Yoga is an ancient practice dating back thousands of years to the Indian subcontinent. With 2013 drawing to a close and a new year upon us, now is the perfect time to begin a yoga practice.
In the United States, the common image of the yoga practitioner is a thin, able-bodied, White woman. But yoga offers benefits for all types of bodies and all groups of people. In its most basic form, yoga is simply connecting movement to breath. The emphasis on breathing has a calming effect on the mind and body, releasing tension and stress.
Erica Robinson is a yoga instructor at Asali Yoga Studio in Harlem, and she is dedicated to bringing yoga to communities of color. Robinson explains her approach to yoga, stating:
“Yoga is there to help you. You do not have to perform for anyone. Be happy where you are and know that it is an ongoing lifelong practice. There are always modifications for certain poses, and blocks and straps which are props to help you out if a pose is difficult. Yoga can benefit a person by making them more flexible and strong in both the body and mind. It helps to create better focus and awareness in life.”
Robinson recommends the following poses for those new to yoga.
Pose One: Reverse Warrior (also known as Viparita Virabhadrasana)
The Warrior pose is available in three different variations, and each stretches a different part of the body. In this version, begin with your feet spaced at shoulder width. Lunge forward, aligning the front knee over the front ankle. Straighten the back leg as much as possible. Extend the front arm overhead with the palm facing up and slide your back hand down your back leg. Repeat with opposite leg.
Pose Two: Pigeon Pose (also known as Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
This pose can be done in different variations and can be adjusted based on body type and experience level. For beginners, kneel down and place your palms on the ground, about shoulder width apart. Bring your left leg forward, placing the left knee directly behind the left wrist. Extend the right leg back, resting your right knee and the top of the right foot on the ground. For a deeper stretch, place your elbows on the ground. Repeat on opposite side.
Pose Three: Corpse Pose (also known as Savasana)
This is a resting pose on the floor, and it is often the last pose in a yoga class. Lie down on your back and breathe deeply, releasing any final tension in the body. If you cannot lie down flat, props such as blankets can assist with this pose. Savasana is usually done for 5-10 minutes.
If you’re looking to add more yoga to your life, check out free videos and podcasts. You can also visit a yoga studio near you and take a beginner class. Find an instructor that is right for you. It is important to work at your own pace, but feel challenged as well. Yoga allows for unity with the self and leaves you with a clear mind and healthy body. Remember to stay open and have fun!
*Special thanks to Erica Robinson, Director of Asali Yoga Studio for her images.
by Carina Nieves and Brittany Duck, Graduate Students at the New School for Public Engagement