A Beginner's Guide to Yoga
Yoga offers many benefits, from decreased stress to increased flexibility. In addition to stretching and strengthening your muscles, the practice can also instill clarity, calmness, and focus into every yogi. The health benefits are numerous, including regulated blood pressure, increased energy, and decreased pain. Many practitioners also find a heightened sense of purpose in the world — a connection with their innermost selves.
If you’d like to try yoga but don’t know where to start, read on for a guide to the basics. The Sanskrit word "yoga" is often translated as "union," referring to the connection between mind, body, and spirit. Don’t worry too much about achieving union right away. Start small and have fun! With practice, you’ll gain all the benefits yoga has to offer. Follow the tips below and get ready to get your yoga on!
Forget the Stereotypes
Yoga is for everybody and every body. Despite the images certain media outlets project, you do not need to be flexible to practice yoga! Suppleness is a by-product of yoga, not a prerequisite. You also don’t need to be skinny, female, or of any particular race. Yoga is not a religion, cult, or superstition. It’s a 5,000-year-old system of disciplines designed to calm your mind and make you happier. Give it a try!
Choose a Style
Today, there are many different styles of yoga. Each offers different approaches, poses, and methods of practice. Because of this, it can be hard to decide on which style to choose. In general, there are only a few styles of yoga that you’ll need to consider:
- Mellow and flowing
- Meditative and spiritual
- Dynamic and strength-building
- A combination of all of the above
For more information on many currently popular styles, check out the iSport guide, Types of Yoga.
Dress to Move
Make sure you’re wearing comfortable, breathable clothes that you can move around in. You don’t need to spend a fortune! Leggings or exercise shorts and a sleeveless workout top can be perfect. Bring a long-sleeved shirt for the cool-down portion and to bundle up after practice.
Get a Mat
It’s a good idea to have your own mat. Doing so is more hygienic, and it also allows you to practice whenever and wherever you like. Don’t worry about other props, like blocks, bolsters, and straps just yet. For more information on mats and attire, check out the iSport guide, Things You Need for Yoga.
Class vs. Video
There are some advantages to practicing along with a streaming video or DVD. You can choose the time, style, and location of your practice. You can also take breaks whenever you want. You can even play or skip certain parts to alter the practice sequence. But, nothing beats learning yoga in a class. An experienced and knowledgeable instructor will be able to read and understand your body and its movements, modifying the practice to suit your current needs and limitations. You’ll also learn the correct alignment in the poses, which will help to prevent injury. So, it’s best to wait on using the videos until after you’ve taken several classes with a live yoga teacher.
Hot Tip: Find the Right Teacher
When you’re starting out, it’s vital to find a teacher you like and connect with. Try out several different teachers and styles! The right teacher can lead you on a wonderful path, while the wrong one might turn you away from yoga forever. A good teacher will be patient with your lack of experience, open to your body’s limitations, and should love teaching yoga as much as he or she loves practicing it. For your first class, don’t worry so much whether you like the teacher or not — just take the class. Trust your intuition. By the end, you’ll have a good understanding of whether or not it was the right class for you!
What to Expect
Most classes will last 60-90 minutes. Begin by practicing two to three times a week. The order, complexity, and variety of poses you’ll practice will vary based on the style you’ve chosen. A Bikram class, for instance, will be very different from an Ashtanga class — and both will be very different from an Iyengar or Kundalini class.
In general, though, the components of a yoga class typically include an opening, a warm-up, standing poses, a peak pose, floor poses, a cool-down, and a final relaxation. Within those components, you’ll probably do a combination of twists, inversions, backbends, forward bends, and strength-building moves. Your class will end with a deep relaxation pose, called "Savasana" (shah-VAHS-uh-nuh), Sanskrit for "corpse pose," that helps bring your body back into balance.
For more information about poses and sequencing, check out the iSport guides Yoga Sequences, Intro to Yoga Stretches, and Yoga Poses for Beginners.
How to Act
Show up early for your first class. Let the teacher know you’re new to yoga and whether you have any injuries or concerns. Take off your shoes and socks, and turn your phone off. Yoga isn’t a competition, so let go of the fear that you won’t do it right. Just do the best you can, and work within your own range of limits and abilities. Bring your thoughts to the present moment and focus on what you can do. Make sure to hydrate well, and don’t eat right before class — it could upset your stomach. For more information on basic yoga courtesy, check out the iSport guide, Yoga Class Etiquette.
Stretch & Flow
Now that you have a good understanding of the basics, you can relax and start practicing yoga! Don’t worry about yoga styles, poses, or gear. Just come to class, get on your mat, and begin practicing. Everything else will come to you in due time.