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How to Get Started with Yoga
Yoga can seem intimidating at first glance and even overwhelming. If you are thinking about starting your yoga journey, this guide is the perfect place to start.
We will cover all the yoga basics and what you need to know as a beginner yogi!
Yoga has been around for thousands of years. A common misconception is that you have to be flexible to practice yoga. This is completely false. Do not be intimidated by those yoga pros on Instagram posting pictures of crazy advanced poses like upside down handstand splits. No one is born with that kind of flexibility. It takes years and years of practice.
The most important thing to know about yoga is that it’s not about the pose, it’s all about the breathing. Learning breathing might sound strange but it is the essence of yoga, and until you learn this crucial part of yoga, it’s hard to understand it’s importance.
Breathing is what makes yoga so powerful and beneficial to our health. The meditative breathing you learn in yoga teaches you how to breathe as you transition in and out of different poses.
This is the reason that yoga has been shown to help with depression and anxiety, manage stress, improve the quality of sleep, improve mood, and calm the mind. Those mental health benefits of yoga are from the meditative breathing that is combined with the movements.
Yoga also has physical benefits like increasing flexibility, strength, balance, and coordination.
Since there are so many styles and variations of yoga, yoga as a whole can be practiced by virtually all fitness levels and ages. I go more in depth about yoga's health benefits here.
Honestly, the best way to get into yoga is just to do it. Reading this guide will give you all the essential information you need to get started. Don’t over think it, just enroll in a beginners yoga class at your local studio or get started with an at-home yoga for beginners online class.
Let's get you ready so you can find the right yoga program that fit your fitness level and style!
Different Types of Yoga
One thing about yoga that makes it perfect for so many people it that there are a crazy number of different yoga styles. As a beginner, it’s essential that you familiarize yourself with the basic yoga styles so that you know what yoga class to sign up for.
The best yoga style for beginners is a slower moving yoga like haha yoga or yin yoga. These two yoga styles are also great if you want your yoga practice to give you a slow and deep stretch. Both Yin Yoga and Hatha Yoga are excellent for learning deep breathing through poses.
There are many Vinyasa and Ashtanga Yoga classes that are geared toward beginners. These can be more challenging and are at a faster pace that will help strengthen muscles.
Iyengar yoga is another style that is great for yoga beginners because it has a strong focus on teaching proper alignment. This yoga will often use yoga props and equipment to help students learn and perfect the poses.
Hot yoga exploded with popularity a couple years ago, but it is not something that I would recommend if you are a beginner. While Hot Yoga classes try to follow poses that are accessible to most people, the hot temperatures (up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit!) can make it uncomfortable, and if you did not prepare for hot yoga class correctly, there are health risks associated.
I want your first yoga experience to be comfortable and in an environment that will allow you to relax fully.
Another type of yoga that might not be suitable for beginners is Kundalini yoga classes. These have a strong focus on meditation and incorporate the spiritual elements of yoga often including chanting.
Read more: "Best At-Home Yoga Classes for Beginners"
Learn the Basic Yoga Poses
There are a handful of yoga poses that are common across many yoga styles. Depending on the yoga instructor at your studio, they might refer to those basic yoga poses in English and/or in Hindi.
This can be a little confusing during your first couple of classes, so it’s best to familiarize yourself with both English and Hindi names for some of the standard and basic poses. The most common basic yoga poses include:
- Downward Facing Dog
- Child's Pose
- Corpse Pose
What you need to start practicing yoga
Most yoga studios will have various equipment including yoga mats, but it is highly recommended that you always bring your own yoga mat. Personally, the biggest reason for me is for hygiene and cleanliness.
Check in advance with your yoga studio to see what they required equipment is, but typically all you need is a yoga mat.
If you are going to be practicing yoga at home, then it would help to have a few of the basic yoga props. However, you can also find substitutes for standard yoga props around your home if you don’t want to spend extra money as you are starting out.
Common household substitutions for standard yoga props:
- Use a pillow in place of a bolster
- A belt in place of a yoga strap
- A large, sturdy hard-cover book in place of a yoga block
- A large towel in place of a mat (not recommended but possible)
If nothing else, I highly encourage you to start with a yoga mat. They can be very inexpensive, and if you end up not liking yoga, you can use it as an exercise mat for other workouts.
Yoga mats are typically rolled so they can be comfortable to carry and even inconvenient. There are yoga mat straps and bags that can make this easier.
There are also foldable yoga mats that are great to travel and take up less space when stored.
Read more: "Beginners Guide to Yoga Props and Equipment"
What to wear to your first yoga class
Check it out! You can finally wear your yoga pant to an actual yoga class! As much as Instagram would like you to think otherwise, yoga is NOT about fashion! The most important thing about choosing what to wear to a yoga class is that you are comfortable and the fabric does not restrict your movement.
Your yoga outfit should be close fitting, avoid loose clothing. You do not want your top to fall over your head every time you go into a downward facing dog!
Yoga is practiced barefoot. If you are uncomfortable being barefoot around strangers yoga socks with grips will give you traction and help keep your feet from sliding around the mat.
What to know before your first yoga studio class
Yoga studios are not your only option for starting a yoga practice. Many gyms and fitness studios offer classes, and there might even be free or donation-based yoga classes in your local community center.
Yoga is also accessible through mobile apps and online video streaming. A better and more affordable option is to get started with an at-home yoga program for beginners.
Yoga at Gym vs. Yoga Studio
Each option for getting started practicing yoga has its ups and downs. If you already have a gym membership, your gym might offer yoga classes at no additional cost. Sometimes getting a qualified and experienced instructor might be a challenge.
Sometimes gyms will have great instructors that are very experienced and know how to help beginners transition into yoga. Other times the instructors might just be starting out.
Yoga studios are where you will find highly qualified instructors that are experts in yoga studies with many years of teaching experience. Yoga studios also will often offer a wide variety of yoga styles throughout the day. The downside is that yoga studios are typically found mostly in urbanized areas, can be very expensive and they can feel intimidating, especially for beginners.
At-Home Yoga with Online Videos
I like to recommend getting started with yoga with online classes. Online yoga classes can be very affordable, you can get instruction and guidance from leading yoga teachers, and it will let you ease into yoga at your own pace.
Online yoga classes are also a great way to discover different yoga styles and experiment until you find the best style that works for you.
The downside to this route is there isn’t any personalization from there instructor, and you can’t get feedback. This can make it hard to know if you are doing the poses correctly.
If possible, its best to do at-home yoga in front of a mirror or window reflection so as the instructor is going through proper pose techniques you can look at your reflection to see if you need to make any adjustments.
However, high-quality at-home yoga programs with great yoga teachers that are aimed at beginners will typically explain poses in such detail that it will be very clear how different muscles should be responding and where in your body you should be feeling stretches.
Yoga Class Etiquette and Structure
If you are going to a yoga class, there are a handful of little things you can do to make everyone's yoga experience positive and peaceful. This includes turning off your phone’s ringer.
Put your phone on silent mode, not just on vibrate. Yoga class is typically calm, quiet, and focused; and often might even have calming music in the background. Your phone will be heard as it vibrates on the floor or in your gym bag. This is very disruptive and pulls away peoples focus from their breathing and balance.
Now that we have the phone situation covered let’s go over what you to expect during your first yoga class.
First, you will check-in at the reception desk and they can direct you towards the right room. Arrive at least 10 minutes early. If this is your first time, they might have paperwork for your fill out beforehand.
Arriving early to a yoga class will give you enough time to find the room and get your space set up before the class begins. Another perk of getting their early is you can choose a spot to place your mat where you will feel the most comfortable. If you are like me, front or center of the room are areas that I like to avoid.
Set Up Your Space
Take your shoes off before you enter or right at the entrance. Usually shoes/bags, etc. are left at a designated spot against a wall. Do not walk through the yoga room in your street footwear.
Look at other people’s set up as a guide to how to set up your own space. Lay out your mat so that it is facing the same direction as other students. The instructor will also typically tell you if you need to grab any other yoga props. They usually have yoga blocks and straps at the studio, but it does hurt to check in advance.
Sit quietly on your mat while you wait for class to start. Be friendly to your neighbor.
Start The Class
Your instructor will welcome the students to the class and start out with a little introductory information on their background, class style, and what to expect during the yoga session.
The class typically begin slowly to warm up the body. Gradually, the intensity will pick up, and the speed will increase as you go through and repeat the pose sequences. Then you slow down at your end the class. Typically in beginner classes, the yoga teacher will go around the room at different points and help students correct their form in various poses.
Stay to the End
Classes commonly finish with Savasana (a.k.a corpse pose) where you focus on relaxation and reflect on the sensations you are feeling through your body. Staying through this part until the end is important. This is a part of yoga that is meant to be relaxing and meditative. If you get up to leave and make all sorts of shuffling noises as you collect your things, it is very distracting to other students who are trying to focus on their breathing.
Know Your Limits
Whether you are attending a yoga class at the studio or practicing at home, I can’t stress enough how important it is to be aware of how your body is reacting and set your limits accordingly. Generally speaking, yoga poses are safe, but if you push your body too hard, injury is likely koto result.
If you have issues or pain in areas of your body, let your instructor know in advance and ask for advice on how to make yoga poses more comfortable. Virtually every yoga pose has various modifications. If you have knee pain, a yoga blanket or folded towel will make the pose comfortable.
High quality online yoga classes that are designed for beginners will show you different modifications as you go through the class. Yoga blocks are one of the most popular yoga props that allow you to get the full benefit of yoga poses.
Handstands and splits are popular to show off on, but this does not mean you should rush to try them! Many advanced yoga posses like handstands and other inversions require a significant amount of core and total body strength. These poses are inspirational and achievable with the right amount of practice, strength, and most importantly, patience!
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