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Live Health Chat

How to start a yoga program or improve the one you've got

January 26, 2011

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Los Angeles Times health reporter Jeannine Stein spoke with Los Angeles yoga instructor Christine Burke on Jan. 10 in a live Web chat about how to start a yoga practice, or how to tweak an existing one, and the mental and physical benefits of yoga.

Christine Burke is co-owner and director of Liberation Yoga in Los Angeles, which offers classes in various styles of yoga as well as meditation and classes in prenatal and family yoga. Burke, who has a background in dance, started her yoga studies at Jivamukti in New York before moving to Los Angeles and opening Liberation Yoga with her husband, Gary McCleery. She also contributes to L.A. Yoga magazine.

Can't make the chat? E-mail questions in advance to jeannine.stein@latimes.com.

 Live chat: How to start a yoga program or improve the one you've got(01/10/2011) 
10:59
Jeannine Stein: 
Hi, everyone, and happy Monday! Today we're chatting with Christine Burke, who is the co-owner and director of Liberation Yoga in Los Angeles, a studio that offers a number of different types of classes in various styles of yoga. Christine came to yoga via dance and theater, and began her yoga studies at Jivamukti in New York before coming to L.A.

She'll be answering your questions about how to start a yoga program, how to find a good teacher, what the different types of yoga offer, and how to tweak an existing yoga program to get even more out of it. Since Christine is also the director of teacher training for Liberation Yoga she can also talk about what it takes to become a yoga instructor.
Monday January 10, 2011 10:59 Jeannine Stein
10:59
Jeannine Stein: 
Please feel free to post your questions for Christine.
Monday January 10, 2011 10:59 Jeannine Stein
11:00
Jeannine Stein: 
Welcome, Christine and thanks for chatting with us today. I'll start by asking one of the most basic questions: How does someone go about starting a yoga practice? Should you just dive in and take any class that's available, or do some research before you do your first downward dog?
Monday January 10, 2011 11:00 Jeannine Stein
11:02
Christine Burke: 
The best way to begin a practice is to find a studio near enough to you that offers a wide range of classes. Call them and ask the front desk what classes they specifically suggest for a beginner and be sure to let them know if you have any injuries or illnesses currently. It's always tough to break the ice and get going so it would be best to just make the move, wear comfortable clothes and introduce yourself to the teacher as a beginner as well.
Monday January 10, 2011 11:02 Christine Burke
11:02
[Comment From ShuShu: ] 
I have some questions on how to breath properly for beginners
Monday January 10, 2011 11:02 Shu
11:04
Jeannine Stein: 
Thanks for the question, Shu. Christine, could you also tell us why breathing is such an integral part of a yoga practice?
Monday January 10, 2011 11:04 Jeannine Stein
11:07
Christine Burke: 
Hi Shu,
The breath is very important in yoga, it is true, and in the beginning the most valuable thing is to just become aware of your breath. What that means is to turn your attention to your breath moment by moment and listen to the sound and quality. The breath is so important because it helps to anchor the mind and focus both the mind and the body into the moment. This helps free us from tension and stress and get the most out of the practice. The breath also relaxes the nervous system and fuels the body and mind with fresh oxygen. Over time as you get used to following the breath you can learn to slow it down, lengthen it and breathe just through the nose.
Monday January 10, 2011 11:07 Christine Burke
11:08
[Comment From RebeccaRebecca: ] 
As a beginner, I find it hard to tune out those in the room who are more flexible than myself - then I become self conscious and enter a negative feedback cycle - any tips on how to avoid this??
Monday January 10, 2011 11:08 Rebecca
11:09
Jeannine Stein: 
Great question, Rebecca! I think a lot of people feel intimidated about starting a yoga practice because they're not flexible. But this shouldn't be an obstacle, should it?
Monday January 10, 2011 11:09 Jeannine Stein
11:13
Christine Burke: 
Hi Rebecca,
Yoga is very useful on many levels, of course, and one of these is to help us learn how to stop judging ourselves and others. So you are a great student already because you are struggling with that! it's very common! What you may not realize is how much the flexible person may long for greater strength or they may have to deal with unstable joints or a million other things! my point is that we all have things that come to us naturally and things that seem not to come easily at all. being a less flexible yoga student you will get a lot out of the practice because you have something to work toward in that way and a way to see your progress. It really is not meant to be for flexible people. it is meant to take each individual from where they start and enhance their quality of life and health. To help yourself make sure that you tune into your breath and eventually you will stop noticing anything but how good you feel and this will spill over into everything you do :)
Monday January 10, 2011 11:13 Christine Burke
11:14
[Comment From jaxjax: ] 
I have heard that when women are on their period, they should avoid practicing yoga that week or just certain poses? which is accurate and why?
Monday January 10, 2011 11:14 jax
11:19
Christine Burke: 
Hi there,
I do get asked this question frequently and i am glad you asked for those who are uncomfortable doing so in person. The basic 'prescription" is to avoid a hard physical practice the first three days if you tend toward a heavy period. Focus more on gentle and restorative poses and avoid deep twists and inversions. After about 5 days you can add inversions back in and if you are up for a stronger practice go ahead. back bends and heart and belly opening stretches/postures can help a lot with cramps and tension. Seated forward folds can help with depression and sadness. The idea is basically that going upside reverses the body's natural flow and cleansing and anything that hardens the abdomen will cause discomfort and block the release of energy. be kind to yourself in your practice and every way during this important time and use it as an opportunity to relax and enjoy the softer side of yoga and breathing!
Monday January 10, 2011 11:19 Christine Burke
11:21
Jeannine Stein: 
Keep those questions coming, everyone! Has anyone ever thought about teaching yoga? Christine can answer your questions about that.
Monday January 10, 2011 11:21 Jeannine Stein
11:21
Jeannine Stein: 
Christine, what should a student look for in an instructor? Is it important to know where they got their teacher training and how long they've been teaching? Also, what do you look for when hiring a new instructor?
Monday January 10, 2011 11:21 Jeannine Stein
11:26
Christine Burke: 
The most important thing in an instructor, in my opinion, is that they are trained well and experienced enough to truly listen and accommodate the various student in the class. this means that they are able to be in tune and available to handle everyone and open to questions before or after the class. it is important to keep your practice regular so finding someone that you "click" with in terms of student/teacher relationship is important too. You can generally trust that if you are at a reputable studio the teachers will be also. That being said you can always ask about the teachers credentials at the front desk of a studio. you can also look for studios that are affiliated with Yoga Alliance which lets you know that they value training at a certain level. One more thing to add is that some teachers may have less time under their belt but be well trained and quite natural. If you listen to your body and heart you will know if you are in the right class because you will feel safe. Always ask questions and feel free to introduce yourself - we love it!
Monday January 10, 2011 11:26 Christine Burke
11:30
Christine Burke: 
As for hiring new instructors we take a look at their history and experience through their resume like any job - but the in person meeting is very important to get the essence of a person and how they fit the particular "vibe" of the studio. If we feel it's a nice fit we will try them as a substitute in various classes and listen for feedback from students. If it goes well and a spot opens on the regular schedule then we can add them as a teacher to the schedule. This process can move quickly if the stars align - or take time depending:)
Monday January 10, 2011 11:30 Christine Burke
11:30
[Comment From hollywood beachhollywood beach: ] 
given all the different types of yoga, how does a beginner choose what is best for him/her?
Monday January 10, 2011 11:30 hollywood beach
11:32
Jeannine Stein: 
Thanks for the question, Hollywood Beach! Christine, can you also tell us a little about the different styles of yoga, such as Hatha, Vinyasa flow, Astanga, etc.?
Monday January 10, 2011 11:32 Jeannine Stein
11:33
Jeannine Stein: 
Oops, I meant Ashtanga! Sorry!
Monday January 10, 2011 11:33 Jeannine Stein
11:37
Christine Burke: 
Good question...the best thing to do is look for a Level 1 or beginner class at the studio of your choice. Generally this will put you into a hatha class that is suitable for beginning. if the studio is a particular style - such as an Iyengar studio - you be in a beginning class in that style. if no style is specifically spoken of then you are in a general blend class for basics.
A brief breakdown of styles:
Hatha Yoga is the yoga of "will" or movement or action. It means that you are practicing yoga by doing postures and sequences for the body. Under this umbrella there are different styles - but Hatha by itself means it's moving yoga. o it's the umbrella.
Iyengar is the style of Hatha that is focused mainly on alignment and structure. great for a good physical "workout" that suits everyone but also great for injuries, new people and special conditions.
Vinyasa Flow is where the poses are linked together in a fluid breath oriented sequence that builds heat. you are moving in a flowing style from one movement to the next. these are usually a little more advanced to very advanced.
Ashtanga works with a set order of poses and is very rigorous and athletic and powerful. Not great for beginners.
Monday January 10, 2011 11:37 Christine Burke
11:38
[Comment From RebeccaRebecca: ] 
I have another question related to inversions...I can't do a headstand, yet, but shoulder stands often make me feel queasy. Even being in downward dog for too long makes me feel weird. Am I doing something wrong? Does it go away over time?
Monday January 10, 2011 11:38 Rebecca
11:43
Christine Burke: 
No rush to getting to your headstand. It's good to be safe and take time for that but headstands are really wonderful and full of benefits so keep going with a good instructor. As for feeling quaesy in shoulderstand or other poses - you are not doing anything wrong. The bodily fluids get sloshed around in yoga as part of the cleansing effect and it can take some getting used to for some of us. Just come out of the posture when you need to and let the teacher know so they can give you modifications or suggestions. In shoulderstand you may need to get a lift using blankets or just open the throat a little by pressing your head back. With a regular practice this should go away. make sure not to eat close to class and drink plenty of water before and after.
Monday January 10, 2011 11:43 Christine Burke
11:44
[Comment From DashaDasha: ] 
Hi Christine, my question is about tweaking an existing practice... I've been practicing in studios for many years and have recently become a certified teacher, but have always had trouble cultivating my self-practice, usually just end up doing my favourite poses and not getting anywhere, any advice?
Monday January 10, 2011 11:44 Dasha
11:44
Jeannine Stein: 
Great question, Dasha. It seems so easy to slip into a rut or a routine after a while.
Monday January 10, 2011 11:44 Jeannine Stein
11:47
Christine Burke: 
Hi Dasha,

So this happens doesn't it?! We only do what we like or know and we tend to be creatures of habit! So...i suggest writing yourself a list of poses that you don't do often or avoid all together. make a practice out of that! Take classes from teachers you never have before and go to studios you have never been to from time to time. This can jumpstart and freshen up a practice that is stale. Also reading inspiring yoga books can fire you up. You must, at times "force" yourslef to taste new ideas and poses but this is part of the Ha -Tha - the WILL, Good luck!
Monday January 10, 2011 11:47 Christine Burke
11:48
[Comment From GuestGuest: ] 
I will be starting a yoga teacher training program soon, and am interested in teaching at some point. However i am aware I am no where near the advanced level (more like mid-level) probably needed to instruct. I hope this YTT will help with that. How would you recommend someone develop their practice and training to eventually be able to teach. It feels almost like a catch 22: can't teach without experience, and can't get the experience without teaching.
Monday January 10, 2011 11:48 Guest
11:51
Christine Burke: 
Hi there,

Congrats on starting a TT program! it will certainly deepen your practice and lead to much self discovery! You do not need to feel pressured to teach anytime soon, if ever, it is a wonderful gift to yourself either way. if you do long to teach once you have finished the program you can just view yourself in a long extended training course that includes regular practice, time in workshops, reading and even teaching friends and family to gain experience. it's a self study life style anyway and requires ongoing practice and study. you will get the experience don't worry. Definitely practice on people for free - everyone wants free yoga! Then be passionate when you present yourselves to a studio to sub and they will give you a chance. Come to Liberation when you feel ready :)
Monday January 10, 2011 11:51 Christine Burke
11:53
Jeannine Stein: 
I didn't know that some people take teacher training just to deepen their practice. What do people learn in teacher training that benefits their yoga practice?
Monday January 10, 2011 11:53 Jeannine Stein
11:56
Christine Burke: 
yes! it is true! they learn to listen to their inner dialogue - how they respond to their body and what they may be doing physically or mentally that can impede the practice. You would also learn a lot about alignment and therapeutics that can save you from an injury or heal an existing one. Also their is much focus on breath and meditation and history which can add value and depth to your experience. Yoga is the study of the self so it is like taking a course in living a wakeful, inspired life!

want to add one thing to the TT question above: make sure your chosen training has lots of practice teaching time.
Monday January 10, 2011 11:56 Christine Burke
11:56
Jeannine Stein: 
Thanks, everyone, for joining us for our chat today and for contributing your great questions. Thank you, Christine, for taking time out of your busy schedule to be here, we really appreciate it.
Monday January 10, 2011 11:56 Jeannine Stein
11:58
Christine Burke: 
Thank you Jeannine and everyone for your wonderful questions! Please don't hesitate - get to yoga for a beautiful NEW year! You can reach me at inside@liberationyoga.com and visit our website at www.liberationyoga.com NAMASTE~
Monday January 10, 2011 11:58 Christine Burke
11:58
Jeannine Stein: 
Please join us next Monday, January 17th at 11:00 a.m. Pacific time, when we'll be chatting with Rod Dixon, director of training and coaching for the Honda LA Marathon and also a former Olympic medalist. He'll be talking about proper marathon training techniques and answer all your questions about preparing for a marathon. Here's the link to our upcoming chats as well as archived chats: http://lat.ms/gv9Z5t

Thanks again,everyone!
Monday January 10, 2011 11:58 Jeannine Stein
11:58
 

 
 
 


Photo credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times