By Jessica Louise Parkinson - The Musical Theatre Yogi
So here we are, it’s been a week already and it’s time for part 2 of my blog: “How To Start Your Own Yoga Practice”. If you haven’t read part 1 of this blog and you’re seriously considering practicing yoga then I’d advise you to go back and read that first. In part 1 we covered types of yoga, what to expect in a class-based environment and a little about the physical side of the practice. In this blog we’ll be covering home yoga, equipment/props and of course, meditation!
As I previously mentioned you really don’t need much space to practice yoga. A mat-sized space is perfect for when you first begin and if we’re talking home yoga, there are so many pros to practicing in your own house - privacy, your own familiar space, no fear of judgement from others around you etc. Also, you will probably have everything you need to begin your practice just sitting in your house! So let’s pick up where we left off and start on the topic of props.
Props that I would advise having to hand at home are a set of blocks, a blanket and a yoga strap. Blocks can be substituted easily with thick books (we have “1001 movies you must see before you die” and “1001 albums you must hear before you die” which have assisted me at home many a time!). If you have a belt or a scarf at home these will work ok for most flexibility exercises as a strap substitute too. These props won’t set you back much if you wanted the real thing however. Yoga straps work by having two small D rings attached at one end so you can loop it together and adjust as needed- they will help you with twists and deeper stretches as well as help you in strength exercises. If you try any of my YouTube videos you will come across various ways to use one. Blocks come in a few shapes and sizes but I would advise starting with a pair similar to those shown below. The slimmer sized blocks are useful for sitting on - if you have trouble sitting up straight in poses such as crossed legs, straddle or butterfly then sliding a slimmer block underneath your bum will help with comfort by assisting your hip position. A blanket can be used for exactly the same thing and actually might be a bit more comfortable for certain poses so don’t feel you need to spend a fortune on an array of blocks. A blanket is also great as it can be folded to a thickness that suits you.
Not so much a prop but an essential item to have for your practice is of course, a mat! A lot of you probably have one collecting dust somewhere but if you haven’t and you need to purchase one then let’s talk options. Sounds silly, cos’… a mat’s a mat right? Well no actually. Getting a decent mat can make ALL the difference to your practice. Slipping around on a mat is not only annoying but could also affect your alignment and practice. I once taught at a studio that had such poor mats they had members leave and go elsewhere! Sounds dramatic, but when you’re paying such high membership fees you expect quality equipment. First thing to check with a mat is the grip. If you’re buying from Amazon or such like then make sure you are purchasing an actual yoga mat not a pilates or general exercise mat and do check the reviews! Most mats have some kind of resin on them when you buy them so they take a little bit of wearing in to make them more grippy - some people advise scrubbing them with a little water and fairy liquid when you purchase them to try and speed up the process. Some mats can cost the earth so do your research if you’re looking to purchase a mat as an investment - expensive doesn’t necessarily always mean the best. At the bottom of this article I’ve listed some recommended places you can buy your equipment and my personal favourites too.
I think it’s important now that we touch on creating atmosphere for your practice. Depending where you practice you’re going to get a very different experience and level of enjoyment. If you’re at home then make sure you set up the space in a way that makes you feel safe and comfortable. The space should be clean (nobody likes dust flying around), a comfortable temperature and whether you’re meditating, practicing physical poses or both (hopefully! ;)) then make sure nobody is going to walk in and disturb you. It will ensure you’re not distracted and keep you focusing on yourself. It’s the same in a studio environment - if you’re trying out several studios or gyms then you will probably find you have a better practice in one place than in another. No stress though… as you become more familiar with yoga, the poses and the flow of a class you’ll eventually be closing your eyes a lot of the time so practicing anywhere will be possible!
So here we are. The main, most wonderful part of yoga… meditation. Even short amounts of meditation time can dramatically improve your state of mind and overall feeling of wellbeing. I wanted to dedicate a whole section to meditation because I know what sort of preconceptions and reservations can come up when this word is mentioned. Back in the first ever article I wrote: “How Yoga Can Improve Your Life As An Actor”, the first thing I mentioned about meditation was the “time” excuse. Not having time to mediate or practice yoga is an all too common excuse. In the article I wrote, ‘do I want to gain more clarity, feel less overwhelmed and actually end up being more productive in the long run OR NOT?’… I stand by that sentence. I personally don’t have the time to be complaining about aches and pains, I don’t have time to be feeling stressed/tight in my body, to feel overwhelmed, anxious or to be questioning myself all of the time. So practicing yoga and meditation is essential for me. I have to. You will soon find the positives far outweigh any perceived negatives. I have found myself at a point now where if I have been neglecting my meditation practice (it happens, we’re only human) then my mind and body tell me.
As a beginner you will likely begin your meditation practice through the short amount included at the beginning and/or end of most modern yoga classes. Meditation is simply breathing. A common misunderstanding is that meditation is hours of sitting up poker straight or that you have to have a certain amount of spiritual understanding to partake. This isn’t the case. Of course there are differing levels and types of meditation but for the purpose of this blog we’re just going to stick with the basics. The basics being… your breath! Take a moment right now (yes, right this minute even if you’re on a train!) to try this exercise: Close your eyes, inhale through the nose then exhale through the nose naturally but keep your focus ENTIRELY on the breath flowing in through the nostrils and out through the nostrils. Go… I’ll wait…. Did you do it? Well if you did then congratulations! You just successfully meditated. Wasn’t that difficult right? Next time you get the chance, perhaps before you go to sleep tonight, sit up in a comfortable position and try doing that exact same thing for 5 minutes. Set a timer on your phone and just dedicate 5 minutes to inhaling and exhaling through your nose. The aim is to keep your mind fixed on the nostrils and breath for the whole time. I’m going to let you into a little secret though… you probably won’t manage it. And guess what? THAT’S OK! The nature of the mind is to fluctuate so when your mind wanders away from your breath, you simply have to accept it without frustration and then take your focus straight back to the breath again. When I first began meditating I used to get so frustrated with myself that I couldn’t just focus on my breathing the whole time. But it takes practice and it certainly doesn’t help to get annoyed. Once you accept that’s how your mind is and that it’s going to take a bit of time, then you’ll enjoy the experience much more. Don’t use it as an excuse though- actively take your mind back to the nostrils and breath as soon as you notice the mind wandering. Effort=results.
It’s worth mentioning that there are a few apps out there that can help you with your meditation practice. I have a lot of friends that use them and say they’ve helped them with their sleep as well as with anxiety. I’ve listed them at the bottom of this article along with all of the other references.
I really hope this two part blog has inspired some of you to even just have a think about beginning a yoga practice. Yoga has changed my life. It’s kept me going as a performer, it’s healed injuries... but most of all it’s made me more content and confident in myself. You may see lots of photos of me doing handstands and think that’s all it’s about but trust me, it’s so much more.
If you need any more help with getting a practice started then drop me a line through my website. I’d love to hear from anyone who has gone to their first class or has recently started yoga too so please do get in touch via any of my social media pages. Good luck and thank you for reading...
Online yoga content recommendations: Yoga with Adriene- https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene FREE
Jessica Louise Parkinson #YogaForCreatives- https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAfhlRXFGTFqWYlVhlYHyMw FREE (my channel!)
Steph Gongora- https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAfhlRXFGTFqWYlVhlYHyMw FREE but also has a wonderful beginners guide to yoga book you can purchase. Check out her website: https://casa-colibri.com/shop/tbgtsyp/
Equipment: My favourite brand for fun blocks and amazing straps is InfinityStrap- www.infinitystrap.com
You can also get a 10% discount code on their website using code MUSICALTHEATREYOGI
YogaMatters is a good and trusted website for all things yoga- https://www.yogamatters.com
Gaiam is a cute brand of yoga mats that aren’t too expensive but have lovely patterns- https://www.gaiam.com/collections/yoga-mats You can also find this brand on Amazon though too so don’t forget to compare prices before purchasing!
Liforme is the brand of mat that I practice on and that you’ll see featured in my videos and photos- https://liforme.com Yes, these mats are pricey but keep in mind I practice every day, they will probably last me forever and in my opinion, they’re the best.