Yoga is an ancient system for health of mind and body developed over the centuries by the Sages of India. Yoga practice has been around for over 5,000 years. It started as a spiritual meditative practice in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. The goal of yoga, or of the person practicing yoga, is the attainment of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility. It acts as a means of self-purification to achieve oneness with the supreme creator. Fortunately, this technique in its simplified form can easily be incorporated into our busy schedules to benefit mind and body. The goal of yoga is to calm the mind so that our soul expresses itself.
Baggy T-shirts are fine for guys, but women may consider choosing tighter fitting tops so that when you are in an inversion (like Shoulder Stand), the top stays in place (and covers what you want it covering!). Yoga can be done in shorts, leggings or sweats. But many choose leggings, quick-dry Capri or full-length fitted pants as these help your instructor check your alignment.
If you are new to yoga you may want to buy yourself a yoga mat. Alternatively, most studios have mats that you can borrow or rent. Most studios provide basic props, such as blocks, which are used to help with alignment, and straps, which can help if you are new to yoga. You also want to bring some water and a towel.
Yoga tips and etiquette
- Get there early: Arrive at least 10 minutes before yoga class to get a spot where you feel most comfortable.
- After you arrive: Take off your shoes and socks before you walk into the room; you can ask where to place them or just watch what everyone else is doing.
- Communicate: Before class starts, introduce yourself to the instructor. Tell the instructor whether you have any injury, especially a recent one, so he or she can give you modifications.
- Breathe: It’s common for new students to hold their breath during yoga poses they find challenging. Breathing deeply can help you relax.
- Practice your basic poses at home: If you practice some of the basic poses at home, such as Downward-Facing Dog, Upward-Facing Dog, Warrior 1 and Warrior 2, which are part of any yoga for beginners class, you will feel more comfortable.
- Don’t leave in the middle of corpse pose: Most yoga classes end with the Corpse pose, also called Savasana (pronounced sha-vass-ah-nah). With this pose, you lie flat on your back, close your eyes and relax. This is a time for the whole class to relax and enter a state of peaceful calm. For this reason, please do not walk out of a class during Corpse pose. If you have to leave, do it before.
- Namaste: Don’t be scared off when your instructor bows her head as if in prayer, clasps her hands together in front of her heart and says, “Namaste” (pronounced nah-mas-tay). You’ll notice the class says it back as well. This Sanskrit word means “I honor you” and is normally said at the end of class.
Beginner friendly yoga move
Standing forward stretch (Uttanasana)
This first move is a wonderful stretch to release the back muscles. Bend forward keeping the knees bent, chest on or close to thighs, holding your elbows. Don’t tuck the elbows in close to the body – just let them relax as you hold them. Keep your head relaxed and your face soft. Feel the lower back start to release. Next, start to straighten your legs, still holding your elbows. Finally, let go of the arms and let them hang loosely. Feel the complete release of all stress and tension. Hold each of these poses for five to ten breaths, then slowly roll up to a standing position and reach to stretch over head with palms touching.
Start in a standing position and clasp fingers behind the back. Pull up on the arms to feel an increased stretch in the chest and arms. Tighten the lower body as you start to press the hips slightly forward and arch back, lifting the heart to the sky. Hold as long as comfortably possible.
Standing side stretch-crescent moon pose
Start in a standing position and bring both arms up overhead. Grab the left wrist with the right hand. Inhale, and then exhale, as you start to lean over to the right, pulling the left arm over the ear. Hold for five to ten deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Standing forward wide angle pose (Prasarita pandittanasana)
From a standing position with feet together, bend forward and touch the floor if possible (bend knees if necessary). Slowly separate the feet 3 to 4 feet apart in a wide stance with legs as straight as possible. Grab the ankles or calves as you gently pull the head closer to the legs. Hold for five to ten deep breaths. Place hands on the floor as you walk the feet back together and roll up slowly.
Cat/cow pose (Durga-go)
Start on your hands and knees and begin by looking up, slowly inhaling and lifting the tail bone to the sky. Exhale while rounding the back like a cat, pressing the belly to the spine and pressing the hands deep into the floor. Tuck the chin into the throat. This move releases tension in the back and stimulates the thyroid by pressing the chin to the throat. It also can help to strengthen the abdominal muscles by holding and pressing the belly to the spine. Do this move five to ten times, always breathing deeply through the moves.
Cobra pose (Bhujangasana)
Start by lying on your stomach with the hands directly under your shoulders, elbows bent. Begin by taking a deep breath and then on exhale bring the chest off the floor, using your back muscles. Keep the feet on the floor with the legs straight. If you want to increase the intensity, lift the palms off the floor while you hold the pose. Hold for five to ten breaths.
Child pose (Balsana)
Start in a kneeling position and then sit onto the heels. Walk the hands forward and relax down, resting on your heels with the arms outstretched on the floor in front. Keep the breath deep and relax on each exhale. Feel the complete release of tension through the fingers as the whole spine stretches.
Yoga for beginners: Cautions
- There are many variations to most postures. If you experience pain or discomfort in any posture, remember to stop immediately. Don’t force anything; you can find an alternative.
- If you suffer from high blood pressure, you should NOT do inverted postures. These postures increase the blood flow and can cause serious problems.
- Pregnant women should always consult with their doctor before beginning a yoga practice. Yoga can help you adjust to the physical changes your body is undergoing, but it should be undertaken with care. Even those who were doing yoga before becoming pregnant should discuss continuing their practice with their doctor.
- While yoga can help you adjust to the physical changes you undergo during your pregnancy, there are several poses that you should NOT do. Mainly these are inverted postures, such as head stand, shoulder stand and hand stand, and those that place your weight on your abdomen. Do NOT do: Bow, Cobra (or the seventh part of the Sun Salutation), Plow, Peacock, Shoulder stand, and Headstand.
- To avoid knee injury when doing yoga, be sure to keep the knees straight (especially in standing poses). The knees should be forward in line with the ankle and foot. Do NOT let them push or twist inward or outward.
Yoga started as a spiritual practice and has now grown worldwide. While some use it purely for aerobic fitness, others use it to find complete wellness with the integration of body, soul and mind. Yoga can be done by people of any age, but the poses will likely be modified for persons with health conditions or who are pregnant. It’s important to tell your instructor if you have any injuries, so he or she can tailor the class to you. Yoga is about learning to listen to your body, but also to yourself and the world.