"Yoga is not just doing an asana"
Since my first class in July 2015, my yoga teacher has repeated that phrase above more times than I could count. He has made it clear that yoga is not something you can do with no thought. It's not just about learning fancy looking asanas or striking a pose. As easy as some asanas can seem, there is so much that still goes into proper form for Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog), Uttanasana (Standing forward fold) and even Savasana (Corpse Pose).
Learning and maintaining proper form is essential to any yoga practice to build a strong foundation and to avoid any injuries. I, unfortunately, had to learn this the hard way.
Even though I started with a home practice by using youtube and e-books which taught flows and websites like Yoga Journal which taught proper alignment, it just wasn't the same as being able to go for a class and being corrected by a teacher who can really see what might be going wrong.
This is exactly why, if you can afford it, I would recommend signing up for a small yoga class or even 1 on 1 sessions when you first begin. It can be scary to walk into a small class as compared to practicing at home or hiding among a class of 20 people, but it will be worth it.
Choosing the right class is so important for learning as well. Signing up for a flow class will be fun, but if these classes are crowded and the teacher can't stop to correct you when you don't know how to do each asana with the right form, it could do more harm for you than good.
When I attended classes, I felt a little weird that we were using so many props; ropes, blocks, pillows and towels and straps. (I mean look at that photo above, all that for one downward dog?!) I didn't see why we needed it all. But eventually I did. I felt and I saw the difference all this help was making into my form and my practice.
It might not seem like too much, but my old downward dog (left) compared to my new downward dog (right) were actually lightyears apart.
Some differences I learned:
So these were just some of the things I learned about Downward Facing Dog since starting yoga classes. I am by no means "perfect" but I love knowing I'm learning and improving.
Now imagine everything else you could learn when you go for the right classes, one where you can get more help from the teacher. Though sometimes, even when you're in a class of 4-5 people, it can be easy for a teacher to miss that your foot is placed the wrong direction or your back in hunched. There is no shame in asking for help. More often than not, it will take less than 30 seconds to go over it and you would have learned how to do an asana. Once you know what's right, it's hard to do it the wrong way again.
I may have practiced yoga for the first 10 months all on my own, but the difference shows once you have guidance. As I said earlier, a lot goes into each asana and you will only feel nervous or embarrassed the first few times you're in a class. After that, you get over it. Yoga is an ongoing practice so we might as well make the most of it so we get better with time.
Just as a bonus, here's another "easy" asana I learned how to perform correctly though my classes.
I used to hate Uttanasana because I always felt strained and would lose balance. How my hips stack over my ankles, my body is straight and long, joints not hyperextended and the stretch feel absolutely beautiful.
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