Where do I start!? It is one of the most daunting questions for any new practitioner. The easy answer is to get a private teacher, but this isn’t necessarily the only answer. My own practices were personalized a while back, when I moved back to Philly. My first Yoga teacher Rebecca Pacheco “Om Gal” was in Boston and I didn’t know anyone in the Philly Yoga community. I was a book collector as long as I can remember, buying book after book and never quite finding the time to finish them or implement their practices. What a beautiful opportunity to be teacherless with so many resources. BKS Iyengar’s: Light On Yoga and Erich Schiffmann’s: Yoga were to become my first personal teaching manuals. I would pick a few random asanas and read all about them and practice. Perhaps it wasn’t the most effective methodology but it was better than saying “I don’t know how to start”. Later I would discover the courses in the back on Light On Yoga and follow these more directly.
Improvements came over time, and I would eventually sign up for a teacher training at Dhyana Yoga, to receive some guidance and hope to figure out where the holes had been in my personal practice. It was here I would find my next major teacher: Simon Park. I followed Simon, and learned everything I could from him: Alignment, assisting, feel, flow, teaching dialogue. It was a whirlwind for about two years, until he left for tour and I was again without a teacher. I found lessons from great teachers for a time but it would be a while before my next mentor surfaced. After spending so much time with the creator of Liquid Flow, my personal practice became very improvisatory. I took the many lessons learned, the several books now read and experimented with my practice.
I was lucky to get new perspectives on flow from my new vinyasa teacher Phillip Askew and alignment from my Iyengar teacher Joan White but now the helplessness was gone. I could attend 1-2 classes a week and practice the other 3-5 days sometimes isolating poses like an Iyengar Yogi and sometimes connecting them in creative vinyasa form. My practice had blossomed! The teachers changed along the way, adding more pieces to the puzzle that make up my practice, but the one thing that became more consistent was the increase in my own home practice.
Today, with several great teachers from various movement modalities and a schedule crazier than ever, I’m lucky to get 1-2 lessons or classes a month, but now I practice more than ever and it is only getting more focused and specific to my own goals and needs.
While I was lucky enough to see the benefit of Isolation, Integration and Improvisation from working with diverse teachers, Ido Portal was one of the first to label it for me and make it a specific methodology rather than a random occurrence. Now I spend about five days a week on Isolation and Integration practice, with the other two days embodying more of an improvisatory nature, it gets more scientific by the day but will never be complete or devoid of research or the art of experimentation. We get so caught up in the overwhelming questions of if we have a perfect methodology that we often stop short of starting what was sure to be better than doing nothing.
I’ve evolved my yoga practice largely by use of the internet and there is so much material online from Ido’s challenges to the Gymnastic Bodies Forum. I’m providing a short list of instructors and websites you should visit if you want to take the research route I did. Google any name or visit the suggested place:
Ido Portal (his youtube and old blog: will be most helpful)
Dewey Nielsen (youtube)
www.PoliquinGroup.com (The Poliquin Group has undergone a lot of turmoil with many changes of leadership, but this website has been a goldmine for me)
Charles Poliquin (founder of Poliquin Group, now: www.StrengthSensei.com)
Derek Woodske (www.MG2U.com)
Pavel Tsatsouline (www.strongfirst.com and buy the books)
Jim Bathhurst (www.BeastSkills.com)
Gymnastic Bodies (read the forum it may be the single greatest movement message board ever)
Gold Medal Bodies (I found their youtube to be their most helpful resource)
www.foundmyfitness.com (Dr. Rhonda Patrick: Science Blog, dealing with diet and other health and welness research)
Make Your Own List!!!
This list is endless and starting down own rabbit-hole can present the dedicated researcher with as much information as they can want. Don’t get stuck here! Too much information can end up with an even greater list of questions and stagnation in growth.
For the complete beginner looking to develop a personal movement practice, I am posting this next paragraph as a jumping off point. Choose 3 realistic skills you are looking to learn. By realistic I mean, don’t pick handstand if you can’t do a plank, no double-bodyweight squat if you can’t do a clean bodyweight squat, no muscle-ups if you can’t do a chin-up. Look for movements that are progressions into your chosen three, that you are capable of doing and start accumulating practice. If you don’t feel strong enough to do a push-up, you start working on doing more with the knees down, that first chin-up would probably benefit from your feet on the ground (so perhaps some rows on the rings would come in handy). Figure out what your baseline is, in other words how many times (or how long for holds such as planks or hanging) can you perform the given variation with good form/alignment? Once you have this number for each exercise, commit to three days a week for now: Doing 30% of your max number on each exercise before moving to the next, starting back at the 1st after you finish all 3 for 30 total minutes. Accumulating as many sets as you can in those 30 minutes and record the number at the end of your session, looking to increase by at least one set each new session.
Is the above paragraph a perfect methodology? Far from it! Anything that isn’t individualized will be hard-pressed to be even close to perfect, and it will eventually lose its effectiveness, but it is a start while you continue researching specific practices and looking for your teacher.