A Beginners Guide to Yoga
There are a variety of different styles of Yoga. To find out which one you might like best, the most important thing to do is just go to a class. Watching a video, trying some poses at home, or getting feedback from a friend may be informative, but everyone is different. The only way to know is to try it for yourself. Also, trying new, unfamiliar Yoga poses at home by yourself is ill-advised. Make sure you get some experience in classes before you work through any at-home practice. Try at least two or three classes before ruling anything out for good. Check out studio schedules near you and try out a beginner or an all-levels class.
While there are many different types of Yoga and schools of practice, the following is a list of some of the most popular ones:
Ashtanga: fast-paced flow; expect to sweat and build core strength
Bikram: 90-minute hot yoga class with a sequence of 26 different poses
Hatha Yoga: focus on postures and poses; typically a slower flow
Hot Yoga: modern style performed under hot and humid conditions, resulting in considerable sweating; think Yoga in a sauna
Iyengar: yoga style with an emphasis on alignment and precision of posture
Jivamukti: a style of vinyasa which emphasizes a fast-paced series of poses
Kundalini: Yoga poses combined with meditation and mindfulness within the practice
Restorative: slow flow which encourages deep and passive stretching of the body
Vinyasa: coordinated yoga sequence (flow) in which movement is coordinated with the breath
What to Wear: Clothing with a tighter fit tends to be preferred, as sometimes looser items move around too much. For example, it can get annoying when a loose t-shirt is flapping around in your face when you are trying to hold your focus. Yoga pants or close-fit joggers are an excellent option for pants, and a fitted sports top or sports bra is perfectible acceptable to wear on the mat. If you are wearing a looser fit top, just tuck the front in a smidge to avoid any potential fluttering of fabric.
Is Meditation Involved? Most classes will involve some form of meditation, even just for a few minutes. Truthfully, it depends on the teacher. A class may begin with some simple breathing exercises, some teachers may read a quote out loud, or do a brief chant. Your level of engagement is entirely up to you, just be mindful of others if the omming and chanting are not your cup of tea. Breathwork in a yoga class is mostly geared toward learning to quiet the mind, forgetting about work and everything else outside of the practice for the time you are on the mat.
Breath is Essential: You'll hear a lot about the breath in your first few classes, especially in beginner level! Because timed and regulated breathing has many benefits for the nervous system, lymphatic system, and immune system, this critical piece of Yoga is powerful for your mind and body. Not only can breathwork help keep you relaxed, but the sequence of in and out synchronized with the flow and movements also enables you to get into and maintain poses.
What do I do on the mat? Try to stay focused on your own mat. Avoid distractions or looking too much at others. If you're doing a pose incorrectly, the teacher will help you with a correction. Many people practice Yoga with modifications for certain poses that are specific to their bodies. It's best not to rely too heavily on what you see others doing. One of the beautiful things about Yoga is that people can practice at their level. People can make slight changes to their flow or certain poses based on their level of experience and their preference for practice.
Remember, if it hurts, do not do it, especially as a beginner. Yoga is an excellent method to push your self physically and improve your strength, flexibility, and range of motion, but listen to your body. If something feels like too much, use props, do a modified pose, ask questions about how to make a pose work for you. But please remember, hot Yoga can make people even more limber than usual. Be careful not to go too hard in a hot yoga class, and be mindful of your body's limits. When in doubt, you can default and take a break in downward facing dog or child's pose in any class. Yoga teachers love Yoga, they are there to help you! Be sure to consult them should you need any help.
What should I do before and after my yoga practice? Do not eat a heavy meal directly before, and after your class, be sure to stay hydrated. Water, a soothing cup of tea, and coconut water are all great options for right after class. The most important thing is to work toward a sense of greater calm and to maintain the peace you feel after class. Some parts of your practice might be challenging, but you want to be sure you are enjoying all the experience has to offer! Enjoy a healthy meal after class when you are hungry. Having a quick bite of fruit for hydration after class is nice, too.
Progress Takes Practice: Don't expect to do a perfect headstand right away. More challenging poses are not achievable right away, and that's okay. Yoga works and stretches a lot of muscle groups in a way that is different from normal, everyday movement. You will see yourself get stronger and feel better as time progresses, and as you continue your practice.
Finally, don't skimp on Savasana: It can be common for people to leave class a bit early and skip savasana, the resting pose at the very end of class. But, it's not merely a quick time to lay down at the end of class. It is truly an important pose. It's where your physical body and nervous system get to relax, rejuvenate and soak up of the time you spent in various movements and asanas (another word for poses). If you skip savasana, you're cutting out a crucial part of the yoga process. So at the end of your practice, take a restful break, for just a few minutes to guarantee your body decompresses from the practice in the correct way.