The benefits of practicing yoga are just about endless — from improving your mental health to giving your body that much needed stretch on a daily basis, if you’re not practicing yoga yet, this beginner’s guide to yoga will help you get started.
Beginner’s Guide to Yoga
Incorporating yoga into one’s life isn’t just about becoming more zen, it’s about changing your lifestyle and becoming a better you — inside and out.
What is yoga?
Yoga itself is known as an ancient mental and physical practice which originated in India.
A healthy yoga practice focuses on the connection to the inner self while also serving as a liberating practice where the body will move in various positions in order to become more fit and more flexible.
Yoga is meant to improve your breathing techniques, the flexibility of your body, and the relaxing of your mind.
In India, yoga is considered a philosophy in which meditation practices and physical exercises are said to help people improve their lives by becoming more calm, while also finding a spiritual awakening with this practice.
Is Yoga the same as Meditation?
No. While some yoga practices use meditation as a part of the practice, yoga and meditation are two completely different practices.
Meditation is the act of sitting with your thoughts on a quiet environment while using just your mind to do some inner reflection.
Yoga on the other hand is more of a physical practice that requires movement and muscle stimulation.
During yoga, breathing techniques and physical postures are practiced in order to improve your physical and mental wellbeing.
Is meditation involved in yoga? Yes.
Are they sometimes combined to build a better overall practice? Absolutely.
Styles of Yoga
There are many styles of yoga, all different from one another, and all serving a different purpose.
While it’s very different to be reading about it rather than experiencing it for yourself, whenever you do decide to start practicing yoga, it’s recommended that you try out a few different styles (and teachers) to see which type suits your mind and your body best.
Here are some of the different styles of yoga below:
- Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa is often considered a very athletic yoga style, filled with postures and a flow of different movements.
It’s also known as one of the most popular yoga styles in the world.
Vinyasa is characterized by the “flow” of movement that occurs from one posture to the next.
Combined with breathing techniques, this practice is a great style for everyone from beginners to advanced yogis.
Vinyasa is known for helping people develop a more balanced body and mind.
Unlike other yoga practices, Vinyasa is said to be the core of all other yoga styles, as they all use poses which were developed from this method.
- Hatha Yoga
Hatha Yoga is often recommended for beginners due to the fact that it’s slower and allows you to really learn the fundamentals of each pose along the way.
Although Hatha and Vinyasa incorporate a poses that are similar to each other, Hatha really focuses on controlling your breath.
As mentioned above, Hatha is practiced at a much slower pace than most styles of yoga and poses are usually held for a longer period of time when compared to a flow style of yoga such as Vinyasa.
Practicing Hatha allows allows the body to build up endurance and strength while focusing on deep breathing which is why Hatha is known as a class that offers a healthy combination of breathing techniques and physical practice.
- Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga literally means eight limbs in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India.
This practice is more like yoga therapy, with the sole purpose of removing physical issues or preventing them before they occur.
Ashtanga focuses on building up the strength of your muscles and creating endurance for the mind and the body.
Aside from being very dynamic, this practice is usually considered to be a more challenging style of yoga as the postures are held for a long time and this might require more strength (physical and mental) than other practices.
- Iyengar Yoga
Iyengar yoga is a very detailed practice that focuses on precision and alignment of postures.
This style of yoga is known for using a lot of props and materials to help perfect the poses practiced.
This practice also helps you strengthen your physical body, your muscles and is said to help improve your posture.
Often the small muscles that we forget we have aren’t getting a full workout and for that reason, Iyengar yoga focuses on targeting the entire body from top to bottom.
Iyengar yoga focuses on the alignment of the body, which is why some of the poses will be held a little longer and a little tougher to master.
- Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini yoga divides the practice between the physical and the spiritual.
This style of yoga is about performing breathing techniques and learning how to release energy from your body.
Kundalini yoga is known for involving three important aspects: a chant, a warm-up of the body, and a closing meditation with another song or mantra.
It is often practiced by older people as it is a slower paced method of yoga and it involves a lot of spiritual and breathing techniques.
The sole intent with Kundalini yoga is to develop mental and physical discipline and to connect with your inner self with the help of Sanskrit texts which are shared within the practice.
- Yin Yoga
Yin yoga is known for being slow paced and is one of the most highly recommended yoga practices for beginners.
Yin yoga is a practice that focuses on your muscles, and targets joints, ligaments, and even your bones.
It is a slower type of practice as it involves meditation, physical sensations, and inner reflection of the body.
Although this practice requires more strength form the body, it is still a slow practice where poses need to be held for a longer period.
The postures are held from 45 seconds to upwards of two minutes, which might require building up strength, but as a beginner, it is a great way to build resistance and improve your overall well-being.
- Jivamukti Yoga
Jivamukti yoga was developed to deepen the connection that people have with the earth.
The purpose of Jivamukti is to remind their practitioners what yoga used to be about prior to commercialization and bring back the traditions of the practice.
Juvamukti has a more holistic approach than other practices, and for that reason, it focuses on the mind, wellness, detoxifying the body, and even improving circulation.
This practice is perfect for targeting stress as you focus on the ‘now’ and not on the future.
- Bikram Yoga
Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga takes place in a room that has been heated up to 105 degrees fahrenheit.
This practice includes 26 different postures which focus on alignment.
Bikram yoga is usually practiced in a heated room to increase the intensity of the workout and also helps you to burn more calories.
People often refer to Bikram as a more intense version of Hatha due to the fact that it combines poses with breathing techniques.
However, the pace of Bikram is faster than other types of yoga, and more postures are included in this method.
Popular Yoga Poses
When it comes to yoga you should know that there is a variety of poses that are included in the practice.
As a beginner it might be confusing to hear these names and associate them to the movement and to understand what they mean.
Here is a short introduction to some of the most popular yoga poses below:
- Child’s Pose
This pose focuses on relaxation and giving your body a break. You can use this pose as a resting post before transitioning to the next pose in your practice.
- Downward-Facing Dog
Downward facing dog is one of the more popular poses in yoga. Imagine a dog on his four legs sitting back and stretching its back while hollowing out his underbelly and arching the back. This pose is great for strengthening the arms and shoulders while also stretching the calves and hamstrings.
- Plank Pose
Plank pose is when you hold yourself in a pushup position making sure your ankles, knees and thighs are tightly pressed together and your upper back/shoulders are rounded pressing into the floor below you. Your back should be as straight as possible (no slumping in the belly/lower back area). This pose is about planking and building strength in the arms and toning your abs.
- Chaturanga Dandasana
Also known as a four limbed staff pose, or a lower plank. This pose can be quite hard for beginners but you can definitely see improvement through time as you master this pose.
- Cobra Pose
In this pose, your feet, ankles, knees and thighs are touching the mat, shoulders are back and your chest is open.
Also known as the corpse pose, as you are supposed to lay flat on your back with your legs and arms opened. This is a great pose for relaxing at the end of each yoga practice.
Using the right clothing for yoga is essential, from loose clothes to yoga pants or shorts that allow you full flexibility and movement.
- Yoga Mat
Regardless of the yoga type you are going to practice, they all require a mat underneath your feet.
Yoga mats are great for supporting your body and for reducing the impact on your knees, feet, and wrists during your practice.
- Yoga Blocks
Yoga blocks are recommended for beginners but they are not a requirement.
Blocks are great for supporting your body whenever you don’t feel that you can fully arrive into a pose.
- Yoga Straps & Belts
Yoga straps and belts are also recommended but not necessary and are recommended for all levels from beginners to experts.
These handy little straps are a great tool to help bring your body into positions you would normally not be able to maintain.
For example, if you can’t lean in and reach your hands to your feet, a strap could potentially help you get there.
- Yoga Blanket
Yoga blankets are great for providing extra cushion to support to your knees and your sit bones. They are not necessary for your practice but they are often comfortable equipment when practicing yoga and while finishing your practice in shavasana.
Will Yoga Help Me Lose Weight?
While the primary goal of yoga isn’t to lose weight, you will likely lose weight if you practice consistently and keep your diet in check.
Remember that yoga is a physical activity and a daily practice can help you tone your muscles and improve your overall state of mind.
Can Yoga Help People With Anxiety?
An extensive number of yoga practices focus on the connection with the mind and the body, helping people to become more aware of their inner self.
That said, yoga is a great tool for calming and soothing the body of those who are very stressed or anxious.
Practicing yoga is a great way to give yourself a break, take your mind off of the madness of everyday life and take time for yourself to relax and deal with your anxiety.
The Health Benefits of Yoga
The health benefits of yoga or daily yoga practice are endless, and after reading these benefits below, you are likely going to want to get started with your practice right away.
- Improves flexibility
- Body alignment and correcting postures
- Building strength
- Weight loss
- Reduction of anxiety and stress
- Self Awareness, becoming more mindful of yourself
- Connection with your inner self
- Energy boost
- Better Sleep
- Improvement breathing techniques
- Increase Blood flow
- Improves concentration
- Makes you feel better inside and out
- Boost’s your metabolism
- Improves your balance
- Yoga has anti-inflammatory properties
Where Can I Practice Yoga?
Starting your yoga practice isn’t hard to do, especially since this practice has increased in popularity and now you can find lots of yoga studios nearby to your home.
It’s recommended that you start practicing yoga with an instructor that can guide you along the way and can adjust your poses as necessary.
Don’t forget to try out different styles of yoga as well as teachers to see which style and instructor best fits your needs.
If you do not have access to classes nearby, you can also find plenty of free yoga classes for beginners on YouTube.
Who Is Yoga Suitable for?
Yoga is suitable for just about everyone.
That said, if you have prior injuries or issues, you’ll want to inform your instructor so that they can recommend alternative poses when necessary.
Kids can start practicing from a young age and this is a great way to teach them patience while also involving them into an activity that helps them become more calm and more in tune with their bodies.
Seniors and pregnant women can find specialized yoga practices suitable for them that don’t require too much intensity and are built for their specific needs.
Can Yoga Improve Your Posture and Flexibility?
Absolutely! One of the key advantages of practicing yoga consistently is that you’ll naturally become more and more flexible.
Yoga is all about alignment and improving your posture, as well and stretching your limbs and toning your muscles.
If you still have some unanswered questions on what yoga is or simply how to get started, pick up one of these books on yoga, which will guide you entirely through the process until you become an advanced level yogi.
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