Maybe you’ve tried a few classes and now you’re ready to establish a regular yoga practice. Or perhaps you’ve never taken a class but have heard about the benefits of yoga and want to give it a go.
There are plenty of benefits to be had from embarking on the yogic journey, and deciding to commit to a regular practice is an exciting step. Luckily, in the 21st century, there are resources galore to support you on your path, help you connect with the yoga community at large, and help you find your personal community.
And the best part? Yoga is an inclusive practice—everyone is invited, and all can participate.
A great place to start as a beginner is…beginner yoga. So here we’re sharing some of the current research on the benefits of yoga, definitions for basic yogic terms, tips for diving in with confidence, and more.
Why try yoga?
Clinical studies overwhelmingly laud the effects of regular yoga practices on the body and mind. Scientific research suggests that benefits can include the following:
Improving working memory
Improving overall physical fitness and quality of life
Relieving chronic pain
But this is not an exhaustive list. For more information, check out websites such as Yoga Alliance and Harvard Health.
Have you heard of these yoga myths?
“You need to be flexible to do yoga.”
Not true! The belief that you need a high degree of flexibility in order to practice yoga poses is simply—and luckily!—untrue. First of all, yoga is about what’s going on inside, not how a pose looks on the outside. Secondly, there are many ways to safely enter into postures despite limited range of motion in certain parts of the body. Props like yoga blocks, straps, and bolsters are now common in studios, and they can be easily ordered online if you prefer a home practice. What’s more, people who are “naturally flexible” have their own unique challenges—for instance, they may be more prone to overstretching. Everyone’s body is different, and yoga encourages us to embrace our bodies exactly as they are and to work with what we’ve got.
“Yoga is a religion.”
It’s not. While yoga aims to integrate the mind, body, and spirit, and is thus considered by many to be a spiritual practice, it is not a religion or exclusive in any way. The degree to which the practice of yoga is “spiritual” is entirely decided by the individual practitioner. People of all religious backgrounds can and do practice it. As you establish a regular practice, you might choose to learn more about the philosophical tenets on which yoga is founded, but you certainly don’t have to in order to practice and experience the benefits of the physical postures. The only requirement is that you show up on your mat!
“Yoga takes a lot of time.”
It doesn’t have to! There are tons of beginner yoga classes that you can do in fifteen minutes or less. In fact, incorporating a short daily session into your life can have a significant impact on your well-being. When practiced with mindfulness, a daily yoga practice can help to lower blood pressure, build stronger bones, enhance your focus, and improve your overall mental, spiritual, and physical health. Over time, if you find you want to do a longer practice, incorporating that into your routine will come naturally.
“Yoga is too complicated.”
Yoga can delve deeply into the intricacies of alignment and anatomy—but again, it doesn’t have to! Any yogic journey begins with simply building a basic foundation. In this beginner yoga guide, we aim to help you to get started without getting bogged down by overly complicated jargon and concepts.
Basic Terms for Yoga Beginners
Asana – A physical yoga posture or pose. An asana class involves primarily yoga postures, whereas a class that is focused on yoga ethics or meditation may not include any movement at all.
Ayurveda – An ancient system of medicine with historical roots in India.
Mantra – A word or sound that is repeated to achieve a meditative state.
Mudra – A symbolic gesture; typically a hand gesture.
Namaste – A salutation in Indian culture. It is a Sanskrit word that means “I bow to the divine in you.”
Pranayama – In Sanskrit, prana means “life force” or “life energy,” and yama refers to “control.” Pranayama is the practice of controlling life energy through the skillful manipulation of breath. Common beginner breathing techniques include nadi shodhanam pranayama (alternate nostril breathing) and ujjayi pranayama (victory breath).
Sanskrit – The ancient Indian language in which the scriptures of yoga are written. Some teachers use the Sanskrit names for yoga poses or other yoga-related terms.
Sequence – A series of poses that complete a practice.
There are many beginner yoga terms to discover, but these are the ones you’re most likely to hear. We don’t want you to feel that yoga requires a dictionary to get started!
Props to Help Yoga Beginners
Props have many uses in beginner yoga; when used properly, they can make poses more accessible and allow for deeper stretches. They can also provide stability and may reduce the risk of injury. Students of all abilities and levels embrace props, and there are yoga classes outside of beginner yoga that emphasize using them as well—such as restorative yoga or Iyengar yoga.
In beginner yoga classes, you may find that placing blocks under your hands in a forward bend, for instance, makes the forward bend more accessible for you than would reaching all the way to the ground. And in a pose like seated forward fold, using a strap could help you find better alignment. Props like blankets and bolsters are great for added support and comfort, and both of these can also be used to build a meditation seat.
The most popular yoga props—blocks, straps, blankets, and bolsters—are all generally made available in yoga studios. In studio classes, you can expect the teacher to alert you before the class starts if you’ll need props. And even if the teacher doesn’t specify this, you can usually go ahead and get the props you’d like to practice with. If you choose to develop a home practice, you may find that it’s worth investing in your own props.
What to Wear to a Beginner Yoga Class
When you practice yoga, wear what’s comfortable for you. (While this goes without saying, we want to emphasize the point!) A good rule of thumb is to pick clothing that allows freedom of movement without making you self-conscious; no one wants to worry about a shirt bunching up in their face when there are so many other things happening in a downward dog!
Snug yoga pants with a top that fits your body but is not uncomfortably tight is usually a good choice. And don’t worry about shoes—you’ll go barefoot on the mat.
If you’re worried about the temperature in the studio, or if you tend to get overheated from your practice, try layering. Add a loose top that can easily be taken off or put back on.
Going to Your First Beginner Yoga Class
It’s natural to be curious or even a little hesitant before taking your first beginner yoga class. Keeping the following tips in mind as you head to a studio for the first time can help to make your experience less stressful, and thus more enjoyable.
• Make sure you’ve picked a class for beginners! A yoga class for beginners will include alignment advice and move at a comfortable or slower pace.
• Arrive about fifteen minutes early and, if possible, speak to the teacher beforehand. Let them know you’re new. If you have any injuries or concerns, before class starts is a great time to discuss them with the teacher. This conversation will also give you a good feel for the teacher, and allow you time to adjust to the space.
• Wait to buy a yoga mat until you’ve tried a few classes and have decided to commit to a regular practice. Most yoga studios will have mats for you to borrow, but it’s best to ask ahead of time—just to make sure, before showing up matless.
• Choose a spot where you can easily see the teacher demonstrate the poses, and be sure you have the space you need.
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You’re also invited to try this beginner yoga practice below!
Overcoming Anxieties About Yoga Practice
If you don’t feel ready to enter the studio just yet, you may want to try out some beginner yoga poses at home. Luckily, there are thousands of articles and tutorials on the web. Watch a few “yoga for beginners” videos in your spare time to practice these poses at home before going to a group class—it’s a great way to overcome any nervousness or hesitation you may have about taking a beginner yoga class.