Yoga Practice for Beginners

Beginning a yoga practice from scratch is not an easy thing to do. It takes a lot of courage to go from sitting on your couch thinking about trying yoga to actually rolling out a mat and stepping onto it. This can be true of exercising in general, but it’s even more specific to yoga since it’s different from other kinds of movement you’ve done before.

If you want to take up jogging, chances are you’ve run sometime in the past. Your body has the muscle memory of how to do it. For most people, the shapes of yoga poses are going to be completely unfamiliar, not to mention learning the culture and associated practices like breathing exercises and meditation.

Yet people do overcome their hesitations and start all the time. Knowing what to expect and what will be expected of you goes a long way to boost your confidence going in. Remember that even the most impressive yoga teachers had to take these first steps too.

Types of Yoga

The first hurdle to get over is deciding what type of yoga class to go to. While there are a lot of different kinds of yoga out there, don't get too caught up in identifying the perfect type before you've ever stepped onto your mat. Sometimes you don't know what you like until you've tried a few classes.

The most basic styles to be aware of are Hatha and vinyasa.

Hatha is generally slow and gentle. Vinyasa, also called flow, introduces movement from pose to pose. It tends to be more vigorous—but a beginners' class should be accessible to most people. Another thing to know is that some kinds of yoga are done in a heated room. Hot yoga is very popular, but there are also lots of room-temperature options.

Other types of yoga you may have heard of, including Bikram and power yoga, are covered in our easy-to-reference cheat sheet.

If you belong to a gym or YMCA, they have yoga classes. These are a perfectly good way to start, especially since it's an environment where you already feel at home. If this isn't appealing or isn't an option, seek out your nearest yoga studio. These people know what they are doing and were all beginners at one time.

Your First Class

The more you know before you arrive at your first yoga class, the less scary it is going to be. There’s a pretty steep learning curve for yoga at the beginning. First, there's the etiquette of the yoga studio to take in. There's figuring out what to bring and what to wear. Then there's the big mystery of what will actually happen in class and what are these poses everyone talks about.

Before you enter a yoga classroom, take off your shoes and silence your phone. Students usually arrange their mats in rows facing the front of the room (where the teacher will stand) or sometimes with the short ends along the walls leaving the center of the room empty. You should be able to tell what the convention is by looking at the students who are already set up.

If you happen to be the first one, ask the teacher or front desk person. Leave one to two feet of space between your mat and the person next to you. If the class gets crowded, you may have to move closer. If there are props available, grab a blanket and two blocks. Place them next to your mat.

Lie down on your back or sit on your mat until class starts. If you feel like it, you can try a few warm-up stretches. When the teacher is ready to start class, he/she will usually ask everyone to come to a seated position and close their eyes. The next few minutes are often dedicated to separating your time on the mat from the rest of your day, perhaps by clearing your mind and focusing your attention on your breath.

Pretty soon you'll get into the yoga poses. Don't worry if you don't know what's going on. Your teacher will give verbal instructions for how to do each movement and probably demonstrate them as well. Glancing at the person next to you can also clue you in if you get confused. Before you know it, it will be time for final relaxation, during which you just lie still and absorb your experience. After five to 10 minutes, your teacher will instruct you to return to a seated position. Sometimes the class will chant three oms in closing and almost every class ends with a bow and a namaste to thank the teacher.

Your first class will hit you with a lot of new information. The names of the poses (sometimes in Sanskrit) as well as the precise way to do them. A good teacher for beginners knows that it takes time to process all the information being offered. However, he/she will also begin to make suggestions about how you can improve your alignment in various poses. This is the most constructive kind of criticism there is. It’s meant to encourage you to find your best possible version of a pose (maybe with props) for maximum benefits and minimal risk.

After class, take a minute to ask yourself how you felt about it. Was it too fast? Too slow? Did the teacher get on your nerves? These are all legitimate reactions that can be rectified by trying a different class or type of yoga.

Poses for Beginners

If you'd like to know a little bit about what you’re in for (or review what just happened), take a look at these 10 essential beginners' poses, which will undoubtedly be on the agenda in your first class or so. You can try them on for size ahead of time or just familiarize yourself with their names.

Downward facing dog is probably yoga's most renowned pose. It's typically done many times in each class. Warrior poses and sun salutations are also key components, especially in flow yoga. Perhaps the most important pose to know is child's pose. This resting posture is the universally accepted place to go if you get tired or out of breath during any yoga class.

You don't need to ask anyone's permission or worry about being judged if you decide to drop into a child's pose in the middle of a class. Your teacher will not be surprised because it happens all the time. Just take as long as you need and then rejoin the class.

Starting at Home

Starting yoga at home as a complete beginner is possible but not ideal. Learning a yoga pose usually takes four kinds of input:

  1. You see what the pose looks like when someone else does it.
  2. You hear a description of how to do it.
  3. Then you feel it in your body. (You can actually do these three things at home with a video. But it’s the crucial fourth step that requires a teacher.)
  4. You get feedback from someone experienced. They tell you how you might improve and possibly make hands-on adjustments to help you feel a better way. Even if you only go to class occasionally, it can make a big difference in establishing good alignment habits.

If classes seem too expensive, there are some creative ways to make yoga fit your budget by finding free classes or even swapping work for yoga. If practicing at home is your only option, you can still make it work. There are excellent online yoga classes for beginners and short sequences you can begin to experiment with.

Consistency Is Key

Once you get over the initial hump, consistency is the key to establishing a happy, healthy yoga practice. Going to class about three times a week (or doing the equivalent at home) is a good goal. The idea here is longevity because yoga's mental and physical benefits are realized through regular practice over time.

A Word From Verywell

If you're reading this it's because you already have an interest in starting yoga. So why are you waiting? It really can be as simple as finding a yoga class and showing up to it. Y ogis of all levels of experience all had to start somewhere. Bottom line: If you go to a class, you will do yoga, and you will feel better at the end.