To hear some people tell it, Yoga is like magic. Stressed out? Try Yoga! Back pain? Yoga!
Great. Sign me up!
But this practice has been around for thousands of years, and there seems to be a Yoga studio on every corner, and you still don't know where to start.
All the types are overwhelming.
It would be nice if you could just start already.
Well, I've got good news for you:
We'll tell you where to start, and you'll see how little you need to practice Yoga today.
Okay, we hear you. A lot of those poses are more complicated than they look. And any kind of exercise carries a risk of injury. But all you need is a good introduction to Yoga. We're not going to tie you in a pretzel.
While it's true that the benefits of Yoga are impressive:
- Stress and stress-related illnesses
- Sciatica and lower back pain
- High blood pressure
- Certain kinds of incontinence
- Anxiety and depression
- And more
And your reason for starting might be among them, it doesn't matter. Everyone needs to start at the beginning.
But before we get into all that, let's demystify Yoga for you, so you know how easy and approachable it really is.
The Yoga Mystery Unraveled
We've all heard the word. The problem is, depending on who you talk to, you might come up with different meanings.
It's an exercise class.
Or a religion?
Maybe it's alternative medicine?
Or perhaps it's a bit of all of these things?
Here's the thing:
To answer that question, you'll have to go to the source.
A short history of Yoga
Most historians believe that Yoga originated around 5,000 years ago in northern India. The word "Yoga" was first mentioned in the Rig Veda, a sacred Hindu text that dates to 1,500 BCE. Some call the Bhagavad Gita, another Hindu text, which dates from 500 BCE, "the first book of Yoga."
The Bhagavad Gita contains a description of the different kinds of Yoga. This epic poem presents Yoga as a unified system of spiritual practice.
But it's a lot different from what you might think.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga addresses four aspects of life:
As you can see, it's a lot more than comfy pants and rubber mats!
In the United States, some people devote themselves to the spiritual side of Yoga. However, many, for various reasons focus more on the physical practice. This is especially true when it comes to Yoga for beginners.
Modern Yoga as exercise
Maybe you're not interested in Yoga as a spiritual practice.
You can still benefit from the movements as a form of exercise. But what kind of exercise is it, exactly? Where does it fit in with other kinds of exercise?
Where does Yoga fit in?
A Yoga class is basically a series of poses and movements that work different parts of your body. Some classes will take you through the movements slowly, holding them for a long time.
On the flip side:
Others will progress through the movements quickly.
In any event, practicing the movements has a variety of demonstrated health and fitness benefits.
But there are so many different types of Yoga. What's the best Yoga for beginners?
We're glad you asked!
The Best Kinds of Yoga for Beginners
There are many different types of Yoga, and they're all a bit different. Some focus on strength, while others focus on flow. Some make more extensive use of props. Others focus on the perfection of movement.
And there are many modern hybrid types as well.
In the United States, some are more commonly available than others. Some are great for beginners. Others may appeal to students with a bit of experience.
So, which are the best forms of Yoga for beginners?
Hatha Yoga: a natural Yoga for beginners
Hatha is a friendly, inviting style of Yoga for beginners. It's also one of the most popular.
And this is why:
First, Hatha Yoga is a gentle style. The focus of practice is the alignment of the body during the movements. Instructors also emphasize the physical and mental benefits of the poses. This is a good style for someone interested in the health benefits of Yoga, but not necessarily in pursuing it as a spiritual path.
But don't fool yourself.
Simple doesn't mean easy.
When we call it "yoga for beginners," we mean that Hatha Yoga is a popular starting point for many people. However, like any form of Yoga, there is always room to grow, learn, and develop in your practice.
Here's another benefit:
It's very widely practiced in the United States. This means that no matter where you are, you'll probably be able to find an instructor in this style.
What does Hatha Yoga look like? See for yourself!
A simple Hatha Yoga routine
Want some simple Hatha Yoga moves to try right now?
Here you go! Hold each for five breaths.
Downward dog and low lunge
Iyengar Yoga: Yoga for beginners with a perfectionist streak
Iyengar Yoga is a form of Hatha Yoga. This means that it's gentle, and emphasizes good form and alignment. In addition, many instructors have students rest between movements.
Which means that:
Iyengar is a fantastic style of Yoga for beginners, as well as for the elderly, and for people with different physical challenges.
Because the slow motion between poses minimizes the chance of injury. Also, Iyengar Yoga makes extensive use of props like blocks and straps.
Do gentleness and customizability mean that Iyengar Yoga is easy?
Not at all!
The challenge of Iyengar Yoga is to not just hold poses with good form but to do so for an extended period of time. It's an intense practice that builds muscle and stamina.
Check it out.
Iyengar Yoga for beginners: props, props, and more props!
Iyengar Yoga is a form of Hatha Yoga. As such, many of the movements and poses are the same.
How is an Iyengar Yoga session different from a Hatha Yoga session?
We're glad you asked!
First, Iyengar classes generally do not feature music or chanting.
Then, there are the props. Yoga props are a way of customizing your practice to fit your specific physical needs.
Here are some examples.
Foam blocks are reach-extenders.
What does that mean?
Well, if you're just starting out in Yoga, you may lack the flexibility to do certain poses with perfect form. Musclebound athletes and people with certain physical limitations may also have trouble doing certain poses.
A foam block can help you to make that pose.
You might use a foam block to extend your reach during:
- forward bend
- side bend
- triangle pose
- downward dog
Also, a Yoga block can provide support during certain poses.
- sitting forward bend
- pigeon pose
Finally, you can use your "Yoga brick" to get just the right alignment by holding it between your thighs, feet, or knees during poses like:
- wheel pose
- bridge pose
Many Yoga practitioners of Iyengar and other styles use a rubber strap.
For three things: alignment, posture, and support.
A rubber strap can be fun and make movements easier than they would be otherwise. But it's possible to injure yourself if you push too hard. So don't get carried away.
Here are a few ways you might use a rubber strap in your practice:
- Opening the shoulders and chest
- To extend your reach during sitting forward bend
- Giving your inner thighs an extra stretch during bound angle pose
- Extending the range of your stretch during a reclining leg stretch
- Perfecting form, alignment, and balance during Dancer's pose
Most Yoga practitioners use a mat. It's a good way to cushion yourself during sitting positions and to keep yourself from sliding on slippery surfaces.
But you can also use a mat in other ways.
- To attain precise form for standing poses, especially against a wall
- Roll your mat like a bolster and use it to support your back
- Use a rolled mat to open the shoulder blades in a reclining pose
- To measure precise distance for stances
Bolsters and pillows
Bolsters and pillows are excellent props for beginners and people who need a little assistance with flexibility. They're especially useful in prenatal Yoga as well.
How do you use them?
Let us count the ways!
- To support the back during passive stretching
- For making seated and bending poses more comfortable
- To support the body during restorative stretching
- For relief and support during meditation
A Yoga wheel is a hollow ring about twelve inches in diameter. It's a fairly new prop and has some interesting uses.
You can use a Yoga wheel to:
- Deepen reaching stretches
- Open the chest during reclining poses
- Support the back during back-bending poses
- Support the leg and assist stretching during half-pyramid pose
- and more
Do you have to buy all these props?
When you're starting something new, sometimes a lot of the fun is in picking out the equipment you'll need to do it.
But sometimes that's a lot of money. And with Yoga props, that can definitely be the case.
But good news!
A lot of times a Yoga studio will provide equipment for students to use during class.
If you find you like it, though, you might still want to invest in your own.
Beyond Yoga for Beginners
So, what comes after Yoga for beginners? Is that all there is?
Maybe you've gotten your feet wet with Hatha or Iyengar, and are looking for something a bit different.
You have two choices.
First, you could work within one of those styles, and deepen your practice. There's always something to learn, and always something to learn to do better.
You could also challenge yourself to check out a different style.
Some popular styles include:
- Vinyasa Yoga
- Kundalini Yoga
- Bikram (or Power) Yoga
How are they different? And how will they challenge your practice?
Let's have a look.
Vinyasa Yoga: looking for a challenge?
So Much Yoga describes Vinyasa Yoga as "continuous movement with breath."
Breathing is very important in all forms of Yoga. However, Vinyasa Yoga synchronizes breath with movement. It also organizes practice into a series or "flow" of movements.
Where Hatha and Iyengar Yoga focus on holding and perfecting movements, Vinyasa Yoga puts movements together in a flow.
As a result:
A Vinyasa class will not only stretch and strengthen your muscles. It may even test your endurance. Have a look.
Kundalini Yoga: not necessarily Yoga for beginners
If the spiritual aspects of Yoga appeal to you, Kundalini style Yoga might be just up your alley. This style is still highly physical. However, the focus is on awakening the spiritual energy within.
Let's break it down:
Some describe Kundalini as the awakening of an energy that sits, coiled like a snake, at the base of the spine. Many describe this awakening in terms of spiritual, emotional, and physical sensations that affect every aspect of a person's life.
The thing is:
It can cause both positive and negative changes, practitioners say. So it's important to know what you're getting into.
Although it's a very spiritual style, Kundalini Yoga is a modern one.
Yogi Bhajan, who introduced Kundalini to the Western world in 1968, taught with the philosophy of "Happy, Healthy, Holy." This philosophy extends to every aspect of life, from Yoga practice to raising children to brushing your teeth.
The "Yoga of Awareness" does use physical poses. However, it emphasizes spiritual aspects of Yoga such as breathing, meditation, and mantras. A typical Kundalini Yoga class will focus on a specific problem or theme.
Bikram Yoga: Yoga for beginners who don't mind sweating
Bikram Yoga also called "Power Yoga" or "Hot Yoga" is a modern style that has been taking the world by storm.
What is it?
It's actually pretty interesting.
The traditional Bikram Yoga class takes place in a room kept at a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40 percent humidity.
What? That's smokin':
Well, first of all, keeping your muscles warm helps to prevent injury right?
Also, it helps with flexibility, which we all know is important for Yoga practice.
Finally, practitioners believe that all that sweating is a great detox. However you feel about "detox" claims, sweating has a lot of inarguable health benefits.
The jury is still out on whether hot Yoga is better for you than regular Yoga.
But we'll tell you this:
Practitioners swear by it. And some traditionalists argue that it goes against the philosophy of listening to your body. They say that if you're sweating heavily and your heart rate is elevated, you should take a break.
But you're a beginner, so...
Is Bikram a good Yoga for you? It can be. After all, a class is comprised of the same 26 postures each time. However, some may find that the temperature and humidity make it too physically challenging.
That said, if you're interested, you probably won't have a hard time finding a class. In the meantime, here's a taste:
Specific Kinds of Beginners
Can Yoga benefit you?
What a silly question!
A lot of people can benefit mentally and physically from Yoga.
But some you might not expect.
You are new to exercise
If you're sedentary and interested in becoming less so, a good Yoga for beginners course might be your ideal starting point.
Why you ask:
Haven't you been paying attention?
First, many forms of Yoga are gentle and slow,
which means less chance of injury.
Second, Yoga practice is highly customizable.
Many instructors will give students tips to make a move easier
or more intense, depending on that student's needs.
Finally, your Yoga practice can grow with you.
As your body becomes stronger and more active,
you can customize your practice to give you more of a challenge.
So, what are you waiting for?
You are an athlete
Can athletic people benefit from Yoga? And should they start at the beginning?
Yes and yes.
Weightlifting builds muscle, and running works your cardiovascular system. But both of these can lead to stiffness and inflexibility if you don't supplement with flexibility training.
Yoga can help you to keep supple, which prevents injury. It can also help you to keep your musculoskeletal system balanced.
What if you're already in shape? Can you skip to the head of the class?
Not if you want to avoid injury and maximize your benefit. Even experienced athletes should start out with Yoga for beginners if they're Yoga newbs.
So, be smart:
Give it a try. Check out these athlete-specific poses from Yoga Journal:
You are expecting
Yoga has specific health benefits for pregnant women. And if you're expecting, you have a great reason to sign up for that first Yoga for beginners course.
What are these benefits?
Well, having a baby is tough on your body. And recovery can be difficult as well.
Prenatal Yoga works in three specific areas:
- Core strength
- And pelvic floor work
What does that mean?
Your "core" is exactly what it sounds like: the muscles of the center of your body.
To be blunt:
These are the muscles that you will engage when bringing a child out of your body and into the world.
We don't often think about the pelvic floor. The muscles there quietly do their job.
Until they don't.
Many women suffer from urinary incontinence during and shortly after pregnancy. Strengthening the pelvic floor through targeted Yoga exercises can help to prevent this.
Well, considering the average first-time labor lasts 16 hours, the more stamina an expectant mother has, the better.
Looking for a good prenatal Yoga for beginners routine? Give this one a try.
You suffer from back pain
If you've ever suffered from back pain, you know that you'd do about anything for relief.
You use your back for everything.
Routine stretching can help to relieve, and even prevent different kinds of back pain.
Just a 10-minute back-specific Yoga for beginners routine can help. Yoga Journal recommends:
- Half-knees to chest pose
- Reclining hand to big toe pose
- Eye of the needle pose
Or check out this back-specific beginner routine:
Stress is a problem for you
As we mentioned before, some of the most amazing health benefits of Yoga come from its powerful stress-reducing qualities.
But what if stress itself is the problem?
Then you're in luck!
The stretches and poses of Yoga go far toward relieving stress. But there are also numerous poses that specifically target this problem.
The secret is releasing tension in the large muscle groups. Check this:
- Standing forward bend stretches the hamstrings, hips, and thighs
- Eagle pose releases muscles in the back, shoulders, and legs
- Extended triangle pose stretches the entire body
- Puppy pose stretches the muscles of the chest
- Cat pose stretches the lower back
This beginners routine can also help:
Men and Yoga
If you've ever walked past a Yoga class, you've probably noticed that a lot of students -- and a lot of instructors -- are women.
You might also have noticed that many of Yoga's health benefits are specific to women as well.
But does that mean men have nothing to gain from Yoga?
Are you kidding?
Men have a lot to gain from Yoga practice.
What, exactly? You might wonder.
What does Yoga offer men?
First, after adolescence, boys lose flexibility faster than girls. So it's extra important for men to seek out opportunities to work on it.
Here's the truth:
Flexibility not only feels good, but it can help your performance in other sports as well.
And then there's stress.
Life can be stressful for everyone, but a huge number of male-dominated jobs are extremely stressful on top of that.
Not only that:
Yoga is one of the best stress-busters around.
And it can help with prostate health.
Experts recommend a number of different poses for prostate health:
- Bow pose
- Shoulder stand
- Full boat pose
- Reclining big toes pose
- Restrained angle pose
What do you have to gain?
The question is: What do you have to lose?
Gentlemen? Give it a try.
You should stay away from Yoga if...
Before beginning any exercise program, it's important to check with your doctor. When it comes to Yoga, this is particularly important if you:
- Have high blood pressure
- Suffer from chronic pain
- Are recovering from an injury
- Are currently suffering from an illness
Also, the golden rule of any exercise is, if it hurts, stop.
Yoga for Beginners: How? Where? When?
Are you ready? Great!
How do you get started?
Where do you go to find your first Yoga class? You probably don't have to go as far as you think.
Short and sweet
If you're just starting out, you probably don't want to commit to a long contract or an expensive series of classes at a private studio.
You don't have to!
Look for inexpensive, short-term classes through:
- Your local park system
- Your favorite community center
- Store-sponsored classes
- Introductory specials from Yoga studios
If you belong to a health club, check out their class listings for a beginner Yoga class. Also, local Yoga studios sometimes put on events at farmer's markets and other community gatherings.
Study at home
If you're feeling shy or maybe you don't want to splurge on a cute set of Yoga pants just yet, but can't bear the thought of those sweats seeing the light of day...
If you subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon, you already have access to any number of professionally-produced Yoga videos. Try out different styles in privacy and comfort.
On top of that:
YouTube is another place to find quality video instruction, both long and short.
If one instructor isn't doing it for you, find another. No apologies, no hassle.
And you can even do it in your jammies.
Finding a qualified instructor
If you're ready for something a bit more serious, it's time to find a qualified instructor.
What does "qualified" mean?
Well, in the United States, no laws are saying who is allowed to call themselves a Yoga instructor.
Which means you have to be careful.
Fortunately, there are private organizations who hold their members to a high ethical and professional standard. And if your instructor is a certified member, chances are, you'll be in good hands.
RYT stands for "Registered Yoga Teacher." This is a credential awarded by the Yoga Alliance of the United States.
The Yoga Alliance doesn't certify Yoga teachers. Rather, it certifies teacher training programs. If your Yoga teacher has completed a training program certified by the Yoga Alliance, then they can register with the Yoga Alliance as an RYT.
How does the Yoga Alliance certify a program?
Well, first, it looks at instructional hours. Every program must fulfill a certain number of instructional hours. On top of that, each program must devote a certain number of hours to physiology, teaching methodology, philosophy, and so forth.
On top of that:
Every teaching program must provide between 200 and 500 hours of instruction. And that's a lot!
The Yoga Alliance also certifies different specialties, such as prenatal Yoga and children's Yoga.
An RYT is not a guarantee that a given teacher will be the right teacher for you. However, it is a guarantee that they have completed a very serious course of training.
What to Expect from Your First Class
So you're on your way to your first Yoga class. What should you bring? What will happen once you get there?
Your instructor or the course description may tell you what to bring. But then again, they may not.
However, it's always good to be prepared with the following:
- A towel or mat
- Comfortable clothing that allows full range of motion
- A water bottle
That's it? That's it!
What will happen? Will they make me say "OM"?
It's possible, but it will all depend on the type of Yoga and the instructor.
Many classes start and end with chanting "OM," as well as greeting one another with Namaste.
And that's not all:
Every activity carries its own risk of injury, and Yoga is no different. Before you jump in, it's important to know about common Yoga injuries, how to recognize them, and how to prevent them in the first place.
Common Yoga injuries
Because of its often slow and gentle nature, Yoga has a low rate of injuries among sports.
But they do happen.
Here are a few you might encounter:
- Lower back injuries
- Knee tears
- Hamstring pulls
- Wrist strains
- Neck injuries
These injuries, especially neck injuries, are no joke. And they can put you out of commission for a long time. So be safe.
Bend your knees
Keep a slight bend in your knees when doing bending poses. This will help to protect your lower back.
Guard your alignment
When doing a pose that's potentially hard on the knees, keep your body aligned correctly. Also, use props if you even think you need them.
Breathe into the length of a hamstring stretch or a stretch of any other large muscle group.
Distribute weight properly
Spreading your fingers and bearing weight on the proper part of your hand can help to prevent wrist injuries. You can also use a towel to raise the wrists, which will relieve pressure on them.
Few Yoga for beginners classes will have poses that put weight on the head or neck. But eventually, you may encounter them.
When you do:
Be very sure to distribute this weight evenly and in a stable manner. Also, if the pose allows, use your arms to take some of the weight.
Are You Ready to Yoga?
Yoga is more than just an exercise class. It's a system of movement with specific health benefits. It's a spiritual path.
And above all else:
It's a hobby that can grow with you.
Everyone has to start somewhere. And lucky for you, there's probably a Yoga for beginners class near you.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab your mat, and let's go!
Are you a Yogi? Do you want to start a practice? Let us know which one you're thinking of trying in the comments!