A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga
Yoga is an ancient practice of mind-body connection that originated in India. Yoga involves not only yoga poses (asanas) but also breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation. From the Sanskrit verb root yuj, the word yoga is commonly translated as “to yoke”, as it unites body movements (through yoga postures) with the breath. Yoga practice can also bring the mind, body, and spirit into alignment.
The benefits of yoga are vast, as the practice supports your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, and can be different for each yoga student. Common benefits include increased flexibility and decreased stress. In addition to stretching and strengthening your muscles, the practice can also offer practitioners greater clarity, calmness, and focus. Yoga has also been shown to regulate blood pressure and the nervous system, increase energy, build strength, and decrease pain. Yoga also involves interoception, so many yogis also cultivate a relationship with themselves and find greater purpose in life.
Whether you’re new to yoga or coming back to your yoga practice after some time away, we have some yoga for beginners tips to support you before, during, and after your yoga session.
Tip #1: Release Expectations
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. Meanwhile, each yoga student will understand the practice differently, have their own experiences, and have the freedom to adapt the poses to make them more accessible.
You also don't need to be a certain body type, gender, or of any particular race. Yoga is not a religion, cult, or superstition. It's an ancient system of disciplines designed to calm your mind. Yoga helping you to be happier has been proven by modern-day scientific research.
Tip #2: Choose a Style
Today, there are many different styles of yoga. Each offers different approaches, poses, and methods of practice. Meanwhile, each yoga teacher will have their own teaching style. Because of this, it can be hard to decide on which style to choose. Here’s a quick overview of some types of yoga you might want to consider:
- Restorative Yoga: slow, deliberate practice to help relax your body and mind
- Hatha Yoga: alignment-based with a strong emphasis on proper posture as well as the breath
- Hot Yoga: vigorous yoga sequence performed in a heated room
- Yin Yoga: Props are often used to support the body through longer posture holds to softly open tight connective tissues
- Vinyasa Yoga: flows coordinated with breath and movement for a more high-energy practice
- Yoga Nidra: form of guided meditation for deep, conscious relaxation
These are just a few types of yoga. There are even more yoga classes with which you might decide to explore, such as Kundalini, Bhakti, Bikram, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Yoga Fusion, Meditation only, and more. This is not meant to overwhelm you but to encourage you to keep experimenting until you find the yoga workouts best suited for you!
Tip #3: Try At-Home Yoga
If you’re not quite ready to brave a yoga studio, there are many advantages to streaming yoga classes and practicing at home (or even considering old-school yoga videos and DVDs!). 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 yoga sequence. Most importantly, you’ll be able to practice at your own pace and from the privacy of your own space.
For guided yoga sequences and yoga workouts, check out Practyce, an on-demand yoga studio that offers “Classes That Move You”, led by skilled yoga instructors, that you can access any time, anywhere!
Tip #4: What to Expect
While classes can be as short as 15 minutes, most classes will last 45 to 90 minutes. The order, complexity, and variety of yoga poses you'll practice will vary based on the style you've chosen. A basic vinyasa yoga class will usually include a combination of twists, inversions, backbends, forward folds, and strength-building moves. Generally speaking, the components of an active style of yoga class typically include:
- Opening: might include breathwork, a meditation, or a brief talk on yoga philosophy.
- Warm-ups: for instance, sun salutations, which include downward-facing dog pose (adho mukha svanasana), lunges (i.e. virabhadrasana I and anjanayasana), cobra pose (bhujangasana), and plank pose (phalakasana)
- Standing poses: for instance, mountain pose (tadasana) and tree pose (vrksasana).
- Peak pose: the posture you’re building up to
- Reclined poses: yoga postures you do while sitting or lying on the floor, typically while cooling down (i.e. child’s pose (balasana) or bridge pose (setu bandha sarvangasana).
- Final relaxation: class will end with a deep relaxation pose, called savasana (Sanskrit for "corpse pose"), that helps you absorb and integrate the benefits of your yoga sequence.
Tip #5: What You’ll Need
Yoga clothes: You don’t need expensive yoga pants or a whole new wardrobe to do yoga. All you need is comfortable, breathable clothes that you can move around in. Leggings or exercise shorts and a sleeveless workout top can be perfect. Consider layers for the cool down and after class. (When you are ready to upgrade your workout wardrobe, however, we’ll be here!)
- Yoga mat: It’s a good idea to have your own yoga mat, as it’s more hygienic and allows you to practice whenever and wherever you want.
- Yoga props: Yoga props are both support you and challenge you further. Check out our guide to props (i.e. yoga blocks, strap, blanket, etc.) to understand which you might want to have handy, plus how and when to use them.
Tip #6: Cultivate Beginner’s Mind
While it might feel overwhelming to try something new, know that you actually have an advantage. A big part of the yoga practice is cultivating a practice that can help you become healthier, stronger and more flexible in both body and mind. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, simply return to your breath and enjoy the process!
What are your questions about yoga? Let us know in the comments below!