Yoga is an exercise that can strengthen, stretch and relax the body and mind. Studies have shown that even a single hour-long yoga class increases strength and flexibility, while reducing stress and improving sleep.
If you’re just beginning, look for classes designed for beginners or choose a gentler form of yoga, such as yin or restorative. The key is consistent engagement.
When starting yoga, one of the most important aspects to focus on is breathing techniques. This is because yogis believe that the breath is the life force and if you can learn to control it, you can also control your mind and emotions.
Yoga breathing is known as pranayama, and it can help improve concentration and relax the mind. Yogis often practice these breathing exercises before postural yoga to prepare the body for meditation.
The calming benefits of this exercise can be felt in as little as one minute, making it an ideal pick-me-up any time of day. It can also help improve digestion and relieve bloating. To try this beginner yoga breathing exercise, sit in easy cross-legged or kneeling pose and breathe deeply through the nose. Focus on the inhalations and exhalations for a count of 10 each. Repeat this cycle for several minutes. You can also add a humming sound to this practice.
Yoga poses help build muscle tone, flexibility, strength, balance and focus. They also relieve stress, depression and anxiety, according to health studies. Beginners often find it helpful to start with simple poses like this one, which strengthens the lower back and core.
Inhale to stretch the back and shoulders while exhaling to open the chest and tuck the hips downward to engage the glutes. Relax the neck and press shoulder blades down and away from ears. Lighten pressure in palms, then inhale to raise chest a few inches off the mat and hold as long as comfortable.
This balancing pose strengthens the ankles, feet and thighs and opens up the chest and stretches the ribs and upper back. Beginners can modify this pose by placing a block on either side of the front foot to “raise” the floor to a level that’s comfortably reachable. This reduces the intensity of the hamstring stretch and helps beginners develop confidence in the posture.
There are many options available to those interested in yoga, from a traditional studio setting to a more self-directed experience at home. Beginners should always seek out an instructor when possible, however. This will ensure that the student gets personalized feedback and guidance as they are introducing themselves to yoga.
A beginner’s yoga class will likely begin with a short breathing session to prepare the body for the movement and relaxation of yoga poses, or asanas. Students should dress in comfortable, loose-fitting clothing that will allow them to move freely without worrying about how it looks or fits.
Once the class has begun, a beginner can expect to learn about basic postures, or asanas, like downward-facing dog and child’s pose (balasana). Students will also be encouraged to relax into the poses, rather than push themselves into a more challenging version of the pose, which can help prevent injury for beginners. Often, the teacher will guide the class through a final breathing exercise to finish the class and encourage students to practice the poses at home.
Yoga is generally a safe exercise, but as with any fitness activity, certain precautions are necessary. Always consult your physician before beginning a workout program, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions. It is advisable to not eat immediately before practicing yoga, and a gap of two to four hours should be allowed between your last meal and your first session.
Also, avoid practicing yoga if you have a gastrointestinal tract problem or are pregnant or nursing. Finally, don’t overdo the poses or strain yourself while exercising. A competitive spirit or an overly ambitious approach can lead to injury, so practice only within your body’s limits.
Finally, if you’re not sure what type of class is right for you, ask the instructor to recommend an appropriate level. You’ll learn the most if you attend a live class, but if that’s not possible, video-based classes can provide helpful instruction and guidance as well. The best time to practice is the early morning when it’s easiest to avoid distractions.