I wrote about my hesitation to begin practicing yoga in a previous post. Today, I would like to share a few resources for people who may feel similarly to how I felt before beginning a regular practice: somewhat reluctant, overwhelmed by all the information on the Internet, and feeling stuck because you don’t yet know how much you’d like to invest of your time and money in this practice.
In this post I will be focusing less on the experiential aspects of practicing yoga, and more on recording my thought process and preferred resources for making yoga accessible to me. I hope this less poetic and more informational post will be useful to some.
YouTube videos were my saving grace as I attempted to build yoga into my life. I do think it is important to get some studio time so that you can have an in-person instructor watch you and correct your postures. But for many it is unrealistic to dedicate hours commuting back and forth to a studio for several sessions a week, and too expensive to participate in live classes with a regular enough frequency to develop a meaningful yoga practice. This was certainly the case for me. I wanted to be able to practice 4-5 times a week, and paying around $10 – $15 for each practice, or even paying a reduced monthly rate, was simply not an option.
At most, I could attend a studio practice once every week or every two weeks. I used this time to ask the instructor for help with poses that were more difficult for me, and also asked if she had any specific advice about things I could work on at home, with respect to my posture, alignment, and breathing. I would then take these specific pieces of information and work to correct myself at home, where I practiced with much more frequency than I did at the studio, enough to develop muscle memory and integrity in my poses.
Building a home practice is an excellent solution for people with time and cost inhibitions. It allows you to make space for yoga with the schedule and budget you have now. Like with all things in life, yoga requires practice – consistent, regular practice – before you really improve and start to feel the benefits seeping in.
So if you’re thinking about going to studio classes once or twice a week, I would encourage you to start off slow, and then supplement that time with home practices on another day a week, and then two supplemental days per week, then three… you get the idea.
There’s no need to overdo things and start off practicing 5 whole hours a week. A home practice session can be as long as you’d like, given that there are YouTube videos ranging from 5 minutes to over 1 hour. I would advocate for you to consider consistency as more important than net hours for developing the habit of a regular practice. If you’re time-constrained, instead of putting pressure on yourself to make every practice at least one hour long, consider what period of time would allow you to practice on more days per week. Can you fit twenty minutes in on most days, and an hour on only one or two days? That’s great! Do that!
When possible, even if infrequently, do try to attend a few studio classes. Not only is it helpful to receive feedback, it is also a different experience to practice in community with others (especially once you learn to stop comparing yourself to those around you in the room). I would also advise you to save for the studio those very challenging poses that are potentially dangerous if done incorrectly. For example, I didn’t start practicing headstand or shoulder stand at home until I really learned how to do these poses at the studio, with the help of an in-person yoga instructor. Once I felt confident in my ability to practice these poses safely on my own, I began to integrate them into my home practice.
Here are the online yoga instructors I have turned to while practicing at home:
- Yoga with Adriene: I found Adriene’s channel particularly helpful in the first three to six months of my practice. She is very accessible for beginners, providing thorough, friendly instruction and often humorous chatter to ease your nerves about yoga. She has become something of a YouTube sensation in the past year and has been producing even more content since. She has numerous videos catering to very specific needs, like yoga for diabetes, for dancers, for manual labor. These themes can be a great entry point for people who wonder how yoga might benefit them as an individual with particular stressors and a unique body with different strengths and areas of tension than that of the instructor.
- Fightmaster Yoga: As I started feeling more confident in my practice, I liked the more rigorous pace and longer length of videos that Lesley Fightmaster offers in many of her online practices. I was also drawn to how real Lesley feels to viewers back home, and the warmth with which she presents herself. She does not have the lithe, feathery thin figure that people typically associate with advanced yoga instructors. This can be a breath of fresh air and an inspiration given that everybody comes to the practice with a different body and perhaps one that looks different from what some would consider as the ‘ideal’ yoga body. Seeing Lesley on camera is a reminder that yoga is a practice for us, too. I love that Lesley is honest about her practice. Even when she brings in the most honey-sweet of affirmations, they are easy to digest because she offers them with such authenticity and generosity of spirit.
- Yoga with Tim: This is an excellent channel if you appreciate concise yet precise instruction without the frills. Though Tim occasionally integrates thoughtful commentary about yoga philosophy into the practice, it never feels excessive or cheesy. I go to his videos when I need to tap into my body and intuition more deeply, because he does not often offer prescriptive intentions for structuring your practice. His videos are great for moments when you want more of a quiet, yet fierce and focused practice. I also value the gender diversity he brings to the yoga scene, given that the vast majority of instructors online are women. Representation matters, as I mentioned with Lesley bringing in different body types to the practice. Seeing a man practice yoga may encourage other men to more easily adopt the practice, too.
- Yoga with Kassandra: I recently found this channel and love it! Though she has videos for beginners, I found that I enjoy her advanced videos and feel more ready for them than I would have at the beginning of my practice. She also does many interesting videos that further the spiritual aspects of yoga. For examples, she has a series of videos challenging you to emulate the four elements, to sync your body to the current season or lunar cycle, and to meditate and hold poses for longer periods through full yin practices. If you enjoy having an instructor with a moon-child, creative vibe, as I’ve learned that I occasionally do, then you should check out Kassandra’s videos.
- BrettLarkinYoga: I found some of Brett’s flows especially wonderful for when you are feeling the need for a less traditional practice. For example, she has workout flows that really make you sweat and elevate your heart rate, and one beautifully rhythmic flow that feels like dancing. She has a lot of other content, too, and you might enjoy browsing through it to see what works for you.
Let me know if you end up using any of these resources, and if you have any of your own that you’d like to contribute to this list. As I make this list, I realize that it is completely lacking in women and men of color, and people from outside the US. I mentioned that representation matters when it comes to encouraging and inspiring folks who have more obstacles in front of them. I definitely plan on looking deeper into the YouTube yoga community to find other diverse voices I may have missed while developing my own home practice.
A few more words of advice: invest in a good sticky mat, a couple of foam or wooden yoga blocks, and a strap. This equipment will help you get into the poses and modify them so that you can stay in them for longer and with more structural integrity. Don’t worry so much about the expensive yoga-specific clothing, unless it makes you excited to practice. In my experience it is just as comfortable to practice in your pajamas, athletic attire from other sports you’ve played, extra leggings, or time-worn sweatpants.
And for those of you practicing in Jordan or Mexico, keep an eye out for classes and retreats taught by the wonderful Alena Bartoli. She tends to both the physical and mindful aspects of the practice, and helps you focus in on your particular strengths and areas for development in a non-judgmental, loving manner. I took a retreat with her last year, and it reaffirmed my commitment to an honest yoga practice that is not just about physical exercise. The images featured in the past couple of blog posts were from her retreat in Wadi Feynan.
Finally, I want to mention that I am by no means an authoritative voice on the topic of yoga, nor have I provided an exhaustive list of resources. I am sure you’ll encounter others with different opinions and advice on how to start practicing. I have shared what worked for me. Feel free to try some of it, keep whatever is helpful to you, and abandon anything that is not so helpful. It is your practice, and it is normal to have a unique journey with it!
Whether you’re beginning your practice, in pre-contemplation phase of starting, or have already established a practice — I sign this post off with my wishes to you, dear reader, for more ease, greater wellness, and continued self-learning.