness of centering breath and body, aligned physical and mental practice of stillness. Poses, which are supported by props like pillows, blankets and blocks, are held for extended periods of time. The props helping you comfortable and supported in a pose so you can hold it longer. Although they look peaceful, restoratives can be challenging for any yogi, beginner or experienced. Just because the body is told to rest quietly doesn’t mean it will, and then your mind might also challenge stillness too. Restorative classes are a good starting place to learn about a teacher, and see if you feel comfortable in the space. They are so good for learning how to rest, which is sometimes a challenge.

IYENGAR. Iyengar yoga emphasizes alignment and health benefits in poses and with breathing exercises. Poses aide in the development of strength, mobility and stability. Iyengar classes allow for more variation in skill levels, and teachers usually assist individual students with a variety of modifications to fit their body type and skill level. This helps students progress gradually by moving from simple poses to more complex ones and develop their mind, body and spirit. Iyengar Yoga uses props, such as belts, blocks, and blankets to help students to perform the asanas and minimize the risk of injury or strain, making accessible to both young and old, flexible and not so flexible. A Level I Iyengar class is a good bet for a person with a chronic condition.

VINYASA. Sometimes vinyasa classes are accompanied by music, and even black lights. In the Vinyasa yoga practice the breath is linked with movements and movements are linked together in a flow. The transition between poses is fluid so there is a continuous flow. Slow vinyasa might be good for a chronic condition, but if you are triggered by increased heart rate, or you have a bit of brain fog or mental confusion, it might be challenging to follow. I think everything is worth trying at least once, but I wouldn’t start in one of these classes. Ashtanga, Baptiste Yoga, Jivamukti, Power Yoga, and Prana Flow could all be vinyasa yoga.

 HOT YOGA. The styles of hot yoga classes vary greatly. There are restorative warm yoga classes, vinyasa hot yoga classes. Bikram yoga is a hot yoga style. Hot yoga may not be the best option for someone with migraine, given the temperature is 100 degrees or higher, but it may work for some other chronic conditions. It might be worth trying at some point, if you want to experiment, but it may be better to start with something not-so-hot to begin with.

keep in mind

YOU ARE FLEXIBLE ENOUGH. You are everything enough to do yoga. Yoga does not require a certain set of equipment. It does not require a certain body type. Injuries? No problem. In yoga, everything is and can be adjusted to fit your needs. Just find the right class, and talk to your teacher. Then begin. Flexibility will come into some parts of your body and not into others. It is life, and it does not matter one bit. Find your space with yoga. Just as you are.

BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING. EVERY TIME. If you have never practiced yoga, or if you are a seasoned practitioner, approaching your practice with a beginniner’s mind is a fruitful place. Some days my body is so stiff that some poses are out of my range, or days I have the mental stability and stamina to go much farther.  It doesn’t matter where you begin. Just sit, on the mat in asana. In a chair practicing meditation. With a book, understanding your place within the 5000-year context of yoga. Just begin. And begin again. You will find strength, in many ways.

YOGA CHANGES LIFE.  In small bits. In waves of strength. Sometimes it is not noticeable at first. Somedays it is. It takes attention, and patience. And it probably won’t change your life if you expect it as a result. It is truly a practice of being with yourself and learning what you need, don’t need, want and love. Be open to possibilities when you practice.

TALK TO YOUR TEACHER.Teachers really do want to know about you. We really do want to understand how to help you out. So don’t feel bad asking for help. Let the teacher know that the beginning if you have head pain, or just that you’d like to be careful with your neck, or doing inversions. It will give you relief when he/she knows what you need and gives you a smile back. And if you have a question, ask! It is your practice.

IT’S ABOUT YOU. ONLY YOU. Just do what you can, and what feels right. That will change from class to class. Truly, the class is for you, and it is not a performance. So put aside your fears that others are watching you. If you need to stop, then do it. If you want to rest, then do it. It is all about you.

BE OPEN TO POSSIBILITIES. If at first it feels hard, or hurts, stay open. When things are different they can sometimes be uncomfortable. Test it out.

I’d love to hear how it goes!

Be well.