A Beginner’s Guide To Getting Started With Yoga
Whether you work out regularly or you’re completely new to physical exercise, yoga is a great way to improve your overall physical health. Plus, it has numerous benefits for your wellbeing and mental health.
It doesn’t matter what your skill level is — yoga is for everyone. It can increase strength, stability, and flexibility. You can do yoga as a standalone practice, or as an accompaniment to your regular workout routine.
Yoga can be performed in a class setting, or you can do yoga at home. The key to starting yoga is understanding what the practice is all about, getting your space set up, and learning some poses for beginners.
What is yoga?
Yoga is widely-known in Western society as a form of exercise, but it draws on an ancient practice that began in India, with origins dating back several thousand years. Traditionally, yoga is a set of practices that are performed with the aim of unifying the mind, body, and spirit, and eventually attaining spiritual enlightenment.
Yoga that is practised in the West commonly today is a form of “hatha yoga”, which is just one element of the overall yoga philosophy. Hatha yoga refers to the physical poses that are practised in yoga.
Some of the elements of hatha yoga include pranayama (yoga breathing), asanas (the yoga poses), and dhyani (meditation).
While it has many physical benefits, yoga is can also be a “moving meditation”, aimed at increasing the flow of energy openly throughout your body.
Benefits of yoga
There are many health benefits of yoga, from increased strength and fitness, to improved mood and mental health.
Increased flexibility and mobility
Yoga has a powerful capacity to increase the flexibility of your joints and muscles. Many yoga poses include long-hold stretches, which means regular practise of yoga can lead to greater flexibility.
Many yoga poses assist with improving posture by strengthening your shoulder and back muscles, while increasing their flexibility through stretching. Yoga includes many “heart-opening” exercises, which can also help to reduce slumping shoulders.
Improved muscle strength
Yoga often includes challenging postures that can increase strength throughout your entire body. This includes your legs, shoulders, and core.
Depending on the intensity of the yoga practice, yoga can increase your heart rate and thus improve overall cardio fitness when practised regularly. Even slower or less intense practices can help to moderately elevate your heart rate, which is good for your cardiovascular health.
Improved mood and brain function
Many yoga practices include meditation, which has been shown to calm the mind and improve general mood and wellbeing. Yoga can relieve tension and stress in the body, and help to improve your ability to concentrate.
Better stress management
Pranayama (yoga breathing) is a central tenet of yoga. Deep breathing can assist with improving your ability to focus and calm the mind. This means yoga has the capacity to allow you to better manage stress in your everyday life.
How to get started with yoga for beginners
Cultivating your own solo practice can take time, and requires some knowledge of the many different yoga asanas. If you’re totally new to yoga, you might find it helpful to take some classes online.
If you’re looking for guided classes, you can check out Sjana Elise’s Body and Mind (BAM) program in the SWEAT app, which will guide you through your yoga practice.
In addition to doing guided classes, there are also some helpful tips you can use before you do your first practice.
One of the most important parts of getting started with yoga is feeling comfortable and at ease. Part of this is ensuring you wear clothing that allows you to move freely. For some people, this might be activewear, while for others this might be loose-fitting clothing.
Wear what you feel most comfortable in. If you have long hair, it might also help to tie it up so that it doesn't fall on your face while you move through poses.
Setting up your space
Before you get started, it’s important to make sure you have a space set up to practise. This might be in your bedroom, living room, or backyard — either way, you should ensure you have a comfortable area to do yoga in that is as free from distractions as possible.
Getting your equipment
For any yoga practice, the most important thing is having a yoga mat. Choose one that grips enough so that you won’t slide around while you practise your asanas. As a beginner, you might also like to get a yoga block, which can help with assisting you in difficult stretching poses.
How often should you do yoga?
How often you practise yoga is completely up to you. However, if you would like to see the benefits of yoga for both your physical body and mind more quickly, the more often you practise the better.
Most yoga classes in studios or online will go for an hour or longer, but if you are practicing at home you can create a shorter 20-30 minute flow. You can practise yoga as frequently as it suits you — whether that’s once each week or several times a week, you will benefit from the mindful connection to your breath and the strengthening asanas.
In the SWEAT app, you can find 28-minute yoga flows from yoga trainer Sjana Elise that you can include alongside your other training, or follow the yoga program in full.
Can you do yoga and build strength?
You can absolutely do yoga and build strength. Depending on the style of yoga, many yoga classes are physically demanding and will build up muscle all over your body.
A gentle style of yoga like Yin (which is slower and much more focused on restorative poses), will build up flexibility more than it will strengthen. Faster-paced, more intense yoga styles like Vinyasa (which is the style featured in the SWEAT app BAM program) will increase flexibility while also building up full-body strength.
Yoga poses for beginners
Before you start your yoga practice, you might like to get familiar with some yoga poses that you can master as a beginner. Having some knowledge of what yoga poses look like and how to do them will make settling into a regular yoga practice much easier.
Child’s pose is a heart-opening pose that calms the body and mind. This is a restorative asana.
Begin on all fours in the centre of your mat, and 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 onto the centre of the mat, and rest your head between your arms. Draw your shoulders back and down.
Downward dog is one of the most commonly practised yoga asanas. It helps with both 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 from the ground, straighten out your legs, and lift your hips towards the ceiling. Your feet and hands should stay planted on the ground.
Try to maintain a wide back by keeping your shoulder blades apart. To begin with, your heels will likely be raised off the floor.
Plank pose, or “high plank” is a strengthening pose. It should increase strength in your core and shoulders when practised regularly.
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. Keep your core engaged and your neck straight.
If you find this pose challenging, you can use a modified plank position to help you to 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.
Baby cobra pose is a strengthening pose that opens up your chest and builds muscle in your back.
Lie down flat on your stomach on the mat, with your palms planted on the mat underneath your shoulders. Keeping your hips on the mat, slowly raise your shoulders and chest up.
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 will strengthen your legs and stretch your hips and upper body.
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 the hips aren’t facing forward, they will now be slightly rotated and open to the side of your mat.
Start 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.
Getting guidance for your first yoga practice
As a beginner, you might not know where to start with your first yoga practice. The first step can be practising some common yoga poses to get you familiar with how the poses work and feel in the body.
Once you’ve practised your poses, it can be helpful to watch some guided yoga classes online, or read about different yoga poses. You can find these in the SWEAT app, or you can also check out some calming yoga poses for tough days which open up your muscles and relax your mind.
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.