Being new to yoga, you're probably not sure where to start. Yoga is such a broad term it can be overwhelming. For this reason, we’ve assembled this comprehensive guide. It will introduce you to various aspects of yoga, answer possible questions you may have and offer some practical tips to start your journey.
If you're interested in incorporating yoga in your life and learning more about it, read on.
What is Yoga?
The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word yuj and is often interpreted as "union". Yoga is the practice of joining the body, mind, and spirit all together.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
It is believed that approx. 2000 years ago the Indian sage Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras. They are a set of 195 statements that are the philosophical foundation of yoga as we know it today.
He outlined eight main limbs of yoga in which each stage prepares us for the next. The limbs that are most commonly practiced today are asana, pranayama, and meditation.
The guidelines how we should live in peace with the world. The five main yamas are non-violence, truthfulness, moderation of action, Non-stealing, and non-collection of material items.
The attitude we should have towards ourselves to build self-discipline, trust, and determination. The five main niyamas are: purity, contentment, austerity, self-study, and devotion to a higher power.
The physical yoga postures. There are hundreds of different asanas practiced today with the different yoga styles. When performing an asana focus on awareness of your body and mind. Become comfortable and stable in the posture and breath through it.
The breathing techniques you can perform on their own or when practicing the asanas. They raise your awareness and exercise the connection between breath, body, and mind.
This means, "withdrawal of the senses". Detaching from external distractions and focusing your attention internally.
A deeper level of concentration where you focus on one mental object for a long period of time. It is a mental fixation on a single point of reference that precedes meditation.
A profound meditation aimed at reaching a state of high concentration and awareness without focus.
The last step also experienced through deep meditation is of bliss and a profound connection to the divine.
Benefits of Yoga – Why Start Yoga?
Yoga can offer all kinds of benefits from enhancing spiritual well-being to improving mental and physical health. Maintaining a consistent practice that raises your awareness can get you closer to achieving some of them.
Scientific researches are continually examining the positive impact of yoga on our well-being. Here we focus on a few of these benefits.
If you suffer from any health condition it’s important to consult your physician before practicing.
This one is pretty obvious to highlight, but all the yoga poses you do can help stretch your muscles and release any tension you may have. You don’t need to be flexible to start yoga, and you probably won't be able to perform some poses right away fully.
Developing your flexibility is a gradual process, and as you maintain a constant practice, you will see results over time. Improved flexibility can positively impact the way you hold your body and may reduce pain resulting from poor posture.
Yoga can help improve your blood flow and circulation. Sending more oxygen to your cells and tissues allows them to function more efficiently.
Staying in twisted poses acts as a “floodgate”. When released it allows oxygenated blood to flow into internal organs and clear the blood vessels from possible impurities.
Inverted poses encourage charging the blood coming from the pelvis and legs with fresh oxygen which is then released back to the system.
A study led by Dr. Debbie Cohen of the University of Pennsylvania showed that people who suffer from mild-to-moderate hypertension might find yoga beneficial to their health. They found that practicing yoga had a positive impact on blood pressure, and although a cause-and-effect relationship was not proven exercising yoga a few times a week was associated with a decrease in blood pressure.
Moreover, and in particular, the Corpse Pose (or Savasana) was related to a significant drop in overall blood pressure. These studies examined the impact for three months on people who managed hypertension.
Yoga helps you develop strong and toned muscles. That can help reduce your chances of long-term conditions such as arthritis and back pain. With consistent practice, you will see improvement in various areas. These include core muscles, limbs, back and others. Plus, you also develop flexibility alongside your strength when practicing yoga. Which usually doesn't happen with other muscle strengthening exercises like weightlifting.
Yoga helps keep your spine and lumbar region happy and healthy with all of the bends and twists you do with each pose. The disks in your spine stay supple with all of the movement, which is great for improving your posture!
An interesting video showing the relation between yoga and the spine
WebMD links yoga to additional health benefits such as lower cholesterol and a healthier immune system. As you start practicing be aware and notice any improvements you may experience
It doesn't stop there – yoga also provides stress relief, and we all know the toll stress can take on our bodies and minds. Stress is known to affect our health adversely hence learning to quiet our minds through the yogic combination of exercise, breath, and meditation is likely to produce a positive impact on our mental well-being.
A study conducted at the University of Utah examined the influence of yoga on stress response by looking at the participants' responses to pain. The results showed that the yoga practitioners had the highest pain tolerance and lowest pain-related brain activity, demonstrating the potential of yoga technique in regulating stress and impacting pain response.
In an article written by the American Osteopathic Association where Dr. Natalie Nevins, was interviewed, she says "regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness; increases body awareness; relieves chronic stress patterns; relaxes the mind; centers attention; and sharpens concentration." This statement accurately and concisely describes the mental positive effects of developing a consistent yoga practice.
Get Ready for Your First Yoga Class
Starting to practice yoga actually requires very little equipment. The one probably essential piece is a yoga mat which yoga studios usually carry. Still, there are a few things you’ll probably want to consider and be aware of as they may impact your practice.
What to Wear to a Yoga Class?
The simple answer is comfortable, breathable clothes - you don't want anything that you have to pull at or would chafe your skin while doing the different postures. You may want to consider clothes that don't entirely hide your form as your teacher may wish to observe your alignment and technique. Be mindful not to wear anything that is too large or too revealing as you may be bending in a certain way during a particular asana. Try out some options to see what you like!
As for footwear, yoga is practiced barefoot, so no shoes are required.
What Are Yoga Props and Will You Need Them?
Yoga props are often used to provide additional support to your body while performing different postures. There’s a variety of props you can use as a beginner to work on your flexibility and balance. According to Yogapedia, "several benefits of yoga props include promoting alignment, helping the yogi realize an effective range of motion, and helping one to understand a posture thoroughly."
A few examples of props include blocks, blankets, bolsters, and yoga straps. Blankets can be used to provide extra padding or height. Yoga blocks help you with your alignment and bolsters provide a cushion to help you relax. Yoga straps are designed to help with muscle stretch.
However, you don’t need to purchase any of these if you’re just starting out. Yoga studios usually carry all the equipment you’ll need.
This is really the one piece of equipment that is required right from the start.
Still, as a beginner, there’s no need for you to rush and buy one. Many yoga studios carry a variety of yoga mats so you can try them out to get a better understanding of your needs and learn which fits you best.
Should you decide to buy your own yoga mat, be aware that the variety can be overwhelming. To optimize the process and choose the right mat for you make sure to take into consideration parameters such as material, size, grip, and thickness.
How to Prepare Your Body for Yoga?
You may be excited to try yoga, but do you know exactly how you should prepare your body for this exercise? While you may not need to run laps or do a thorough warm-up, there are a few things to consider before you get on the mat.
Avoid Eating Before Practice
You may wonder why it is recommended not to eat before a class.Eating food 1-2 hours before a class can interfere with your body's ability to respond to the different asanas. Digestion of food requires a lot of blood flow and energy to the gastrointestinal area, and twisting your body in certain postures can impede that process, causing discomfort.
If you feel you can't practice on an empty stomach try eating something small that will not be heavy on your system up to approx. 40 minutes before practice. It can be something light like yogurt or few nuts.
However, if you have health issues such as diabetes or low sugar, you should consult your physician before performing yoga to understand how to manage your sugar level before, during, and after practice.
Water is key to helping your body perform the different postures and flush out any toxins. It's a good idea to take a water bottle with you to class.
Yoga can help you improve your sense of well-being thorough constant self-inquiry. It will support you in connecting to your body. Keeping an open mind and an open heart to the possibilities of this process will encourage a meaningful experience for you and will allow you to explore your inner-self.
Can You Practice Yoga at Home?
The answer is yes! Practicing yoga at home can be a highly rewarding experience. Sure, taking a class offers comradery and guided instruction from your teacher, but yoga can be just as enjoyable going solo at su casa. In addition to the equipment we discussed earlier that you need to get started (mat, comfortable clothes, props, etc.), there are few other things you can do to set up your own "studio" at home.
First, it's important to have a clean and quiet spot (no clutter). Make sure your space is open and is a space you can dedicate to doing yoga.Try to choose a space with no mirrors. It is important to allow you to focus your awareness inward rather than on how your pose looks. Actually, yoga studios typically don’t have mirrors for the same reason.
Secondly, start out with the basics and just practice a few poses to see how your body responds. Listening to your body is a crucial element to successfully practicing yoga, so don't rush into doing a whole routine at once. Have fun learning about your body and how it responds to the bends, twists, and stretches that you are putting it through!
Finally, slowly incorporate yoga into your routine. By setting a dedicated block of time, this can help you stay motivated to keep up with your practice and learn new poses. After some time, you may even want to increase your frequency and combine routine that energizes and one that calms you down and prepares you for rest. If you're feeling a little too isolated doing yoga by yourself, try a blended routine where you take a class once or twice a week and do yoga at home the rest of the week. Or, have a friend come over to do yoga with you to start your weekend off right.
You can use a beginner's routine to follow. There are various yoga videos for beginners on youtube. Here is a video to an easy 20-minute sequence. In this video, Adriene guides you through some basic poses and also focuses on your breath and body/mind awareness. You will see how her environment is quiet and clean, with little equipment around her. Please pay attention to how she prepares her mind for the exercise since it is so important to have a focused mindset during yoga.
A useful video showing home yoga routine for beginners
How Often Should You Practice?
Even after one practice, you can start to feel the impact; still, I like to think that yoga is a cumulative experience – each session builds upon the last. Just like you can't expect to have strong muscles by lifting weights once every so often, you can't expect to see much results from practicing yoga here and there. Just adding a few poses to your day to break up your sedentary experience can help rejuvenate you. When you are committed to a time and a routine, you will see the changes in your body and energy over time.
Two to three times a week is a great frequency to start with – of course, you can add to that as much as you want if you find practicing yoga beneficial and rewarding. Don’t be discouraged if you can manage only one practice a week; you’ll still enjoy the benefits of yoga. Once you start to feel the effects of doing yoga on a regular basis, you will be more inclined to keep up with it and push yourself to do more challenging poses. The best part about yoga is tailoring your routine to what your body needs, so listen and learn from it! It will guide you to what is right for you.
How to Choose the Right Yoga Type for You?
You may or may not be aware of the many different types or styles of yoga that are in practice – but, how will you know which one to choose? or which one is the right one for you? Let's take a look at some of the most commonly practiced yoga styles and learn about the unique qualities of each one.
Remember, this is not a complete list of yoga styles – there are more yoga types to explore and learn about! Just be open to learning any style that intrigues you and give it time so that you can decide which one is the best for your body.
"Hatha" is a Sanskrit term that is used as an umbrella term for all physical postures of yoga. So, styles such as Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga fit under this category because they are based on physical practice. Because hatha yoga is typically slower-paced and focuses a lot on breathing, beginning yogis would find this an easy way to start their yoga practice.
Created by B. K.S. Iyengar, this style of yoga mainly focuses on proper alignment and performing very precise movements with your body. If you are someone who has been dealing with the long-term effects of a bodily injury, this might be a yoga style you would want to consider trying because you will hold each pose for a long period of time, while learning to control your breath and adjust your body's position little by little to perform the pose correctly. Don't worry about holding yourself up – in an Iyengar class there's usually a lot of props available so you can do each pose correctly and safely.
Translated from Sanskrit as "eight limb path," Ashtanga yoga dives deeply into a very physically challenging sequence of postures. An Ashtanga yoga class starts with five sun salutation A's and five sun salutation B's, then move into a combination of different standing and seated postures. This style is not recommended for a beginner but can be incorporated into your yoga practice over time.
In Sanskrit, vinyasa means 'to go in a special way'. Derived from the Ashtanga style, Vinyasa yoga is very athletic and fluid. Taking a Vinyasa style class will show you how to coordinate your breath with your movement as you go from one pose into another. You may find that different Vinyasa teachers use various styles and poses as their sequence, so if you like variety, this could be a good one to try!
This style of yoga is unique, in that it is a blend of both physical and spiritual practice. It is believed that there is energy trapped in your lower spine and taking this type of class will help you release that energy from your body. Kundalini yoga focuses heavily on your core and breathing; it can also incorporate spiritual aspects such as chanting, meditation, or repeating a mantra. If you want to try a yoga class that has some kick to it, Kundalini yoga might be what you're looking for!
This is the hottest yoga style out there – literally. Bikram yoga is performed in a hot and humid room, typically set to 105 degrees and about 40% humidity. Be prepared to do a 26-pose sequence, twice! You will definitely want to pack an extra towel and water bottle!
This style of yoga focuses on alignment along with spirituality. The ultimate goal of the practice is to align with the divine through consciousness.
The focus on alignment and the use of supporting props make this style a solid option for beginners.
Expectant moms can expect a beneficial experience from doing prenatal yoga. This style is modified for mommies-to-be at every stage in pregnancy. Pregnant moms who have done prenatal yoga have said that it's a great type of exercise to do because it helps to prepare you for labor and delivery through the pelvic exercises and breath work.
Yin yoga can be a calm way for beginners to start practicing yoga techniques. It is slow-paced with a lot of seated postures that you hold for long periods of time (anywhere from 1-2 minutes).
The class is very relaxed and peaceful, as Yin yoga can be considered as a meditative yoga practice.
The key focus to restorative yoga is relaxing your body and mind. It is a great yoga style to do at the end of a long day because the postures are fewer and modified, to make them easier to do. You can also use props such as a blanket or bolster to help you go deeper into each posture.
Yoga Poses for Beginners
As mentioned earlier, there are hundreds of asanas, or yoga postures. They are practiced through the various styles of yoga. With such variety you may be wondering where to begin.
Let's look at some basic poses, grouped by types. You will become familiar with them as you develop your yoga practice. Getting to know them can help you feel more comfortable when practicing in class or at home.
As a beginner, it is especially important that you listen to your body and adjust the postures as you need. You don’t have to, and probably won’t be able at first, to perform them exactly as in the pictures.
Standing Yoga Poses
Standing poses are the foundation of your practice as they represent the ability to be grounded. They help you develop strength with a focus on balance and flexibility.
The word "tada" means mountain. The Mountain Pose and the solid connection to the earth is the basis for all standing poses.
Balancing yourself in this pose might be challenging when you’re a beginner. Consider setting your inner feet a few inches apart until you feel comfortable in the pose.
You can use this as a starting pose, resting pose, or as a way to improve your posture. It can also tighten your abdomen, relieve sciatica, and strengthen your lower body.
This is one of the most popular yoga poses, and it fully stretches your body. There are many benefits to Downward-Facing Dog. Some of them include relieving back pain, strengthening your arms and legs, and helping prevent osteoporosis.
As a beginner, if you struggle to release your shoulders when doing this pose consider using yoga blocks to raise your hands.
This pose was named after a mythical warrior, Virabhadra. When we practice it during yoga our “enemy” is our ego and it reminds us to humble ourselves.
It is considered a beginner level pose so can be great for you when starting out. The key benefits to this pose include strengthening your legs and ankles while also stretching your upper body. Energetically it can help increase your sense of stability.
This pose can help stretch your entire side body. As a beginner, you may have some difficulty reaching all the way down with your lower hand so you can use a block for support. With continued practice, you will acquire the strength,flexibility, and balance that will allow you to go deeper.
Seated Yoga Poses
Seated poses usually focus on stretching and twisting, that massage your internal organs and realign your spine. As a beginner, you might need to use a prop such as a block or a strap to help you deepen your practice without the risk of overextending.
The meaning of the name is "intense stretch of the west" and this pose can help you clear your mind. Beginners should remember not to force it into the forward stretch. Over time, the stretch will deepen. Be aware of your body's limitations to avoid injury or discomfort.
Named after the king of fish, Matsyendra, this pose aids in digestion, and it energizes the spinal area.
Backbends are all about stretching your spine while opening your heart and the whole front side of your body. Some poses are quite deep and might be intimidating for beginners, so it’s important not to push yourself into a pose. Be aware of your body and take your time. You can always use props for support.
The term "bhujanga" means serpent or snake". This pose increases flexibility by opening up the heart and chest area and rolling the shoulders. When performed correctly, this pose strengthens your spine.
As a beginner, it is advised that you avoid a deep backbend right away and work your way towards it as your practice progress.
This energizing pose stretches your chest, spine, and neck areas. It can even help to relieve stress and mild depression, as well as reduces anxiety and fatigue.
If you find it too intense when starting out you can use a block under your sacrum for support.
Resting Yoga Poses
Resting poses are focused on relaxation. It’s a good time to balance your breath, quiet the brian and relax your body.
"Bala" means child. This pose is a great resting pose. You can go back into it between different poses or at any stage of the practice when you feel that you need to rest.
It stretches your hips and lower body as well as it calms your mind and relieves stress.
As morbid as the pose name may sound, it's incredibly relaxing pose and should be done last at the end your routine. Not only does it calm your mind, but it can also help lower your blood pressure and ease headaches. Make sure not to skip it as this final relaxation stage in an essential part in your practice.
We hope that after reading this guide, you feel better informed and ready to give yoga a try. It's all about taking the first step. Still, remember not to be discouraged if it doesn't click for you immediately. There is no rush to get everything right. You will find the rhythm and routine that works best for your body and lifestyle.
We wish you a safe and enlightening journey!