Yoga offers a ton of benefits, but walking into a yoga studio to see lithe yogis contorted into impossible positions may be a bit intimidating, especially if you've never tried it before. That's why starting with a simpler form of yoga -- like Zen Yoga -- can help ease you into the practice without making you feel totally uncomfortable. As an added bonus, the focus of Zen Yoga is meditation, breathing and calmness. Zen Yoga could become your quiet time at the end of a stressful day -- no intimidation necessary.
Attend a Zen Yoga class to get a solid foundation for your practice. The creator of Zen Yoga -- Aaron Hoopes -- calls zen yoga "moving meditation." A Zen Yoga class has plenty of breathing exercises, slow movements and imagery combined, which means an instructor is invaluable for getting your bearings. After you take a few classes, then you can try running through the poses and exercises on your own.
Come prepared for class. Zen Yoga isn't about sweating in a hot studio or showing off flexibility, it's about finding inner calm through your exercise. Zen Yoga studios are usually quiet and dim and require a quiet and peaceful attitude. Make sure you're in the right frame of mind before you enter the studio and keep it down -- this is not the time to chatter with your neighbor.
Check your expectations for Zen Yoga. Since it combines slow-moving tai chi, breathing, qigong and meditation, you probably won't be torching a ton of calories during class. Zen Yoga isn't meant to be a method of hardcore exercise, but is rather meant to be a holistic approach to yoga that anyone can enjoy. If you're looking to sweat, try Ashtanga or Bikram on for size instead.
Focus on the present moment and follow your instructor through the series of exercises, breathing techniques and meditative poses. Zen Yoga focuses on body, mind and spirit, so you should feel especially relaxed. Ditch your guilty feelings about a messy house or an unfinished work project as you pay attention to your instructor's words. You can worry about that other stuff later.
Perform the six stretches required by Zen Yoga. Labeled as the first six letters of the alphabet, they're basic stretches that almost anyone can do. Still, don't focus on pushing your body into the stretch. For instance, in the "C" stretch, you place the bottoms of your feet together and lean your torso over your legs as far as you're comfortable. Don't try to test your flexibility. Rather, focus on the way the stretch helps you breathe and relax.
- Yoga Journal: Zen Yoga
- Zen Yoga: A Path To Enlightenment Through Breathing, Movement and Meditation; Aaron Hoopes; Kodansha International; 2007
- Reuters: Zen Yoga Founder Adds Japanese Twist to Ancient Practice
- Once you've become comfortable with Zen Yoga, it's a good time to try a more advanced yoga practice. Next, try a basic hatha yoga class to further your knowledge, flexibility and confidence.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.