How to Be "Successful" at Yoga

According to the ancient Indian text, The Bhagavad Gita, “Yoga is a journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” To those who are familiar with the Gita, as it is sometimes simply known, the “successful” practice of yoga requires some basic self-awareness. However, with time and consistent effort, yoga practitioners can develop even greater self-awareness.

Another basic component of a “successful” yoga practice is knowledge of the basic postures. Curiosity about expanding one’s knowledge of more complicated asanas may lead to a more satisfying yoga practice over time as well.  As so often happens in life, the journey turns out to be more meaningful than the actual destination. This concept of non-attachment (vairagya) is mentioned several times in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Get to know Yoga
In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. The sage Patanjali himself tells us that practice (abhyasa) is one of the core principles of yoga.  And we’ve all heard the old adage, “Practice makes perfect.”

My advice:  Attend yoga classes of all styles and with a variety of teachers.  This is the only way you can truly find out what--and who--you like.  At Goorus Yoga, we encourage all new students to take advantage of Goorus’ 14-days of unlimited yoga offer, our 2-for-1 special, or both!  In between classes, page through B.K.S. Iyengar’s seminal text, Light on Yoga, and check out websites like Do You Yoga and MindBody Green.

Why do you want to practice yoga?
Are you hoping to improve your flexibility or balance? Are you seeking stress relief, hoping to address an injury or health concern, or needing help with weight management?  Over time and with dedicated practice, yoga will help you improve your flexibility and balance; it also helps to alleviate anxiety and sleeplessness.  The true magic of yoga is the development of self-awareness. People ask me all the time if yoga will help them lose weight.  People do tend to lose weight once they take up a yoga practice, but is primarily because they are becoming more aware of what they should or should not put into their bodies, or they start noticing when they become full.

At Goorus Yoga Studio in Pacific Palisades, we have a variety of yoga classes, suitable for all levels of practitioner:

Beginning Yoga/Level 1/Level 1-2
If you are new to yoga, we recommend attending one of Nichola Dunne’s or Al Tavera’s classes.  Al teaches a 1-hour Level ½ Flow class on M/W/F at 10:45 and a 1-hour class at 8:30am on Sundays; he also teaches a longer class on Saturday mornings at 9:30am.  Nichola teaches a Level ½ Flow class on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 to 11:15am and on M/W from 5:45 to 7pm.  We also recommend trying Erin Fahy’s 1-hour Gentle Yoga classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2pm, or her Alignment Focused Yoga on Mondays from 1:30-2:45pm.  All of the above classes are also great for people who haven’t practiced for some time as they can serve as a “refresher” of sorts.

Intermediate to Advanced Yoga/Level 2/Level 2-3
For folks who would like to explore more complex sequencing, a more vigorous flow or more advanced postures such as arm balances and inversions, we recommend trying Paula Edwards’ 9am class each Monday, Ishmael Moran’s 4pm classes on Wednesdays and Fridays, or Jeff Wells’ class on Sundays at 10am.  If you are seeking more of a cardio workout or “yoga boot camp” experience, we recommend trying out “The Class “ with Natalie Kuhn on Fridays at 9am.

Restorative/Yin/Chair Yoga
For those who are recovering from injuries or who have trouble getting down to/up from the floor, we highly recommend Susan Cambigue-Tracey’s Chair Yoga classes on Wednesdays and Fridays from 12:00 to 1:00pm.  Chair Yoga is a great way to maintain your flexibility and have fun – take it from someone who knows personally!  For those seeking deep relaxation, try Doug Binzak’s yin class on Thursdays at 4 or Nichola Dunne’s Urban Zen class on Sundays at 5:45pm. Try to approach each yoga session with a beginner’s mindset, and you will never be bored!

Deepening Your Practice Through Workshops & Trainings
Ready for a change?  Want to better understand the origins of yoga? Want to help others? If so, try out one of Goorus’ weekend workshops or enroll in our 200-hour yoga teacher training this summer with Michelle Mazur.  You may not even want to become a yoga teacher, but you will learn more healthy alignment for yourself because you will receive more personalized attention. By supporting your local studio and its teachers, you will meet other people in your home community, make new friends, and strengthen your existing relationships. 

Commit to Growth over the Long Term
Like with anything new, it’s best to start off slow.  Taking group classes or private lessons 2 to 3 times a week is a smart way to go at first—you are less likely to burn yourself out and less likely to injure yourself.  Another yogic principle is that of ahimsa—non-harming—toward yourself, others, and all living creatures. Gradually, over time, you can work up to 5 or more days a week, depending on the amount of free time you have in your schedule, of course!

Most of us want a quick fix for whatever ails us. With yoga, patience and persistence is key!  It may take as much as a year or two for yoga to reveal its benefits, but the rewards will touch upon every aspect of your life. Try thinking about yoga as more of a journey rather than a destination, and you won’t be disappointed with your progress or feel guilty about missing an occasional class.

In my gym rat days, I found it helpful to enlist a “workout buddy.”  Brainstorm about who motivates you, and create a support system for yourself.  Above all, do your best by listening to your body and focusing on your own yoga practice.  Watching other practitioners and comparing ourselves will only lead to frustration.

If you find yourself struggling, focus on your breath.  Along with awareness, breath is like the secret weapon of yoga.  There are so many other aspects of yoga to explore besides asana!  In addition to pranayama, there is also meditation, mudras, yoga philosophy, Ayurveda, and so on and so forth.  Yoga is a very deep subject.

Think of yoga workshops and trainings as self-care or investments in your self.  According to Adidas ambassador, ultra marathoner, and Peloton instructor Robin Arzon, “Self-care is the most self-less act you can do for everyone who encounters your energy.  You are going to be a better sister, a better partner, and a better co-worker.” Now that, to me, sounds like success!

Gretchen Lightfoot

A Yoga Alliance RYT-500, Gretchen trained with Carmen Fitzgibbon, Thomas Taubman, and Gigi Snyder of YogaWorks in Los Angeles. Gretchen’s teaching experience includes YogaWorks, Neutrogena, Fancy Feet Dance Studio, the Palisades Library, the Palisades Rec Center, and one-on-one work with a number of private clients throughout LA.

Gretchen’s classes vary in style. Her weekday morning classes run from a balanced, all-level flow to a chilled-out yin practice, to an Iyengar-style wall practice. Sunday morning flow tends to be a little more energetic (expect music). Regardless of the style, Gretchen encourages practitioners to listen to their bodies and modify where needed.