Mental Health,  Sports,  Yoga

How To Become A Yogi And Why Yoga Is Awesome

Ah yes, yoga. That esoteric, tree-hugging eco nonsense where you either dance your name or imitate some weird animal shapes and have to be able to bend like a pretzel to do it. That’s how I used to feel about yoga, and I’m sure many non-yogis feel the same way. How I came to yoga anyway, why I love yoga now and why I want to convince you to at least try it, I’ll tell you in this article.

What exactly is Yoga

The simplified definition of yoga is that it is a philosophical teaching originating in India that includes a series of mental and physical exercises or practices to become fitter or more flexible, improve breathing, and relax the mind.

Over the past decades, yoga has become increasingly popular in the Western world, where it has been heavily modified and influenced by Western esoteric ideas, Western psychology, physical workouts, and scientific assumptions. Therefore, traditional yoga is very different from modern yoga and contains much more complex teachings and practices than the modern forms.

In addition, there are many different styles of yoga, the best known and most commonly practiced being Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga and Yin Yoga.

Hatha Yoga is a very physical style of yoga, which aims to achieve inner balance through physical exercises, breathing exercises and meditations. Usually one stays longer in a particular pose and deepens the stretch or practices the posture.

Vinyasa Yoga is a variation of Hatha Yoga, a dynamic, faster style of yoga in which individual postures (asanas) are strung together in harmony with the breath and connected to create a sense of flow. The sun salutation is a good example of a little vinyasa flow. Basically, Vinyasa Yoga is also suitable for beginners, but it is helpful if you know the names of the most common asanas beforehand. This is because some teachers just state the asanas and continue with the flow of breathing, without explaining or correcting the individual postures in more detail. A Vinyasa class can therefore be overwhelming or too strenuous for beginners.

Yin Yoga, on the other hand, is a quiet, passive style of yoga practiced mostly lying down and sitting, so it’s just right for physically challenged, somewhat rusty, or even older yogis.

Yoga vs. Pilates

The biggest difference between yoga and Pilates is the spiritual or athletic approach. Yoga aims to create unity between body and mind, so it is fundamentally more spiritual in nature and was originally used to prepare for long periods of sitting during meditation. Pilates, on the other hand, focuses on the body and is a systematic whole-body workout designed to strengthen the muscles. Also, the breathing in Pilates is quite different from yoga, which personally irritated me a lot at first and drove me a bit crazy. As much as yoga and Pilates are similar in individual exercises and as great as my Pilates trainer is, I never really warmed up to Pilates and unfortunately absolutely dislike it. But of course that’s again a matter of taste and at least through Pilates I started to practice yoga more often again and deepened my practice. So for whom yoga is not the right thing, should alternatively just try Pilates.

How I finally got into yoga

Who or what exactly brought me to the mat? Actually, my athletic development towards yoga and how I practice it today was quite bumpy and a series of “trial and error”. My first gym, in retrospect, wasn’t really focused on the well-being and health of the clients (more on opening their wallets as wide as possible…), but what you have to credit the boss of the gym for to this day is the fact that she got me into yoga. Almost exactly 20 years ago, due to excellent advertising, I took part in an absolutely clichéd, uber-spiritual Qi Gong course and was permanently “traumatized” by it and loaded with prejudices. A few years later, said boss of the fitness studio started a yoga course in the studio after an advanced training. Thanks to my great Qi Gong experience, I was already inwardly prepared for the worst concerning esotericism and “drawing power from the earth”, but wanted to give it a chance. Fortunately, my fears have not been fulfilled.

Depending on the teacher and the type of course, the spiritual approach is stronger or weaker. The course in my old studio was actually a very good mix of both and very suitable for all members, young and old. I learned a lot there that I still use in my own classes and was really deeply relaxed each time after class. This ignited the spark in me for yoga.

At the time I was totally inexperienced when it came to effective, holistic training and really thought I was very athletic and pretty fit. In retrospect, absolutely hilarious, because I couldn’t do a decent plank or push-up because I had no strength in my arms, core and upper body, and I was about as flexible as a crowbar. In my mid 20’s. Really sad. Yoga brings you down to earth very quickly about your own abilities. You quickly realize your physical limitations, but also how fast you progress if you stretch even a little bit on a regular basis.

As a short insertion, I can recommend you YouTuber Natacha Océane. I love her positive nature and her scientifically based videos. Natacha has had a remarkable personal and professional development and only shares sensible advice and training methods. In addition, she always cooks insanely delicious, healthy and creative recipes, but also treats herself from time to time, and is also incredibly endearing and entertaining. I can unreservedly recommend her channel because she never makes false promises and now works out herself in a way that keeps her healthy and fit, but still allows her to incorporate exercise into her packed daily life. Natacha isn’t a yoga YouTuber, but she has a great video on her channel about how to train to do the splits, detailing scientifically how much or how little stretching you need to do within a week. Spoiler alert: much less than you suspect! So please don’t think that 10 minutes of stretching as a break from your desk is pointless. With yoga, it’s the continuity rather than the duration of a session that helps.

But back to my yoga class at the gym. Unfortunately, after a while I realized that I wasn’t getting anywhere and that the lessons were constantly repeating themselves. This was partly due to the fact that we had a few older participants with back problems, but also due to the lack of will on the part of the course instructor to offer the more athletic yogis a few more challenging alternatives that would help them progress. Basically, it is good if the yoga teacher adapts to the level of the students and does not overburden anyone and I also understand that with such inhomogeneous groups you can never do justice to each individual. Nevertheless, I think it is important to cater not only to the weaker yogis, but also to the more advanced ones, so that they can also develop their practice and are not underchallenged.

For this reason, I’m not particularly thrilled with most of the offline classes I’ve tried, so at a certain point I stopped taking that class. This unfortunately put me away from yoga for a few years. As grateful as I was to the boss of the studio for introducing me to yoga, I was disappointed after some time that she took away my enthusiasm and motivation again by stagnating in her course.

Of Yoga Gurus and YouTubers

After I came across Yoga With Adriene on YouTube at some point and she got me back on the mat a bit, I was open and ready for yoga again. At the time, I was in miserable shape physically and mentally and thought yoga would be the one thing to help me find my inner peace again and build up some strength physically. So I was looking for a good yoga class and this time I chose the yoga school in my town where the focus is really on yoga and not on fitness. There were many different teachers, styles and courses and of course the one yoga guru, from whom I had already heard a lot of positive things. A small local yoga celebrity, so to speak. The class itself was okay, but nothing extraordinary and in the end it was unfortunately again not what I had expected and imagined. The style was way too gentle for me (we practiced most of the class on a wool mat without grip…) and there were hardly any “standard asanas” practiced, like “downward facing down” or the warrior poses. Instead we practiced some posture in pairs, which I personally do not like at all. Already back in school I was not a fan of group work and applied to yoga everything inside me resists it. Normally I can switch off wonderfully during yoga and am 100% in tune with myself. This was of course completely impossible when practicing in pairs, with a stranger. So the super guru disappointed me, also thanks to my anecdotally based, unrealistically high expectations. But as it is in life, sometimes circumstances change unexpectedly. So it happened that the super guru needed a substitute teacher for the course after a few hours due to a serious illness. The new teacher was about my age, with a completely different personality, but incredibly calm and warm. I immediately felt comfortable with her and was very relaxed after each class, although her classes were also more Yin Yoga style. For me, however, it was clear after the end of the class that I had not found the right teacher or class for me at the yoga school either. In addition, I am also not a fan of limited courses and the division of them into “semesters”. I want to be able to practice regularly and all year round, but also take a longer break if I’m injured or don’t have time.

So that leads us back to “trial and error”. Over the years, I continued to attend a few yoga classes (including one at work during my lunch break), but never found the right one for me. At the same time, I kept doing Yoga With Adriene online and gradually practiced with her more regularly. At one point I even ventured into her 30 Day Yoga Journey, which was a real game changer for me. 30 days of yoga, done at whatever pace, helps tremendously with integrating yoga into everyday life and building a routine. But then suddenly came the big, bad C and the first lockdown followed….

I am 100% sure that many members from my gym were completely desparate when the gym closed its doors, as many of them define themselves only by strength and their appearance. Of course, I wasn’t thrilled either, but I saw it as an opportunity to give my body a longer break from strength training and rededicate myself to yoga (and later my Strong Nation training). Yoga With Adriene has been incredibly helpful getting me through this time and keeping me sane. I completed two of her 30 Day Journeys and spent at least 10 minutes with her each day. Adriene is the perfect online teacher for me and a great inspiration athletically and as a person. You can find my article about Adriene and her 30 Day Journeys here.

After a while with Adriene, I wanted to try more difficult asanas and become more flexible overall. So I started practicing headstand and splits parallel to the videos, also with the instructions and help of Adriene and Natacha. Since then, I can do both asanas to some extent, absolutely not perfectly and depending on the form of the day it works better or worse. So you see, it’s never too late to start with yoga and learn something new, it just sometimes takes a little longer until you have found your own way and style.

In the meantime, I have integrated yoga as a fixed component of my perfect, holistic workout. Even if I don’t make it to the mat every day, I regularly stretch for 10-15 minutes after each strength training session with asanas that fit my particular workout. As I mentioned earlier, consistency is the key to success. You don’t have to practice yoga multiple times a week for 60-90 minutes. Who can keep that up, please? Small steps create a habit that eventually becomes part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth. Speaking of that: While brushing my teeth, I always stand in the tree pose and thus simply improves my balance steadily during those two minutes.

My rekindled love for yoga even went so far that for a long time I dreamed of doing a 200-hour yoga teacher training. First just for me, to learn more about yoga and deepen my knowledge. In fact, at one point I finally jumped into the training, completed it last summer, and through an unexpected change of circumstances, started teaching classes at my gym last fall. This was not my plan or goal, as I just wanted to finally do something for myself, but sometimes life has other plans for you and you suddenly end up on the mat as a teacher. I hope my experience motivates you to start with yoga or at least try it.

How you should start with Yoga

If you are a total yoga beginner, I highly recommend taking a beginner yoga class with a yoga teacher you trust. Especially in the beginning it is very important that you are corrected in your posture and do not hurt yourself, because in yoga it is often small, nuanced modifications that make the difference. Also, don’t underestimate the risk of injury in yoga. Especially sports and yoga beginners don’t have a good awareness of their body yet and completely misjudge what their body is easily capable of and what is too much. That’s why I don’t think online yoga is a good place to start, so please find a good offline yoga class first.

As I have already explained, the enthusiasm and personal progress of one’s own yoga practice depends strongly on the teacher. What is too easy, too esoteric or perhaps too intense for one person, is just right for another. So please don’t throw in the towel right away if your experience with a particular yoga class wasn’t the best. Look for a different teacher or a completely different studio right away. In addition to yoga or fitness studios, most adult education centers offer good and affordable classes. If the yoga class is certified in a certain way, your health insurance may also reimburse you for part of the fee.

However, if you are like me and want to be independent of a limited course or semester and practice continuously throughout the year, you are better off with a studio with weekly continuous courses and a fixed monthly fee. The advantage of this is that you can usually switch flexibly between the days of the classes or participate in multiple classes several times a week. Especially at gyms, classes are often included in the fee and you can drop in and out flexibly. Please remember, that courses at gyms usually have a less spiritual and more athletic approach. That’s how I also structure my own classes at the gym. They are on purpose on a less spiritual level, as most participants in such an environment are not looking for enlightenment but rather for improvement in their flexibility and athletic progress. That being said, it would be also completely inauthentic if I suddenly started talking in a lowered voice about chakras and that your feelings are stuck in the hip. Nobody would buy that from me, as I don’t believe in all these theories myself, as some of them are more than questionable. Nevertheless, it is important to me that there is a relaxation part at the beginning and at the end of my class, which has a meditative character, because that clearly belongs to yoga for me.

Online- Yoga

If you already have some yoga experience, a quick grasp and a good body awareness, YouTube is a great place for online yoga to deepen your practice, find new inspiration and asana tutorials, or simply to build a routine. However, you shouldn’t choose the very first “fitness influencer” you come across as your teacher, but make sure that the person in the video has a relevant expertise in yoga. Since there are countless teachers, channels, and videos on YouTube, and it may be overwhelming at first to find the right yogi, I’d like to introduce you to a few of my personal favorites:

My undisputed number 1 and beste virtual friend is Adriene Mishler with her channel Yoga With Adriene. I described why I love Adriene in a more detailed article before. Adriene is a trained yoga teacher and tries with her inclusive style to inspire as many people as possible for yoga and not to overwhelm anyone. Her motto is therefore “Find What Feels Good” (FWFG). You can’t really go wrong with Adriene as your teacher.

If you struggle with English and prefer a German yoga channel, you’re in good hands with Mady Morrisson. You can tell Mady lives and loves yoga above, and her pleasant, calm manner now even inspires millions of yogis worldwide, thanks to her videos without commentary. Mady’s channel has a wide variety of videos. In addition to different levels, durations and styles, you can also find yoga lessons specifically focused on one topic, but also meditation videos. However, it happens from time to time that Mady calls a lesson “intermediate”, really speeds up and then suddenly jumps into a handstand during it, which is really way too much, even for advanced yogis like me. Don’t let that discourage you and just switch to another video of her. All in all, Mady is a real enrichment for yoga YouTube, very authentic and likeable and has rightly earned her success.

Adriene and Mady are both great and you can’t compare two such different people. Again, in the end it’s a matter of taste who you personally like better or whose style suits you better.

Two more YouTubers I unfortunately don’t know much about yet, but who I’ve started following recently are Alexia K Yoga and Livinleggings.

Alexia Koletsou, half Scottish, half Greek, is an engineer with a PhD, but now works as a “full-time yogi” and is currently expecting a child. On her channel, I especially like her tips and tutorials. They are very helpful, easy to understand and suitable for every level. Besides yoga, you can also find videos like the yoga mat test that helped me personally decide which mat to buy.

Liv Townsend is British and has a very athletic approach to her videos. Liv is also a full time yogi and influencer and has a deep knowledge of yoga and anatomy. She also has a lot of great tips for making progress and avoiding mistakes and injuries. What I like most about her channel is that she doesn’t take herself too seriously, has a playful, very fun and more athletic approach to yoga.

Good, short asana tutorials, especially for advanced students, can be found on the channel of the yoga company Alo Yoga. In addition, this channel also offers longer videos with entire yoga lessons, but be aware of the fact that the teachers there are usually real super yogis who are extremely experienced and flexible. Don’t let that discourage you from practicing!

How to keep up with it and make progress

In the end, I can only advise you to find your own path. Start in small steps. Stretch every now and then at work, integrate a short yoga class 2-3 times a week in your lunch break or stretch regularly for 10 minutes after sports. Don’t give up if you start to do less than you planned to do or miss a week. Don’t be so hard on yourself and I promise you, if you stick it out for just 2 weeks, you will notice first improvements and it will become easier and easier for you to do yoga regularly and integrate it into your everyday life.

Namaste, Sunshines!

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