The Absolute Beginners Guide to Yoga

The Absolute Beginners Guide to Yoga

There are a lot of reasons people say that yoga isn’t for them. They may say the’yre too inflexible, maybe not fit enough, a bit too old, worried about the balancing or afraid of making a fool of themselves. Well, the good news is that none of that matters! Yoga is for all shapes and sizes and it’s never too late to start!

A Journey Of A Thousand Miles…

…starts with the first step, and that first step is the hardest part. You’ve probably read about yoga and heard how good it is for you: how it tones, strengthens and increases flexibility. How it can help you manage stress, be calmer and more positive; and yes, it really is as good as it sounds! But, there are so many types of yoga out there – how do you know which one is right for you? The short answer is that you don’t until you try some but there are a few simple things that you can do to help you get started.

Yoga beginning at a young age
Image Credit: mumbot on Flickr.

The best place to start has to be a beginners class. Having the luxury of time to learn the basics is so much less daunting than starting alongside people who have been practising for years. Steadily building up your repertoire of poses will gradually work on strength and stamina so that your graduation to the intermediate class is seamless and stress-free (pun intended!).

You don’t need much equipment to get started. Some loose, comfortable clothing that allows you to move freely is ideal. Most people wear some type of sports kit, but I have seen one gentleman arrive at a class straight from a business meeting and join in still wearing his suit! You will need a non-slip mat which may be provided by the studio or teacher and some foam blocks or bricks are really useful when you are starting out to help you achieve some of the trickier poses. Lastly, a belt or towel that you can loop over your feet will make some of the stretches easier for you as you gain your flexibility.

When you do get to your first class, be kind to yourself. Yoga shouldn’t hurt! Too many people push themselves too far into a stretch, or try a bit too hard and strain something – there is no need for this in yoga. One of the great joys of a yoga class is that you can work really hard without breaking into a sweat. My teacher keeps us all calm and controlled through full a 75-minute class but I certainly work SO hard and feel incredible afterwards.

From Ashtanga to Zen

Image Credit: Lachlan Hardy on Flickr.
Image Credit: Lachlan Hardy on Flickr.

There is no fixed programme for a yoga class and there are many different ‘styles’ of yoga. Many classes are advertised as Hatha Yoga which simply means a physical, exercise based yoga practice. Some are known for being really hard work – like Ashtanga Vinyasa or Bikram yoga. Iyengar yoga focuses on being technically correct. Ashtanga Vinyasa has set sequences of movements while Jivamukti and Vinyasa Flow can vary from class to class and may follow a theme for that day. Restorative yoga classes tend to be more gentle and aimed at healing the mind and body. Some studios will target the more active amongst us with Dynamic or Power Yoga sessions while Nia Yoga is a mix of traditional yoga, dance and martial arts techniques.  The possibilities are endless with each yoga teacher offering their own special blend of teaching and knowledge.

Your Yoga Journey Awaits You

Most people are first attracted to yoga by the physical practice – I know I certainly was. The increases in strength and flexibility are irresistible. But once you start a regular practice, it gets under your skin and starts to become so much more than just a form of exercise. The breathing exercises can be used at any time to calm you. I use them in traffic jams, before stressful meetings, to help me switch off from the day and sometimes to help me sleep. Athletes can use them to help their focus before competing.

Breathe into your self
Image Credit: Alex Campos on Flickr.

Once you start yoga you’ll notice the calmness as you head home from a class – I always feel about 10 feet tall, and utterly invincible! Unfortunately life doesn’t become less stressful for yogis, but yoga really does help with the frustrations of life. These days when things go wrong I breathe, smile and get on with it – which saves time and energy while keeping my blood pressure down! I’m sure it makes me nicer to be around too.

As your yoga practice develops you can learn about the more spirituality of yoga – those things that make yogis and yoginis care about the world and people around them. Ethical considerations, chanting, meditation, yoga philosophy – there is lots to learn about if you want to but you don’t have to do all of it straight away! Getting along to a class once or twice a week just for the exercise is just as acceptable in yoga circles as immersing yourself in an Indian Ashram to live the life of a traditional Yogi. That is another joy of people who do yoga – they don’t tend to judge. They will welcome you and help you on your yoga journey at your pace.

Finding the Perfect Yoga Class for You

You may know someone who can recommend a yoga teacher to you – word of mouth is a great way to find that inspirational teacher. If not, you can look around locally for adverts in local shops. Village halls and schools often host classes as do some church halls. To ensure that your yoga teacher has appropriate insurance and a recognised qualification, a look at the Yoga Alliance website will help you to search for a teacher in your area.You may not find the teacher that suits you at your first attempt. You may need to try a few different yoga styles before finding the one that you like best. Stay with it, finding a yoga teacher that works for you is really worth the effort.

So, ready to take the plunge? There really is never a better time to find that beginners class and try your first Downward Dog. Don’t take my word for it – find that class, get on to a mat and try yoga for yourself – my money is on you loving it! Drop me a line – I’d love to hear how you are getting on.

That first step on your yoga journey is really only the beginning. I think you’ll enjoy the ride – I certainly am!

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