The Alphabet of a Safe Yoga Practice

The following list will help you to keep progressing forward in your yoga practice. Refer to it often, and feel free to share it with your fellow yogis and yoginis!

A. Ahimsa, or non-violence. 

It is important that you never force or jam your body into poses. Instead, allow your body to slowly adapt to a pose, honoring where it is, as well as its potential. Over time, and with practice, your body will open up at its own pace.

B. Breath.

Slow, deep, controlled breathing is the cornerstone of a successful yoga practice. You always want to make sure you are breathing, and you want to ensure that you use breath to help you relax into a pose.

C. Care.

Always approach a pose with care. Ensure you have the right alignment structure and strength. If you need more time to do this, take it. Remember, every practice and every pose can be adapted to suit your needs.

D. Determination. 

When you see a yoga teacher perform a pose, it is generally at its full expression. You may not be there when you start, but with regular practice, your body will become stronger and more flexible. You may ultimately be able to do the pose at its fullest, or maybe you won’t. It does not matter. All that matters is your determination in undertaking the journey.

E. Edge. 

The edge is a yoga term that means feeling the stretch and taking it as far as you can without feeling any discomfort.

F. Fall prevention. 

It is important to do whatever you can to prevent falls, including using steady pieces of furniture and props for balance, or choosing a seated practice as appropriate.

G. Grounding.

Grounding through the feet—meaning proper foot positioning—is the foundation of any practice. Always be aware of your feet. taking time to stop and adjust if needed.

H. Height.

Whenever you are bending, whether it is front to back, back to front, or side to side, you always want to think about getting height between the discs in your spinal column. Lengthen up before lengthening over.

I. Integration.

The integration of movement with your breath is critical. While in asana, it is the breath that will help you relax and stretch.

K. Kindness.

Showing kindness to those around you will bring you great joy. Showing kindness to yourself will bring you great wisdom. The practice of yoga should be one of kindness, where we show compassion to others, and to ourselves, never judging ourselves if we cannot master a pose.

L. Listening.

Listening, specifically listening to your body, is critical. Your body is wise, and it will let you know if you are pushing too hard. Learning to listening to the body’s subtle– and not so subtle cues– is something that every yoga practitioner must do in order to move forward in his or her practice.

M. Modifications. 

Know that you can modify ANY asana. The use of straps, blocks, chairs, or even a change in position (from standing to sitting on the floor) allow you to customize to suit your needs and challenges. For example, if you are unable to stand on one foot and balance while stretching the other leg forward and holding onto it with the hand of the same side, you can do this pose seated on the floor. It is also perfectly acceptable to come out of a pose when you need to, or to skip a pose altogether. Modifications allow your body to get stronger and more flexible at its own pace, all while avoiding strain and injury.

N. Nurturing. 

No matter how you feel, whether it is stiff, sore, or tired, there is a restorative yoga practice that can help nurture you and bring you back into balance. Taking time to nurture our bodies, and minds, makes us more resilient and better able to care for and nurture others.

O. Opening.

All yoga classes should begin with an opening. This is a time to ground and center yourself with deep breathing or gentle stretches. This allows the body time to warm up, and the mind time to quiet down and let go of the stresses of the day.

P. Practice.

The practice of yoga is just that– practice. We practice to get as close to a full realization of the asanas as possible, and along the way, the benefits of the practice reveal themselves.

Q. Quiet.

If you are practicing yoga at home, it is important that you carve out time, and find a place, where you will not be interrupted. Not only does yoga require concentration and focus, but it also gifts us with the release of anxiety and tension. It can only do this if we are present, aware, and still in our bodies. This is hard to do with distractions, so the quieter the space the better.

S. Sun Salutations.

This meditative, flowing series of poses can help you in numerous ways, from improving flexibility, balance and strength to improving anxiety.

T. Tadasana.

Tadasana, or mountain pose, is usually the foundation of a flow. When in it, your feet are grounded, your spine is straight, and your belly is engaged. This is a pose you can carry off the mat, helping you to have better posture and alignment.

U. Uplifted.

When stretching your arms overheardyour heart should be uplifted as well, freeing up the upper back and allowing for lots of room for the breath.

V. Variety. 

Maintaining variety in your practice will not only keep you from getting bored, it will also ensure that you are stretching and strengthening multiple muscle groups.

W. Warmed up. 

Always make sure your muscles are warmed up before going deep into a pose.

X. X-rays (or MRIs).

Before you start a yoga practice, if you are experiencing any chronic pain of unknown origin, please see your doctor. He or she may recommend proper imaging studies to get to the root of your problems.

Y. Yield.

Knowing when to yield in a pose is critical to remaining safe. Listen to your body. It will let you know if you are pushing too hard.

Z. Zeal.
Approaching every practice with zeal, or enthusiasm, will keep you motivated to challenge yourself and advance forward.