A Beginner’s Guide To Getting Started With Yoga
According to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), yoga can help to increase strength, flexibility and even prevent injury. You can do it as a standalone practice, or to complement your regular workout routine.
Yoga can be practiced almost anywhere — in a class setting, or you can do yoga at home. When trying yoga for the first time, the key to getting started is understanding your practice, setting up your space, and learning some fundamental poses for beginners.
What is yoga?
Yoga is known in Western society as an exercise that benefits your physical and mental health, but it began as an ancient practice in India, with origins dating back several thousand years.
Spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s humanitarian organisation Art of Living defines yoga as a practice that aims to harmonise body, mind and breath through breathing techniques (pranayama), yoga postures (asanas) and meditation (dhyana).
One of the most common yoga practices, according to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publishing, is Hatha yoga. Hatha is a more physical style of yoga, and focuses on pranayama, followed by asanas, and ends with the corpse pose, or savasana, which leads into dhyana.
Yoga is often referred to as “moving meditation”, aimed at increasing the flow of energy openly throughout your body.
How to get started with yoga for beginners
Cultivating your own yoga practice can take time, and requires you to know some of the many different asanas. If you’re new to yoga, you might find it helpful to take some classes online.
Sweat has a number of guided yoga programs you can try, including Sjana Elise’s Body and Mind (BAM) program, Yoga with Phyllicia and Yoga with Ania. Each of these programs follow Vinyasa yoga, which is a style of Hatha yoga — studies have shown it can be an effective way to help manage stress and improve emotional wellness.
Here are some helpful tips you can use before starting your first practice.
Set up your space
Whether you work out in your bedroom, living room, or backyard — ensure you have a comfortable area for your practice that is free from distractions. You might even elevate your space with a calming playlist or fill the air with your favourite soothing scent!
Choose the right equipment
For any practice, you will need a yoga mat. Choose one that has good grip to avoid it sliding around during your asanas.
If you’re a beginner, a yoga block can also help with stretching poses.
How often should you do yoga?
How often you choose to practice is completely up to you. As with any program, maintaining a regular routine will help you improve your technique so you can continue to experience the benefits of your practice.
When referring to government guidelines on exercise, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service counts yoga as a form of strengthening exercise while the American College of Sports Medicine’s Physical Activity Guidelines suggests performing muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week. Sweat’s yoga programs range from three to five sessions each week, so there’s flexibility to suit your lifestyle and fitness level.
Most yoga classes in studios or online go for an hour or longer and if you’ve chosen a Sweat yoga program, you can finish your class in 60 minutes or less! There are even 10-minute on-demand yoga classes you can try in the Sweat app, for the days when you don’t have time for a full class.
Does yoga build strength?
Depending on the style, many yoga classes are physically demanding and will build strength and stability across your body.
Studies, including a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Yoga have found that faster, more intense yoga styles like Vinyasa increase flexibility while building full-body strength, compared to gentler styles of yoga, like Yin yoga (which is slower-paced and much more focused on restorative poses).
Yoga poses for beginners
Before you start a regular yoga practice, it’s a good idea to get familiar with some poses you can master as a beginner. From downward dog to Warrior II, knowing how to perform common poses will help you feel more confident on the mat.
Child’s pose is a restorative asana, or heart-opening pose, that calms the body and mind. According to the Mayo Clinic, child’s pose helps to stretch your back and the muscles around your hips.
Begin on all fours in the centre of your mat, make sure your shoulders are stacked over your hands and your hips are stacked over your knees. Your toes should be untucked with your toenails facing toward the ground.
Bring your upper body towards your thighs, and your glutes towards your heels. Then, extend your hands in front of you on the centre of the mat, rest your head between your arms and draw your shoulders back and down.
Downward dog is one of the most commonly practiced asanas. Integrative Medicine Physician Dr Anna B. Shannahan from Northwestern Medicine in the US states “inversion poses like downward dog, where your head is below your heart, may help open up sinuses for those struggling with allergies or nasal congestion.” This pose also helps with strength and flexibility.
Begin on all fours in the centre of the mat, with your shoulders stacked over your hands and your hands stacked over your knees. Lifting your knees off the ground, straighten out your legs, and lift your hips towards the ceiling. Your feet and hands should stay planted on the mat.
Try to maintain a wide back by keeping your shoulder blades apart. To begin with, your heels will likely be raised off the floor.
Begin on all fours in the centre of the mat, with your shoulders stacked over your hands and your hands stacked over your knees. Step your feet to the back of the mat. Only your hands and toes should be touching the mat as you keep your core engaged and neck straight.
If you find this pose challenging, use a modified plank position to help build strength in your core, arms and shoulders. Instead of stepping your feet to the back of the mat, move your knees back towards the rear of the mat, from the all-fours position. This will increase core engagement and help you to build strength towards the full plank position.
The baby cobra pose helps to open up your chest, stretch your shoulders and abs and strengthen your back muscles.
Lie down flat on your stomach on the mat, with your palms planted underneath your shoulders. Keeping your hips on the mat, slowly raise your shoulders and chest.
Keep your core activated as you hold this position by drawing your belly button in towards your spine.
Warrior I is a standing asana that helps to strengthen your legs and upper body and stretches the muscles around your hips. It’s a great move to improve flexibility and balance.
Start by standing up straight at the back of the mat, with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Step your right foot forward and bend your right leg at a 90-degree angle. Tilt your back (left) foot so that it is facing outward at a 45-degree angle.
Your back leg should be straight, and your front (right) leg should be bent with both feet planted firmly on the ground.
Raise your arms above your head, spreading your fingers. Repeat this movement by swapping the position of your legs.
Warrior II is very similar to Warrior I, however, your hips will be slightly rotated and open to the side of your mat, rather than facing forward.
Start by standing up straight at the back of the mat with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Step your right foot forward and bend your right leg at a 90-degree angle. Tilt your back (left) foot so that it is facing outward at a 45-degree angle.
Your back (left) leg should be straight, and your front (right) leg should be bent with both feet planted firmly on the ground.
Extend your right arm out in front of you, keeping your palm facing down. Extend your left arm out behind you, keeping your palm facing down.
Step onto your mat with confidence
As a beginner, there are a few simple steps you can take to get the most out of your first yoga class. You might start by incorporating some of these common poses into your weekly routine and focusing on connecting your mind with your movement. Familiarising yourself with yoga terminology can also help you remain focused throughout your practice.
It can be helpful to watch guided yoga classes online, and when you’re ready, you can join one of Sweat’s yoga instructors in a program that’s tailored towards you and your fitness goals.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.