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Yoga Basics for Beginners

Once you have a basic foundation in yoga, you can take your practice anywhere.

Once you have a basic foundation in yoga, you can take your practice anywhere.

Have you been hesitant about trying yoga? What's holding you back? You may be confused by all the different styles of yoga and unsure where to begin. You may be intimidated by the unfamiliar language and poses. Maybe you aren't sure whether you'll get enough of a workout to make yoga part of your routine. Maybe it just seems a little too, well, weird to you.

Whatever your reasons for not trying yoga, you've come to the right place. This guide for yoga beginners will demystify the practice of yoga and give you all the information you need to get started. Learn about the health benefits of yoga, the different types of yoga, what you need for equipment, and where to look for yoga classes. Watch a demonstration of some beginner yoga poses. With all of your questions answered, you can start enjoying the benefits and pleasures of yoga today.


What is yoga?

Yoga is a meditative practice originating in ancient India. "Yoga" means "union" in Sanskrit, and the practice of yoga is thought to create a union of mind, body and spirit.

In Western culture, the term "yoga" is most often associated with a form of exercise that involves moving through a series of specific poses (or "asanas") while controlling one's breathing. For true practitioners, exercise is just one component of the yoga lifestyle, which also includes proper diet, relaxation, and meditation.


What are the benefits of yoga?

A regular yoga practice benefits both the body and the mind. While yoga won't give you the heart-pumping effects of a cardio workout, a yoga workout involves much more than just stretching. If you make yoga a part of your fitness routine, you can expect these benefits:

  • Improved flexibility: Moving through the yoga poses will stretch muscles and increase the range of motion in your joints to improve overall flexibility. You should see significant improvements, especially in your shoulders and trunk.
  • Increased strength: Yoga requires you to use your own body weight to support yourself in different ways, which leads to increased strength. The areas that benefit the most will be your core, upper body, legs, and lower back. You also will see overall improved muscle tone.
  • Improved posture: A stronger core provides more support for your spine so you will be able to stand taller and straighter. Yoga also increases your body awareness so you'll be more likely to sense when you are slouching and make necessary adjustments.
  • Improved balance: Increased strength and body awareness will lead to better balance.
  • Improved lung capacity: Yoga focuses on deep, mindful breathing. You will find yourself taking deeper and longer breaths, which will increase your lung capacity and send more oxygen to your entire body.
  • Decreased stress: Yoga's focus on deep breathing and use of other meditative techniques calms the mind, thereby reducing stress. Additionally, yoga produces certain biochemical responses in the body that have a calming effect.
  • Other mental benefits: Yoga practitioners report improved mood, concentration, memory and learning. This may be a result of increased oxygen levels, as well as the body's biochemical responses to yoga.
  • Heart health: Practicing yoga may boost heart health. Some studies have shown a connection between yoga and lower blood pressure, cholesterol and heart rate.
  • Other medical benefits: Yoga may relieve symptoms of some medical conditions and reduce pain.


What are the different styles of yoga?

When looking for a yoga class, you may be confused by the many different styles of yoga that are taught. With unfamiliar terminology used to describe the classes, you may not know which is right for you. Here is a run-down of some of the most popular styles of yoga practiced today:

  • Hatha: This is a generic term used to describe the style of yoga predominantly practiced in the West. If a class is described as "Hatha" yoga, you can expect a basic practice combining a variety of poses and breathing exercises. It likely will move at a slow, gentle pace and be ideal for a beginner.
  • Vinyasa: This is another generic term used to describe one of the most popular styles of yoga. "Vinyasa" means "flow," and Vinyasa practitioners move through a variety of poses in a flowing series that matches movement to breath. Each class will be different, depending on the instructor, but most will begin with a series of "sun salutations" as a warm-up. A Vinyasa class will move at a faster pace than a Hatha class, so it may be helpful to have some familiarity with basic yoga poses in advance.
  • Iyengar: This is a purist form of yoga which focuses on the fundamentals of the poses and achieving proper alignment. Poses are held for longer periods and props like wooden blocks and straps are used to help bring the body into the correct alignment. This is a good class for beginners who seek to perfect the poses.
  • Ashtanga: This describes a more intense, athletic style of yoga where participants progress through a series of physically-demanding poses in a specific order. A class described as "power" yoga will be similar to Ashtanga but will not follow a strict sequence of poses. A beginner may want to obtain a good, basic knowledge of the various yoga poses before attempting a vigorous Ashtanga or power yoga class.
  • Bikram: This method, also known as "hot" yoga, is practiced in a sauna-like room with a temperature up to 105°F and 40% humidity. The practice involves a flowing sequence of 26 poses performed twice during a 90-minute class. The profuse sweating is believed to release toxins from the body. This is a physically demanding style of yoga that may be best reserved for more experienced yoga practitioners.
  • Kundalini: This style of yoga is focused on tapping the energy found at the base of the spine (the root chakra) and moving it upward in the body to awaken all seven of the body's chakras (energy centers). This is accomplished through a specific sequence of poses done in conjunction with controlled breathing techniques (pranayamas) to intensify the effect of the poses. Kundalini is a more spiritual form of yoga and typically involves chanting and singing. If chanting isn't your thing, this may not be the yoga practice for you.


What equipment will I need?

One of the advantages of yoga is it requires very little in the way of equipment. The only thing you need is a yoga mat, and even that isn't a necessity if you're practicing on a non-slick surface.

It's easy to find a yoga mat for less than $20. Look for one in your favorite color or an inspiring design so you will be more inclined to use it. Spend a little more to get an environmentally-friendly mat made from recycled materials and free of phthalates.

Some yoga mats have a strong odor when first unwrapped. If that is the case, lay your mat flat for several days to air out.

Yoga does not require special clothes or shoes. Yoga typically is practiced barefoot. Wear loose fitting or stretchable clothes that allow for free movement. If you want to spend a little money, there are a lot of pants, tanks, and tops made especially for yoga, but a pair of sweatpants and t-shirt will work just fine.

As a beginner, you may want to invest in a yoga DVD to learn the poses at home before venturing out to a class.

A good option that has stood the test of time is the Crunch Perfect Yoga Workout DVD, which includes two yoga workouts by laid-back and accessible instructor Sara Ivanhoe. In "The Joy of Yoga," Ivanhoe takes you through classic yoga poses at a slow pace suitable for beginners while emphasizing enjoyment of the practice over perfection. "Fat-Burning Yoga" is a more athletic workout, but Ivanhoe provides detailed cues and modifications to make it easy enough for a beginner to follow.


Where can I practice yoga?

Another advantage of yoga is you can practice it anywhere – indoors, outside, at home, at the gym, in a hotel room. Try to find a quiet, peaceful place so you are able to focus on your movement and your breath without distractions.

When you are ready to join a class, you have a number of options. You can take a class at a studio that specializes in yoga or in a particular style of yoga.

Many health clubs and gyms also offer yoga classes, which are likely to be less expensive than a specialized yoga studio. Also check your local YMCA and community center for reasonably-priced classes. Many community colleges have yoga classes as a part of their adult education offerings.

When you are vacationing, look for resorts that offer yoga classes to guests (usually for an extra charge). Experiencing yoga in a beautiful outdoor setting – by the side of a tropical pool or in an open-air mountain studio – is a great way to enhance the mind-body connections of the practice.


The inspiring view from the open-air yoga studio at Luna Lodge, Carate, Costa Rica.

The inspiring view from the open-air yoga studio at Luna Lodge, Carate, Costa Rica.

What else do beginners need to know?

Here are a few tips to make your yoga experience an enjoyable one:

  • Don't eat for a couple of hours before you practice and drink plenty of water afterwards.
  • If you are taking a class, introduce yourself to the instructor beforehand and let him or her know you are a beginner. Don't hesitate to ask for help if you need it.
  • Yoga is not a competitive sport. Go slowly, warm up, and move into the poses at your own pace. Never try to force a pose.
  • Remember to breathe.
  • Many instructors will move around the room during the class and help students make small adjustments. Don't be startled if the instructor touches you to help correct your alignment.
  • Stay to the end of the class and don't skip Savasana, the final relaxation pose. This is an important part of yoga practice because it gives the body time to rest and recharge.


Are you ready to get started?

The following series of videos demonstrate several basic yoga poses, including forward fold, plank, cobra and downward dog, and show how to combine these poses into a flowing series known as the sun salutation. Many yoga classes begin by completing several repetitions of the sun salutation as a warm-up.

Watch the demonstration first in its entirety and then give it a try. You will feel stretched and invigorated and eager to make yoga a part of your routine.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Deborah Neyens

Comments

Gupi on June 09, 2019:

Great yoga guide. Thanks for sharing. Lots of useful information

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on January 18, 2013:

Thanks for the comment, Mary. Even if you don't have time for a class, it's easy to make time in the morning for a few sun salutations or other poses. It's a great way to start out the day and get the blood flowing.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on January 18, 2013:

Thanks, Kris. Congratulations on teaching your first class! How did it go?

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on January 18, 2013:

Thanks, greatstuff. I didn't know the connection between balance and brain power. But I do like sudoku, so I'll be doubly protected against Alzheimers. : )

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on January 18, 2013:

Thanks for the comments, xstatic. I'm glad you are seeing the benefits of your yoga practice. I hadn't heard of chair yoga, but what a great idea so older and physically challenged people can enjoy the benefits, too.

Jim Higgins from Eugene, Oregon on January 12, 2013:

To avoid getting on the floor, or for more challenged people, some teachers offer "Chair yoga."

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on January 12, 2013:

Give it a try, Mike. All those people are enthusiastic for a reason. Thanks for the comment, vote, and share.

Mazlan from Malaysia on January 09, 2013:

Very well written and as someone who do yoga, at least twice a week, I like to add that for beginners, to start with Gentle Yoga/Yoga Therapy (e.g. Hatha Yoga). As you had mentioned in your article, one of the benefits of doing Yoga is improved balance. The benefits of achieving a good balance is memory/brain power - so you can skip doing Sudoku (if you hate Sudoku!!) if you are looking for activities to help thwart Alzheimer's disease

Jim Higgins from Eugene, Oregon on January 09, 2013:

This is an outstanding hub about one of my favorite things. I take a one hour class twice a week and attempt to do at least a half hour on the other days as well. It is so relaxing and truly does relieve stress. I am lucky to have a teacher raised in Mongolia who was a monk for several years and who is a gentle and knowledgeable instructor.

I have been in the class for about four months now and my flexibility and strength are improving a lot. I truly recommend Yoga.

Kris Heeter from Indiana on January 09, 2013:

A very nice and thorough article! I'm excited to start teaching my first Vinyasa yoga class this coming weekend:) There are so many wonderful benefits to yoga!

Mary Hyatt from Florida on January 09, 2013:

I used to practice Yoga, but then got too busy with other things (HubPages?) and stopped. Your article has encouraged me to practice Yoga again. I really enjoyed it when I did it.

I voted this UP, etc and shared.

Mike Robbers from London on January 09, 2013:

I never tried yoga in my life even thought more than half the people i know have been enthusiastic with their yoga experiences! Thanks for the informative hub Deborah.. Voted up and shared.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on November 16, 2012:

Thanks, Paul. I'm glad you are enjoying your yoga practice. I hoping to find somewhere in the area that offers Bikrim. It was amazing how quickly it helped me recover from my foot injury!

plongeaux from Des Moines, Iowa on November 16, 2012:

Very helpful, Deb. I literally jumped into 2 classes per week about 4 mo. ago and have found it beneficial in many ways and beyond words. In fact, I'm the practice so far is helping me escape from the world of words that has tightened me up even more than 2 back surgeries, a bicycle accident (2 broken wrists and a busted up elbow), and over 50 years of mindlessness! However, I like your words and the way you use them to help me better appreciate what I've gotten myself into. Thanks!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on August 26, 2012:

Thanks, MelChi. I agree!

Melanie Chisnall from Cape Town, South Africa on August 26, 2012:

Terrific article! Anyone who thinks that yoga is "easy" or a sissy practice clearly hasn't done yoga properly. It is intense! And the benefits are so rewarding! Thanks for sharing this :)

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on August 26, 2012:

Thanks, Sherri. Another option to signing up for a class right away is to invest in a yoga DVD and start practicing at home. After you've gained a bit of confidence, you'll be eager to join a class. The feeling you get after doing yoga can be a bit addicting.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on August 26, 2012:

I hope you enjoy yoga as much as I do, rcrumple. It has many beneficial effects on heart health. I just read your amazing fast food hub. Thanks for sharing your story.

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on August 26, 2012:

I really like this introduction to yoga, Deb. I've never taken a yoga class, so I would be the true beginner. Both the text and the videos are inspiring enough that I just might look a bit more into a class. Up, useful, interesting...and motivating. :)

Rich from Kentucky on August 26, 2012:

Deborah -

Interesting Hub!

It's actually kind of ironic. I was at a Dollar Tree yesterday (I confess) and picked up a copy of Stefanie Syman's "The Subtle Body: The Story Of Yoga In America." Haven't started it yet, but your post increases my interest in doing so. Many Thanks!

Lor M from Philippines on April 03, 2012:

Yes, I will. Thanks! :)

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on April 03, 2012:

Give it another try, smartincome, if only following the videos in my hub in the privacy of your own bedroom. Thanks for the comment.

Lor M from Philippines on April 03, 2012:

I remember when my roommate before encouraged me to attend yoga class. It’s interesting but then I said NO. I don’t really know what’s holding me back. Thanks for sharing this hub! Very helpful for a beginner like me.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on March 31, 2012:

Thanks, Audrey. I hope my hub inspired you to give yoga a try if you heven't yet or to keep going with it if you have. I find it to be so beneficial and a good complement to any fitness program.

Audrey Howitt from California on March 30, 2012:

Great hub and I really liked the videos---very informative!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on March 30, 2012:

Definitely give it a try, onlooker. Thanks for the comment.

onlooker on March 30, 2012:

Hi Deborah! Well this is certainly encouraging. I have been meaning to join a class of some sort but I have been hesitant for a while. These are great tips that I shall keep in mind. Very informative too. Thank you!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on March 30, 2012:

Hi Vinaya. You are right; yoga really helps to give you a sense of mind-body balance. I must admit, though, that pranayama is not my favorite. I prefer a more flowing, athletic type of yoga. It makes me feel like I've had a good workout as well as being incredibly relaxed. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Sunshine, if I could do only one exercise, it would be the plank. It's almost the perfect move; it works the core, shoulders, and even the butt and legs. I think I will do some yoga this morning, as a matter of fact! Maybe you should, too. : ) Thanks for the comment.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on March 30, 2012:

Yoga is so relaxing and beneficial. I wish I had more patience to devote more time to it. Your hub gave me more motivation to start planking again!:)

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on March 30, 2012:

Though I do not do yoga regularly, I strongly believe that yoga helps mind and body to remain in equilibrium.

Breathing, which is called pranayama in yoga is my favorite. Different ways of breathing takes you into a trance like situation.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on March 21, 2012:

Not at all, Dan. I appreciate it. Yoga is so beneficial for so many different activities. Looking forward to your new hub on hiking, which is one of my favorite activities. Thanks!

Dan Human from Niagara Falls, NY on March 21, 2012:

As an outdoors guy, I use yoga as part of my training program. Great way to develop flexibility, balance, and strength in a low-impact and relaxing manner. I'll link this to a hub I'm writing on preparing for hiking. Hopefully you don't mind.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on February 24, 2012:

Thanks, Melovy. I learned about the differences the hard way when I got a Kundalini yoga video one year for Christmas. I'm used to Vinyasa and power yoga, and the chanting and weird breathing of Kundalini yoga just wasn't my cup of tea.

Yvonne Spence from UK on February 24, 2012:

I’ve first did yoga over 20 years ago, but it’s beenon and off so I’m still a beginner, and this is a useful hub. Interesting to read the different types of yoga. I didn’t know what the differences were.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on February 24, 2012:

Thanks, Ruchira! Appreciate the comment.

Ruchira from United States on February 23, 2012:

Interesting hub with good details.

I am an ardent fan of yoga and pranayam.

peace & light!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on February 18, 2012:

Thanks for reading and commenting, Trsmd. I've never tried lyengar yoga myself. I'm more of a vinyasa kind of girl.

Trsmd from India on February 18, 2012:

You have written excellent thing about yoga and those who want to try and learn will really appreciate it. For the first time, I am hearing about Iyengar as a type of yoga. Thanks for SHARING:)

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on February 17, 2012:

Thanks, Barbergirl. People often think of yoga as just stretching, but it really is a good way to build strength, too. I've never tried it when I had a head cold. I'll keep that tip in mind!

Stacy Harris from Hemet, Ca on February 16, 2012:

I am a big fan of Yoga... in fact I can tell how much it has really helped me improve my flexibility and my strength. I do the version from P90X mostly, but I also have a Yoga Deck that I will occasionally use for a quick session. The only thing I would say is beware of yoga if you have an ear infection or a head cold. I tried doing it once and just couldn't seem to balance very well. I still made it through but it was more like a comedy act then a yoga session. Great hub and wonderful information. I think eveyrbody should incorporate yoga into their life!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on February 15, 2012:

Thanks, Polly. Yoga is great because it's relaxing and energizing all at the same time.

Pollyannalana from US on February 15, 2012:

This is very interesting and great way to relax the whole body. You cover it very well.

Polly

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on February 03, 2012:

Thanks, Lisa! I do think you should give it a try. I suggest you start with the front fold part of the sun salutation. Sweep your arms up over your head as you inhale, then fold forward (swan dive) down as you exhale, folding over at your waist and reaching your hands toward your toes. Bend at the waist and keep your back straight and shoulders pulled back toward your spine. If you can't get all the way to your toes, that's fine, and if you have to bend your knees a bit, that's fine, too. Then on the inhale, come back up and reach your hands up to the sky. Exhale as you bring your hands to prayer position over your heart. Do this move several times, matching the move to your breath, trying to reach a little farther each time. It will warm up your body and get you feeling limber. As you get more comfortable with the move, you can add the additional elements of the sun salutation as shown in the videos. Good luck. I hope you enjoy it.

Liz Rayen from California on February 02, 2012:

I have wanted to start Yoga for a long time. I know I am not capable from the get go to do all the poses..barely any of them actually! Are there poses that one can do without having to get on the floor, etc? Something to start off really slow??

I love this hub.

Voted uP and useful!

Lisa

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on February 02, 2012:

Thanks, Business Time! I hear you on the phobia thing. It took me a long time doing yoga in the privacy of my own home before I was ready to venture out into the world. The first class I went to was at a resort in Jamaica and it was so awesome doing yoga in that setting that I forgot to be nervous. Then I started taking clsses at the Y. Now I'm back to doing it mostly at home, since I work out of the home and quit my Y membership, but every now and then I like to get to a class, especially when traveling. You just have a different sort of energy when there are other people around, which is a good thing. I hope you do try out a class; I think you will enjoy it.

I have the Wii Fit yoga and it's probably a lot like Xbox Kinect, not quite the same but still a great way to learn and perfect the poses. Keep it up!

Sarah Kolb-Williams from Twin Cities on February 02, 2012:

This is great! I have a phobia of sorts about working out in front of people -- I don't go to gyms, I don't take classes -- but I have a great fitness program for my Xbox Kinect that I can use in the privacy of my own home. It has a yoga portion, and while I know it isn't the most "authentic" yoga in the world, it's definitely kept my interest, and I'm always amazed at how incredible I feel after after the slow stretching and focus on breathing! I'm now considering doing a trial run at one of the many yoga studios in my area, something I NEVER would have considered without having eased myself in like this.

At any rate, cheers to a great hub!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on February 01, 2012:

Thanks, random. I've enjoyed yoga for many years now so I hope my hub will inspire others to give it a try.

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 31, 2012:

Awesome overview, Deborah. Thanks! Yoga isn't my thing, but I agree that it's important to find an exercise you like so you can stick with it more easily.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on January 31, 2012:

Thanks, jenubouka. I'm glad you enjoy yoga, too, and I'm sure you're much better at it than you give yourself credit for!

jenubouka on January 31, 2012:

What an awesome hub for beginner Yoga goers! You answered all the questions for sure. Plus some great vids too! I have tried yoga, I loved it, although it does require patience and practice for those who are not so limber. Touching my toes was an Olympic event to say the least.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on January 31, 2012:

Thanks, TwilightDream. I think you should give it a try! You just may find a new fitness routine that you love. I always feel so good when I'm done with my yoga workout - a natural high that continues throughout the day.

Kingbell from Chennai, India on January 31, 2012:

Voted up and marked 'useful'. Very elaborately, well written hub for those who are interested to learn 'Yoga'. Various health benefits and different styles of Yoga are explained here in great way. Thanks for sharing. I am now tempted to start practicing "YOGA". keep writing!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on January 31, 2012:

Thanks for reading, commenting, and voting, Blossom. I haven't tried a Pilates class yet, although I have some workouts videos that incorporate some pilates moves.

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on January 31, 2012:

I do agree that exercise is so important. I do Pilates each day and that helps to keep me fit, too. Voted up and interesting.

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