How to Get Started With Yoga

In This Article

Yoga is a popular exercise that combines breathing, movement, and meditation. Imported to the United States from India over a century ago, yoga has long been praised for its physical and spiritual benefits. 

Research shows yoga can help manage stress, ease depression and anxiety, improve mood, and enhance the quality of sleep. In addition, yoga has been shown to increase flexibility, improve balance and coordination, reduce pain, and increase strength.

Taking your first yoga class may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating if you know what to expect. A typical yoga class is 45 minutes to 90 minutes and begins with breathing exercises as a warm-up, moves onto poses for the bulk of the class, and ends with mediation as a cool down. 

Yoga Basics

The best way to learn yoga is by doing it, but if you're nervous about attending a class, don't shy away from doing a little studying before you attend. Consider the following.

Types of Yoga

Classes come in a variety of yoga styles, so it is a good idea to read the class descriptions at your local yoga studios to find a class that is right for you. Common types include:

  • Hatha yoga classes tend to be good for beginners because they're slower-moving.
  • Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and power yoga classes can be more challenging, depending on the level of instruction.
  • Iyengar has a strong focus on proper alignment, and often uses props to help students perfect their form.
  • Hot yoga is yoga practiced in a hot environment—many studios reach 104 degrees F. Many people enjoy doing yoga in the heat, but people who are sensitive to heat or have certain medical conditions may find hot yoga uncomfortable.
  • Kundalini yoga is often used as a healing type of yoga and classes may incorporate meditation, chanting, and spiritual elements.

According to research published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Kundalini yoga techniques can be helpful for managing the obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, addiction and substance abuse disorders, major depressive disorders, dyslexia, grief, insomnia, and other sleep disorders.

Breathing

Yoga places a strong focus on breathing, which research shows can really pay off when it comes to your health. 

"Yoga is about the breath," says Jenay Rose, a 500-hour Registered Yoga Teacher, online fitness coach, and social media influencer. "The hardest part is showing up, so if you can just master breathing, you're practicing.”

According to a 2014 study published in Medical Science Monitor Basic Research, a single, 25-minute guided protocol of alternate nostril yoga breathing significantly decreased blood pressure and breathing rate in hypertensive and healthy volunteers.

Poses

Depending on the studio and instructor, pose names might be referenced in Sanskrit or English, or a combination thereof. This can be confusing the first few times you attend class.

Review some of the most common poses to familiarize yourself with English and Hindi names, as well as their basic form.

Favorites like child's pose (balasana) and downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana) are incorporated into just about every yoga class. Other common poses and sequences include the warrior poses and sun salutations.

Supplies

Most studios encourage students to bring their own yoga mats to class, but if you don't have a mat of your own, they're often available to rent for a small fee. Check with your local studio to see what their protocol is. Otherwise, you're unlikely to need much of anything.

Studios and gyms typically provide all the equipment and props you'll need, including bolsters, blocks, and blankets.

If you plan to try yoga at home, you may want to buy a few basics or find substitutes around your house before you start. For instance, you can use a belt or scarf in place of a yoga strap and throw pillows or a sturdy hard-cover book for yoga blocks.

What To Wear

Choose comfortable, stretchy pants or shorts and a close-fitting top that won't fly up over your head every time you perform an inversion.

You won't need special shoes because yoga is done barefoot. You can also wear a pair of yoga socks with grips on the bottom to keep your feet from sliding around on your mat.

Class Settings

Yoga studios are traditionally where aspiring students go to learn the practice. But they're not the only available option for instruction. , and There are pros and cons to each option.

  • Gyms: These days almost all large gyms offer yoga classes. If you already have a gym membership, you can often access classes at no additional cost. Many of these instructors are highly-qualified, although you might also get some new instructors looking to build their experience and skills.
  • Yoga studios: Often home to highly-qualified instructors who focus primarily on yoga, most studios also offer a wide range of classes staggered throughout the day. However, yoga studios tend to be more expensive, and for some people, they can feel more intimidating.
  • At home: with the availability of smartphones and streaming video services, you can access online classes from just about anywhere. Online classes or DVDs are an excellent and affordable option for those who don't have access to in-person instruction, or those who want to ease into the practice before attending a class.

While there's nothing wrong with starting an at-home practice, this type of instruction lacks personalized feedback, so it's hard for beginners to know if they're getting poses exactly right. Whenever possible, it's best to attend at least a few classes with a qualified instructor before deciding to go it alone.

Class Etiquette

Yoga etiquette, for the most part, is fairly self-explanatory—respect the teacher, respect your fellow students, and respect yourself and the practice.

Little things, like showing up on time, turning your phone's ringer off before class, and staying in class through the end of the final relaxation, make a big difference.

Basic Class Structure

Most yoga classes follow a similar script, although the details change based on the type of yoga you're doing and the level of instruction. From the moment you step foot in the studio to the end of your first class, this is what you can expect.

  1. Check in at the reception desk. Show up a little early so you have time to get set up and find your space. Also, if it's your first time, you may have to fill out paperwork before participating.
  2. Enter the studio and find your space. Take your shoes off before you enter. Lay your mat down so it's facing the same direction as the other students' mats. Ask the instructor if you'll need any additional props for the class. Tell the instructor if it's your first time.
  3. Sit quietly on your mat until the class starts. If you want, do a few of your own warm-up stretches before class begins.
  4. Follow the class flow. Classes typically start with basic breathing exercises and slower, more methodical poses to help you get warm. Some instructors may lead you in a series of "oms," chants, or guided meditation before starting physical poses. Classes then build in speed and intensity, before gradually slowing back down again and doing deeper stretches. Many classes wrap up with seated, then lying poses, finishing with savasana, or "corpse pose," an important relaxation period where your body takes in everything it's learned before you transition back to everyday life.
  1. Classes often end with more deep breathing. Since yoga is about the breath as much as the physical practice, these final breathing exercises are a helpful reminder to stay focused on the breath as you go throughout the rest of your day. Don't be caught off guard if your instructor leads you in a chant. You don't have to participate if you don't feel comfortable.
  2. Ask questions after class. Most instructors stick around to answer any questions you might have. This is a great time to get more information on specific poses or to simply develop a relationship with your instructor.

After class wraps up, take some time to think about the experience. Assess what you liked or didn't like, and think about whether the speed and instruction were appropriate for your ability level. Armed with this information, you can decide whether to continue attending the same class in the future or to switch it up and try something different.

Setting Limits

Yoga is a very personal practice. What's safe and effective for one person may not be safe or effective for another. While most yoga poses are completely safe, it's important to listen to your body and set your own limits as you go.

For instance, if you have low back issues, you may need to ask your teacher for modifications to basic poses like the standing forward fold or plow pose. And if you're starting a home-based yoga practice, it's particularly important to brush up on poses that are riskiest for beginners so you don't try something you're not ready for.

Just because poses like handstands and crows are popular to show off on Instagram, that doesn't mean you're ready to try them. Many yoga poses require substantial strength and balance that takes time to develop. Start by developing a basic practice and give yourself time to work up from there.

If you struggle through longer practices, don't be embarrassed. Many new yogis are surprised by how challenging yoga can be.

Take breaks in child's pose whenever you need to, and if you'd like, practice beginner yoga poses designed to help build strength when you have a few minutes on your own. Before you know it, you'll be able to make it through a whole class like a champ.

Common Myths

There are a lot of myths surrounding the practice of yoga. But that's just it—they're myths, not reality. Believe it or not, yoga isn't just for girls. You don't have to be flexible to do yoga.

Yoga isn't a religion. Yoga isn't "too hard" or "too easy." Yoga isn't just for vegetarian hippies. Yoga is for everyone at every level, and yoga can fit into every lifestyle.

If you're open to trying the practice, you just might discover how inclusive and uplifting yoga can be.

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Article Sources

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  3. Felver JC, Butzer B, Olson KJ, Smith IM, Khalsa SB. Yoga in public school improves adolescent mood and affect. Contemp Sch Psychol. 2015;19(3):184-192. doi:10.1007/s40688-014-0031-9

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