Beginner’s Guide to Yoga

Black and white photo of brian kest leading a large yoga class

A beginner's guide to yoga could include many upon many different topics. Honestly, it could be a book and there are probably many books on this topic. Just describing the different styles of yoga could be a book, let alone the topics that could be created in introducing yoga. When I first decided to write this article, I thought to myself, maybe I should write a book on this topic and maybe eventually I will. Yet, there are specific points and information that can be extracted from this topic and emphasized, which is what I will attempt to do here.

I will address three fundamental questions listed below, and I will give a general overview in answering each of these questions. In truth, the answer to each question could be a book. The three questions to be addressed are: What is yoga? Should you practice yoga? Where to begin practicing yoga? So let’s get into it!

Let’s start with the first question: “What is yoga?”

Now there are actually many books that deal with this question. I will attempt to give you a simple yet clear answer to this question. Instead of a book, I will give you a few paragraphs.

Yoga can be a noun or a verb. The noun describes a mind state of which is in union with something greater than itself which it is a part of. Example: Like a leaf is connected to a branch, or the branch is connected to a tree, or a tree to the whole forest, or the whole forest to the earth. There are many words which attempt to describe this union such as “Enlightenment,” “Awareness,” “Samadhi,” “Nirvana,” “Bliss,” etc. This union minimizes the “I” and emphasizes the “All.” The idea is that the “I” is an expression of the “All” so there can be nothing wrong or right about you and whatever situation you are in. Just like there is nothing wrong or right about a tree branch, however it looks and whichever direction it grows. Just like there is nothing wrong with any element of the forest as it is all part of the ecosystem. Basically, you are a tree in the forest of life! Therefore, one’s situation does not engender thoughts or feelings of positivity or negativity as it is all a perfect expression of nature. You gotta admit, if you trusted that any and all situations of your life were perfect and an important part of you becoming all you are becoming, then you would be less stressed. This means you would be much healthier, as stress is responsible for almost all disease. Can you imagine your health is largely dependent on your understanding of your true nature? Can you imagine the yogis were interested in health and wellness? They weren’t messing around with diet and exercise, they were going straight to the source! Don’t worry, none of this negates free will and personal expression, which is also perfect, it just minimizes the attachment to any results of that free will as all results are nature expressing itself perfectly. After all, us humans might be at the top of the cognitive food chain so to speak, but we are still part of nature and we are not separate from nature. So, in truth, what can be happening that’s not happening perfectly? Yoga mind state is not simply understanding this, it’s having realized it! Having realized this, the mind stays balanced or equanimous through the ups and downs. One realizes the turbulent times are actually a step toward peace. So, don’t be stressed. You’re headed in the right direction and the turbulent times will lead to peace. So, don’t be too attached because this will change. Like the Phoenix, it only arises from the flames. Yoga can also be a verb in which case, yoga is the practice that leads to the attainment of this union.

Second question: “Should you practice yoga?” 

To answer this question you must want something that yoga practice offers. If you want health, peace, or a greater connection to your essence or nature—Yes you should practice yoga! These were the things a yoga practice was designed for. Yet, beware. Dismantling the mind state that you have developed that is preventing you from experiencing yoga right now is a painstakingly difficult task. It’s akin to breaking an addiction. It’s very similar to anything in life that’s worthwhile. It's challenging. But, then again, if your desire is health and peace there is no other choice than to at least start taking baby steps in this direction. It’s not easy to climb all the way to the top of the mountain, but it’s only the view at the top that will get you the full picture. Once seeing the complete picture, your decisions can be most optimal. A supportive community (yoga class) may help things be easier.

Final question: “Where to begin practicing yoga?”

I want you to understand one thing, and then it will not matter where to begin practicing yoga. Your desire for health and peace will continue to propel you towards it, so wherever you begin will be just a stepping stone towards where you are headed. 

What I want you to understand is there are seven billion paths toward yoga as there are seven billion of us on this planet right now. In other words, moving towards yoga or having a yoga practice is personal and the places you visit to help steer you towards a greater ability to discover your path are called yoga classes or yoga centers, studios, ashrams, temples, hermitages, etc. These places will all have different methods and maybe even different philosophies toward discovering your path. Some may even tell you not to discover your own path but to follow their path, a path that they say is proven—sort of pre-discovered. When entering these places, you may feel at home and you may want to stay forever. Then again, you may only want to stay for a short time. Then again, you may not feel a desire to stay at all. Trust your feeling and remember there are many ways to practice yoga and just because there are some who are benefiting from a certain path or style it doesn’t mean that path or style is for you. Don’t be shy about moving on—after all, you can always come back. 

In empowering yourself by trusting your intuition about the studio’s philosophy you are exposing yourself to, you will head in the most efficient direction toward your desire of health and wellness. You will stay if it feels right and you will leave when it feels right. There is an old saying that goes, “when the student is ready, the teacher (or path) will appear”. 

In moving through your wellness journey in this manner there will be no blind faith. Others may help you, and others you have chosen may help you, but you will always make the final decision according to your two abilities of discernment, your cognition, and your intuition. 

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