When people hear the word “yoga,” many often might visualize a person sitting cross-legged on a mat, palms pressed together, and meditating in a blissful state. To some extent, that picture is accurate; however, there is so much more to yoga than meets the eye. If you’re new to yoga or looking to learn more about it, the first step is to know what yoga is.
What Is Yoga?
One interesting hallmark of the yoga definition is that it isn’t always clear-cut. Dana Diament, an Australia-based yoga medicine instructor, states that the definition of yoga varies from person to person. To some people, yoga provides a way to feel good in their bodies. For others, it’s more of a spiritual or meditative practice.
Regardless of how people define yoga, Diament writes that a yoga workout “can help reshape and unravel your habitual or unconscious patterns.” Everyone can practice yoga, and yoga is for everybody.
An article from the New York Times generally defines yoga today as “a set of specific exercises, called poses, combined with specific breathing techniques and meditation principles are the building blocks of a yoga class.”
Benefits of Yoga
It’s important to incorporate a routine involving some activity in your life to help your body stay active and healthy, and a yoga routine is one way to do so. Yoga can help keep your joints and back healthy, improve your posture, stretch and strengthen muscles, and improve balance.
But yoga isn’t just physical. In the practice of yoga, much emphasis is placed on breathing and breathing patterns. Learning how to breathe properly can be a calming tool and help ease your mind. It will also help you in your journey to becoming more mindful of your body.
Some benefits a session of yoga can provide for you:
- Reduce back pain
- Strengthen bones
- Improve balance
- Delay mental decline
- Reduce stress and depression
How to Get Started
Knowing how to start yoga can seem like a daunting or nerve-wracking task, but it’s actually quite easy. Many yoga studios — and even instructional videos on YouTube — offer beginner yoga classes to help you begin your yoga journey.
There are a few things to know before you give yoga a shot, though. Yoga typically is practiced in bare feet, and many yogis use mats — leave the socks at home! Many yoga studios offer mats to borrow, but many students prefer to bring their own for hygiene and convenience factors.
It is recommended that you pick a mat that you don’t easily slip and slide on, and don’t forget to wipe it down regularly with a clean, antibacterial wipe or spray. After all, between sweat and bare feet, that mat can get pretty grimy!
Additionally, be sure to wear comfortable clothes. Love leggings and yoga pants? Great — this is why yoga pants were invented! Invest in some activewear or come in a T-shirt and leggings: Just make sure your clothes aren’t so baggy that they’ll get in the way of the pose you’re working on at any given moment.
The building blocks of yoga are poses, and there are 10 basic poses that newcomers can expect to try out. A beginner yoga sequence likely will incorporate the child’s pose, downward-facing dog, plank pose, cobra pose, triangle pose, and tree pose. Don’t attempt any difficult yoga poses until you’ve mastered these basic ones.
- Child’s Pose: A good default pause position, the child’s pose stretches the lower back, hips, thighs, knees, and ankles. It also helps relax the spine, shoulders, and neck. Use it to get a gentle stretch through the neck, spine, and hips.
- Downward-Facing Dog: This pose is great for strengthening the arms, shoulders, and back while simultaneously stretching your hamstrings, calves, and the arches of your feet. Use this pose to help relieve back pain.
- Plank pose: A variation of a push-up, this pose strengthens arms and wrists and tones the abdomen.
- Cobra Pose: This is a back-bending pose that can assist in strengthening back muscles and increasing spinal flexibility. It’s also great for stretching the chest, shoulders, and abdomen.
- Triangle Pose: A great pose for building up strength in the legs — and stretching the hips, spine, chest, shoulders, groins, hamstrings, and calves — use this pose to build strength and endurance.
- Tree pose: This pose helps improve your balance, as well as assists in strengthening your core, ankles, calves, thighs, and spine.
Your Yoga Studio
In this day and age, technology gifts us the ability to learn and do many things from home. That includes yoga. You can choose to attend a yoga class in person at a gym or studio, but you can also begin at home if you prefer.
Learning how to do yoga at home is simple. Using YouTube, a streaming service, or another content-rich platform, you’d be surprised at just how many resources, instructional videos and graphics, and online or pre-filmed yoga classes you can find.
However, one of the benefits of practicing yoga in a class or studio is that the instructor is there to help correct, adjust, or modify your poses as needed. If you’re brand-new to yoga, practicing at home may be a more viable option after you’ve attended an in-person yoga class a few times and have been taught the proper form for your basic poses.
If you decide to take a class, look for an experienced yoga instructor with at least a 200-hour teaching certificate from a program accredited with the Yoga Alliance. You can be assured that these instructors have been trained in injury prevention.
Another thing to note before beginning your yoga journey is that there isn’t just one type of yoga. Here are some of the most common, well-known yoga practices and what sets them apart from each other:
- Hatha: This yoga class incorporates a combination of poses and breathing exercises and serves individuals from beginner to advanced levels.
- Vinyasa or Flow: This practice is hallmarked with an energetic, flowing sequence of yoga poses. Classes may also be accompanied by music.
- Power Yoga: A more advanced yoga class, power yoga focuses on building up strength and includes advanced poses and inversions.
- Bikram/hot yoga: Bikram yoga is a set series of 26 poses performed in a 105-degree room. This is said to allow for deeper stretching and better cardiovascular workout. Hot yoga refers to any yoga class that is done in a room ranging from 80 to 100 degrees.
- Yin yoga: Focuses on stretching the connective tissue around the pelvis, sacrum, spine, and knees to promote flexibility. Poses are held from three to five minutes.
If you’ve ever been curious about yoga, try it! Whether you decide to begin practicing at home or in a class/group setting, you’ll likely find that yoga is a relaxing practice that also gives your body time to stretch, strengthen, and be active. Look up some local yoga studios or classes online, read reviews, and research instructors. An active body is a happy body, and yoga is a beautiful way to exercise the mind, body, and spirit.