A few months ago I sort of fell out of love with exercising. I wasn’t really enjoying Crossfit, traditional weight training, or even the bodyweight circuits I use to love so much. I needed a change of pace, something totally different from what I had been doing for so long. A few years back I was practicing Yoga pretty consistently and really enjoyed it but somehow I got away from it, not really sure why.
When doing Yoga my body had never felt better, I had less injuries, and I felt less stressed. So for the last few months I’ve been back in the Yoga game and am really loving it. So much so that I wanted to extend a post to the Limitless community.
Today’s article is the complete beginners guide to yoga.
WHAT IS YOGA?
The term “yoga” comes from an ancient Indian language known as Sanskrit.
The practice of yoga today can best be described as a discipline or program that includes breath control, basic meditation, and special body postures.
Yoga is becoming increasingly popular due to its health, relaxation, and spiritual benefits.
WHAT TYPE OF YOGA IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
To decide which type of yoga best suits you, you’ll need to do three simple things: (1) get a basic understanding of the most common types of yoga, and (2) give your chosen type a try, and (3) try another type if your initial choice isn’t right for you.
So, here’s a list with brief descriptions of the eight (8) most common types of yoga:
- Anusara Yoga – A rigorous form of yoga that was developed and introduced about 17 years ago. The classes are sequenced by the yoga teacher.
- Ashtanga Yoga – A physically demanding, hot, and sweaty style of yoga introduced about 35 years ago. It has a unique sequence of postures with each movement being linked to a breath.
- Bikram Yoga – A popular style of yoga introduced about 30 years ago. It consists of a sequence of 26 poses that are practiced in heated rooms thus resulting in a lot of sweating.
- Hatha Yoga – A mild, gentle style of yoga that provides students an easygoing introduction to yoga’s basic postures. It doesn’t result in much, if any, sweating; however, it is still beneficial.
- Hot Yoga – A style of yoga that’s quite similar to Bikram yoga because it’s practiced in heated rooms thus resulting in some serious sweating. The postures deviate from Bikram yoga in some minor ways, thus resulting in it being called by a different name, “hot yoga.”
- Iyengar Yoga – A comprehensive style of yoga that really focuses on proper alignment of poses. Studios typically carry and stock a lot of yoga props, such as straps, chairs, blocks, and more. It’s a recommended choice for people with chronic conditions or injuries.
- Restorative Yoga – A relaxing style of yoga that encompasses “passive” yoga poses. These classes use yoga props such as blankets, blocks, and bolsters to help yoga students enjoy the poses while exerting little effort.
- Vinyasa Yoga – A style of yoga known for its “fluid” movements and intense practices. Yoga teachers for Vinyasa instruct the class in such a manner that the transitions between poses occur smoothly. Music is often played in the background for a more lively experience. Many Vinyasa classes don’t follow set sequences or routines…and are intense.
THE BENEFITS OF YOGA
With over 20 million Americans now practicing yoga, it’s clear that yoga delivers some significant benefits.
In fact, research and studies show yoga to have many physical, mental, and spiritual benefits. And once you see and realize all the benefits yoga has to offer, you’ll be eager to experience your first yoga session or class.
Physical Benefits of Yoga
- Practicing yoga provides the body with many profound life-enhancing and restorative benefits, such as:
- Increased flexibility
- Lower cortisol levels & blood pressure
- Improved lung capacity, circulation, & sexual function
- Stronger immune and lymphatic system
- More steady blood-glucose levels for diabetics
- Stronger bones & muscles
- Improved joint functioning
- Improved sinuses
- Healthier spine (discs, vertebrae, etc.)
- Healthy weight
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Relief from ulcers, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome
- Pain relief (neck and back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, etc.)
- Reduced dependency on pharmaceutical drugs
Mental Benefits of Yoga
- Yoga also is great for the brain and mind. People of all ages can benefit from yoga’s mental benefits, such as:
- Improved brain function
- Improved memory, coordination, and reaction time
- Improved sense of balance
- Increased proprioception
- Restored the nervous system
Spiritual Benefits of Yoga
Yoga’s spiritual benefits alone motivate millions of people to get on their mats and practice yoga. In today’s non-stop, fast-paced society, yoga offers spiritual benefits, such as:
- Greater levels of happiness and hope
- Peace of mind
- Improved awareness
- Lower stress levels
- Anxiety relief
- Greater compassion, emotional well-being, and relationships
- Enhanced feelings of gratitude, forgiveness, and empathy
- Reduction in anger, regret, fear, and frustration
- Higher quality of life
Some of yoga’s benefits can be enjoyed and experienced immediately after class, while others begin to appear after only a few months. Then there are a handful of yoga benefits that occur after years of practice.
Nevertheless, many of yoga’s life-enhancing benefits (physical, mental, and spiritual) begin appearing after only a single session with the majority of benefits manifesting after only a few months of yoga practice.
WHO IS YOGA FOR?
Yoga is suitable for everyone, including beginners.
Even those who believe that they aren’t flexible enough or haven’t exercised for years can enjoy the dozens of psychological and biological changes yoga offers you.
But, despite existing for more than a few thousand years, Western society and science are only now beginning to grasp the significant changes that yoga makes to the mind and body.
And while many people have a very basic understanding of yoga’s biological or bodily effects, few people possess any understanding at all when it comes to the psychological or mental effects. Nevertheless, researchers are using MRIs and other cutting-edge techniques to study the changes yoga brings about on the human brain.
So here, we’ll briefly explore both psychological and biological changes.
THE BIOLOGICAL (PHYSICAL) CHANGES YOU MAY EXPERIENCE WITH YOGA
Cortisol & Stress: Yoga has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, which is a hormone released when the body is under stress – either temporary or continual chronic stress. By helping people better handle and react to stress, yoga reduces the havoc wreaked upon the body by cortisol, especially in those who regularly experience non-stop or chronic stress.
Feel-Good Neurotransmitters: Serotonin, dopamine, and GABA are commonly referred to as the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals that promote feelings of contentment, relaxation, and satisfaction. Researchers have conducted studies showing that yoga can actually boost the levels of these three “feel-good” chemicals in the human brain. This is significant because these are the same neurotransmitters targeted by a variety of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.
Restoration & Healing: The body’s parasympathetic nervous system helps to regulate digestive organs, lymphatic circulation, and the endocrine glands. Yoga has been shown to stimulate this unique nervous system, thus lowering heart rate and blood pressure, especially after a significant stressful event. It calms us and helps to restore balance after major stressors.
Immune System: As mentioned earlier, cortisol is a hormone that can do significant damage to the entire body…including the immune system. The consensus among many professionals and researchers is that yoga’s ability to lessen stress-responses and cortisol is responsible for boosting the immune system’s functioning. A better immune system can equate to fewer illnesses.
Inflammation: Inflammation, whether low-grade or chronic, has been shown to be responsible for many health problems, such as depression, heart disease, and diabetes. Yoga’s power to boost health also lowers inflammation.
Mindfulness and Attention Training: An important element of yoga is its teaching people to view many of their thoughts from a position of non-judgment. Instead of simply making a snap judgment and quickly reacting, studies have shown that yoga helps people to attend to their thoughts in a non-reactionary, accepting manner. As a result, yoga can help people avoid reactions that lead to trouble, make better choices, and reduce stress. Many people say that yoga helps them become more patient and better listeners. Also, the mindfulness training of yoga can help some people overcome depression and certain addictions.
Mind-Body Syncing: The mind and body are profoundly connected to one another. Neglect the mind and the body will eventually suffer. Treat the body poorly, and the mind suffers. Yoga’s unique power is its fundamental ability to positively stimulate, heal, and restore many aspects of both the mind and body. Yoga provides people with a unique, complete opportunity to positively improve and sync both mind and body.
Yoga’s Psychological (Mental) Changes
Yoga’s science, research, and studies are showing that while yoga has many powerful physical benefits, it is also remarkable with the changes it brings about in the human brain. In one study it has been shown that a short 20 minute yoga session can sharpen the mind just as well if not better than a brisk walk or jog.
WHAT IS A YOGA CLASS LIKE?
Most yoga studios require students remove their shoes at the entrance. Yoga is practiced barefoot. Shoe racks and cubicles for jackets, bags, and other items are provided at many yoga studios.
When you enter the yoga room, you’ll likely see other students positioned or seated on a yoga mat facing the yoga teacher. Some classes begin with chanting a sound or mantra, such as “Om.”
Shortly thereafter, the yoga teacher will begin instructing and guiding students through a sequence of poses or “asanas.” And, it’s not unusual for the yoga teacher to adjust students’ bodies, as necessary, to help them achieve proper positions.
Yoga classes can range from 30 minutes to over an hour. During the classes, yoga poses are often taught in a specific sequence. Breathing is typically a very important focus throughout the entire class.
Towards the end of yoga class, there’s a period of “shavasana” or short relaxation. Students simply relax while lying on their backs. Classes then often end with the yoga teacher bowing their head, clasping their hands together, and saying the word “Namaste.” In Sanskrit, Namaste means, “I honor you” or “thank you.” In return, the students bow a little and say “Namaste.”
Before attending your first yoga class, you’ll also want to know a bit about:
- Yoga Class Etiquette
- Yoga Room
- Yoga Teacher
- Yoga Poses & Names
YOGA CLASS ETIQUETTE
Showing proper respect for other yoga students and the yoga teacher is easy if you observe the following guidelines:
- Avoid wearing perfume or cologne before class, as some yoga students might be allergic or sensitive to certain fragrances. Additionally, your fragrance may irritate or distract other students.
- Ensure your cell phone is turned “off” before entering the yoga room.
- Enter the yoga room quietly to avoid disturbing other students who are actively meditating, stretching, or getting ready before the beginning of yoga class.
- Remain until the “shavasana” or relaxation period…if possible. It’s a very enjoyable and relaxing moment. Furthermore, by remaining you avoid disturbing the other yoga students.
- Exit quietly at the end of yoga class, as many students tend to remain in the yoga room practicing and adjusting themselves a bit longer. It’s respectful to quietly exit the class.
- Thank the yoga teacher as you leave the yoga room. This is not mandatory, but it’s respectful.
THE YOGA ROOM
Navigating and being comfortable in the yoga room is simple if you follow the following “yoga room” guidelines:
- Place your yoga mat anywhere you find comfortable as long as you can see the teacher. Some beginners enjoy being in the middle of the yoga room as this allows them to see other students and the teacher.
- Place your handbag or valuables next to the wall if doing so is acceptable. Otherwise, you might choose to use any provided lockers or cubicles for these items.
- Kindly move or adjust your yoga mat in crowded rooms upon the yoga teacher’s request. Some classes can be more crowded than others classes, depending on the yoga teacher’s popularity or a certain time of day. It’s common to practice yoga close to others. Most beginners get used to this in a matter of 1 to 2 classes.
THE YOGA TEACHER
Practicing yoga is always better when you know what to expect from your teacher. So, follow these “yoga teacher” guidelines for a better experience:
- Introduce yourself to your teacher and tell him or her if it is your first yoga class. Some teachers will ask, but tell them, even if they don’t ask. You’re more likely to get any needed help this way. Also, be sure to let them know of any injuries or medical conditions. Your yoga teacher may then be able to provide you modified poses more suitable for you.
- Ask questions at the end of class or during class if there’s something you don’t understand or are curious about. Yoga teachers can provide you with great help, instruction, and recommendations.
- Kindly move or adjust your yoga mat in crowded rooms upon the yoga teacher’s request. Some classes can be fuller than others depending on the yoga teacher’s popularity or a certain time of day. It’s common to practice yoga close to others. Most beginners get used to this in a matter of 1 to 2 classes.
- Kindly let your teacher know if you prefer not to be touched as most teachers go about the class adjusting students, hands-on, for proper alignment and positions. It’s not a problem to let him or her know you’d rather a “hands-off” approach.
COMMON YOGA POSES AND NAMES
As a beginner, you’ll experience a variety of unfamiliar poses and names. Following these guidelines will help you have a more enjoyable, stress-free experience…even if you don’t know all the different names and poses.
- Don’t worry about perfecting the poses. Other students might have more yoga experience and practice allowing them greater flexibility and poses. Don’t compare your performance with theirs. You’ll get better with each class.
- Stop and take a break if you need to rest for a moment. There’s no need to feel embarrassed. During your first class, it’s not likely you’ll be able to complete every pose perfectly or as hold it as long as more experienced students. If you stumble or get off balance, simply smile. It happens. You can wait for the next pose or try it again. And if you become very fatigued or light-headed, then you can stop and sit on your mat until you’re ready to resume the class.
- Immediately stop any pose if you experience pain. Ask your yoga teacher to make sure you’re body is in proper alignment for that pose either during or after class. Yoga is not supposed to be painful.
- Breathe freely and fully as you perform every pose. Some styles of yoga incorporate a specific breathing element or “pranyama.” Regardless of the style of yoga you’re practicing, it’s important to breathe.
- Avoid feeling overwhelmed because you don’t know all the names or poses. You don’t need to know the names and all the poses because the yoga teacher will provide the necessary guidance. With each passing yoga class, you’ll learn more of the poses and names. As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED YOGA QUESTIONS
Yoga attracts many people who know very little about it.
And oftentimes, the little knowledge of newcomers is often incorrect or not totally accurate.
The benefits of yoga are great – for both the mind and body. Nevertheless, the thought of attending your first class can be a bit intimidating and overwhelming…unless you know the answers to the most frequently asked questions.
So, here you’ll discover answers to the questions most first-timers have about yoga.
- How often should I practice yoga each week? Practicing yoga simply one hour each week allows most people to experience its benefits. Nevertheless, it’s generally recommended to start with 2 to 3 yoga sessions per week with each session lasting between 60 to 90 minutes. However, it’s okay to only do 20-minute yoga sessions if doing more seems unrealistic, or you have time constraints. Most yoga newcomers who start with shorter sessions find that the duration of their yoga sessions naturally and effortlessly expand until they are doing more yoga.
- Will I experience any soreness after yoga class? Anytime unused muscles are put to work, there’s going to be a little soreness regardless of the activity. Yoga often incorporates using muscles in a variety of challenging and different ways. Soreness might be experienced in the hamstrings, hip flexor, and chest muscles if these areas are very tight. Typically, any soreness subsides within the first week or two after beginning yoga. This is normal. And for those with soreness that lasts beyond the first few weeks, it’s generally recommended to reduce weekly sessions to only two per week until the soreness subsides.
- Is it recommended to eat before attending yoga class? The general rule is to never practice yoga on a full stomach. Yoga takes your body through a variety of bends, turns, and twists that can make you quite uncomfortable with a large, undigested meal in your stomach. Instead, if you believe that you’ll become hungry or week during class, then consider eating something light (handful of nuts, yogurt, etc.) at least 60 minutes before yoga class. If possible, refrain from eating for about 2 or 3 hours prior to class. However, make sure that you’re properly hydrated before yoga class.
- Is it ideal to take beginner level yoga classes before attending more advanced levels? While you can attend any level of yoga class you choose, it’s generally recommended that those new to yoga experience about eight beginner-level yoga classes prior to moving on to more advanced levels.
- What type of equipment (props) do I need to begin yoga? Straps, mats, blocks, blankets, and towels can enhance yoga practice for both beginners as well as many students who have been practicing yoga for quite some time. Most yoga studios provide some or all of this equipment either complimentary or for a reasonable rental fee. However, many yoga students choose to bring their own mat and towel. All yoga equipment is quite affordable.
- What type of gear or clothing do I need for yoga? Unlike many forms of fitness activities, yoga doesn’t require much gear or clothing. All that’s needed is a pair of sweat pants, shorts, or leggings…plus a T-shirt. Yoga is practiced barefoot; therefore, shoes or special footwear is not necessary.
- Will the yoga class be hot? The yoga room’s temperature will vary depending on the type of yoga (for example, example Bikram or hot yoga is practiced in a heated room) and the teacher’s preference. For warmer or hot yoga classes, make sure that your body is well hydrated prior to class.
- Do I need to do more than yoga to lose weight? Vigorous yoga sessions can certainly help promote weight loss; however, healthy eating and other activity might be required depending on individual needs.
- When can I expect to begin seeing changes to my body? Regular yoga practice will bring about changes in a person’s strength, weight, and flexibility. The key is regular, consistent yoga practice. The rate of physical change varies per each person as everyone’s body, fitness level, and body composition is quite different. Yoga practice is perfect for just about any person, regardless of flexibility. With continued practice, flexibility naturally improves. It is also important for new yoga students to appreciate, notice, and enjoy the beneficial changes yoga also brings to sleeping, relaxation, and stress levels.
Are any of you practicing Yoga consistently?
What benefits have you noticed from your practice?
If you haven’t tried Yoga yet what’s keeping you?
Post to the comments below.
Photo: Julia Caesar