Yoga has many benefits for both mind and body. But some people may feel intimidated by ‘yoga types’ or might feel that they are not flexible enough to start yoga. This is not true, anyone can do yoga and you shouldn’t feel worried about current levels of fitness or flexibility before you begin, as yoga will help improve these.
If you are completely new to yoga, it is recommended that you go to a beginners yoga class so that you avoid getting into bad habits. Even if you decide to do the majority of your practice at home, checking in with a teacher every now and again is a good idea, as they will be able to correct you. Sometimes, you might think that you have a pose completely correct, only to discover with a teacher that you aren’t doing it right, and therefore aren’t getting the most out of it.
If you are suffering from an injury, yoga can be very helpful for you, and in this case it is recommended that you go to a class (as opposed to practising at home). The same advice applies if you are pregnant. You should always tell your teacher about a pregnancy or injury before you begin practice, and if you are unsure as to whether you should be doing yoga for a health-related reason, ask your doctor.
You don’t need much equipment to start yoga – arguably you don’t need anything – but having the following will make your practice easier and more comfortable:
Other equipment includes yoga blocks, bolsters or straps, some types of yoga use these yoga ‘props’ more than others.
Eating before you practice yoga is not a good idea and could make you feel unwell. Try to avoid food 1-2 hours before practice and don’t drink large amounts of liquid before your practice.
At first, breathing in and out as your teacher suggests can seem like too much to think about while you are trying to figure out how to get your body in the poses. But breathing in and out as suggested can actually make moving from one pose to the next easier, and help you feel more grounded and relaxed.
You should also make the most of the beginning and the end of the class to focus on your breathing. Many teachers use breathing or relaxation techniques and you should pay attention to these so that you can use them while on your own.
Unless otherwise instructed, try and breathe in and out through your nose and as you breathe in, inflate and deflate your belly, not your chest.
Many teachers will provide several variations of a pose that are each suitable for different individuals. You may be more naturally flexible in some areas of your body, and so therefore be more able to do some more advanced poses before you can achieve others. Always choose the pose that you think is most suitable to you and your body, and don’t forget that you can always change or adjust your chosen pose if it is too easy or difficult.
Arrive early, not on time to class, as this gives you a bit of time to prepare yourself both mentally and physically for the class by stretching or lying in corpse pose (flat on your back with your arms out to your sides with palms facing up).
Take care not to step on anyone else’s mat, and go to class as clean as possible.
Some people find that certain poses invoke emotional reactions (e.g. tears or increased sensitivity), or that when they relax at the end of the class, they feel very emotional or tearful. This is normal, and should be viewed as positive or helpful. If you are worried about your emotions in a yoga class, talk to your teacher.
Some teachers or styles of yoga refer to poses or other aspects of yoga in Sanskrit (an ancient language), while others use the English terms. Some teachers switch between the two or use both terms, which can be a little confusing for beginners. In a yoga class, you’ll probably hear the terms:
Sit cross-legged on your mat with a straight back. Rest your hands on your knees and relax your jaw and shoulders. This is a good pose for meditation, and you may start and end your practice like this.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and make sure that you are balancing your weight evenly across both feet. Rest your hands at your sides with your palms facing forwards and make sure you are standing tall with your shoulders down. From this pose you can place your hands in front of your chest in a ‘prayer’ position or reach up to the sky and stretch.
To get into this pose, start on all fours and then tuck your toes under and lift your hips up as you move your hands forward and press into them (trying to spread your fingers wide) so that your body looks like an inverted ‘V’. Your feet and legs should be hip distance apart. Eventually, you are aiming to have both feet flat on the ground in this pose, if you can’t do this with your legs straight at first, bend your knees.
Sit on your heels and bring your body forward, bringing your forehead onto the floor and your arms out in front of you. Your chest should be resting on your thighs, or you can open your thighs and rest your chest in between your legs (don't worry if you don't reach the floor at first).
Lie on your front with your feet together, your chin on the floor and your hands under your elbows. Lift your chest and head up and push your pubic bone into the floor. Press your palms into the floor and breathe deeply.