Yoga is an ancient set of beliefs in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions that strives towards spiritual discipline. In the West, yoga is less understood for its spiritual component and more commonly known as a physical workout of specific poses, or asanas. It’s actually not just something you “do” but something that you practice to strengthen, relax, and energize your body and mind. Any person can practice yoga, from Asana practice to meditation and breathing.
Getting Started with Yoga
- 1Determine a focus for your yoga practice. Before starting yoga, it can help to figure out why you want to practice. Yoga can be a method of physical exercise, a way to reduce and manage stress, a means of healing an illness or injury, or a path to spiritual fulfillment and peace.
- Think about which components of wellness you want to work on, such as strength, flexibility, stamina, anxiety, and depression. You might also want to practice for your general well-being.
- Consider writing down your focus for your practice. Update it frequently and revise it as you become more familiar with yoga and grow as a student. For example, you could have a goal such as “I want to practice for at least 5 minutes every day” or “I want to build enough strength to do an arm balance posture like Lolasana.”
- 2Be aware that there is no such thing as “good” or “right” yoga. There are different styles and ways to practice yoga and there will always be more experienced yoga practitioners than you. It’s important to remember that yoga is neither a competition nor a traditional sport, but a personal practice of mindfulness, relaxation, and physicality that is meant to enrich your life and body. There is no right or wrong way to do yoga. Your practice should be about your journey first and foremost.
- Anyone can practice and benefit from yoga. Integrating yoga into your routine can help improve your physical and mental health, even if you only practice for 10 minutes a day.
- It can take some time to find a specific style or school of yoga you enjoy. Similarly, finding the right teacher for you and your goals can take some trial and error.
- Practice keeping an open mind and adopt a non-judgmental attitude. Instead of thinking, “I’m not flexible, I’ll be bad at yoga,” realize that “Yoga is about the flexibility of the mind, not the flexibility of the body.” 
- Remember that there is no competition in yoga. Every person has different abilities and the goal of yoga is to focus on yourself, not what others are doing.
- 3Gather any equipment you may want to practice. All you truly need to practice yoga is the ability to breathe. Certain pieces of equipment may help you feel more comfortable, though, especially in the beginning. At a minimum, you will need a yoga mat. Consider having props such as a yoga belt, yoga block, and a large blanket or bolster, too. These pieces of equipment can help improve and deepen your yoga practice as well as making it more comfortable.
- Look for a mat that is cushioned and that has a non-slippery finish. If you are on a budget, you can always use a blanket, towel, or sofa cushions to add a bit of extra comfort instead of buying a new mat.
- You can buy mats and props at sporting goods stores, yoga studios, or at online yoga retailers.
- 4Wear breathable clothing in which you can move. You’ll want clothing that is comfortable and breathes easily. This can help you better achieve a full range of motion and flexibility and also keep you from tugging at overly tight clothing.
- You don’t necessarily need special yoga clothing, but try wearing something comfortable that doesn’t restrict your movement. Women can wear leggings, a tank top, and a sports bra. Men can wear a pair of athletic shorts and a t-shirt.
- As you try more complex poses you may want tighter pants and shirts that won’t fall or move, distracting you in the process.
- If you are doing Bikram yoga, which takes place in a heated room, or athletically intense yoga such as Jivamukti, make sure to wear light, breathable clothing that absorbs sweat.
- 5Find a comfortable place to practice. If you’ve decided to give yoga a try at home before going to a class, find a comfortable and quiet space in which to explore your yoga practice. Make sure you’ve got plenty of room to move and someway to close yourself off to the outside world.
- You’ll need a few inches on each side of your mat so that you don’t run into a wall or anything else.
- Make sure the place you practice is quiet and calm so that no one can disturb your focus. You’ll also want someplace that is comfortable: a humid and chilly basement may not be the best option, for example.
- 6Warm up with sun salutation. Yoga can be quite active, so it is important to warm up your body properly. Doing a few rounds of sun salutations, or Surya Namaskar, can effectively prepare your muscles and mind to practice yoga.
- There are three different variations of sun salutations. Do 2-3 rounds of Surya Namaskar A, B, and C to warm up. These different sun salutations can engage and condition your muscles and can help ensure a safe and more pliable practice.
- Flow classes will often start with a sun salutation warm-up. Practicing these at home may help you feel more comfortable for when you decide to join a class.
- 7Learn a few yoga asanas. There are a wide variety of yoga poses, or asanas, that one can practice and they range from difficult and strenuous to simple and relaxing. Start your yoga practice by learning a few asanas that you can enjoy, feel comfortable executing, and which also fit your yoga goals. Hold each asana for 3-5 breaths.
- There are four different types of yoga poses: standing poses, inversions, backbends, and forward bends. Try one or two from each type to balance your practice.
- Standing poses include mountain pose (Tadasana), tree pose (Vrksasana), and the Warrior Series (Virabhadrasana I, II, and III).
- Inversions include downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), dolphin pose, handstand (Mukha Vrksasana), and headstand (Salamba Sirsasana).
- Backbends include locust pose (Salabhasana), cobra pose (Bhujangasana), and bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana).
- You can add a twisting asana to neutralize and stretch your spine between backbends and forward bends if you like. Twisting poses include Bharadvaja’s twist (Bharadvajasana) or half lord of the fishes pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana).
- Forward folds include seated forward bend (Paschimottanasana) and star pose (Tarasana), which is a wide-legged forward fold.
- End your practice by holding corpse pose (Savasana)for 3-5 minutes. This can help stabilize your nervous system and control bodily stress.
- Always balance out asanas that favor one side by doing them on the opposite side.
- WikiHow has an excellent series of video tutorials for beginners here, and you can find thousands of poses online with a simple internet search.
- 8Focus on your breathing. Yogic breathing, or pranayama, is one of the core skills of any yoga practice. Focusing on your breathing can deepen your asana practice, tune you into your own body, and allows you to relax.
- Pranayama can help your body distribute oxygen to its different parts. The goal is to breath deeply by inhaling and exhaling completely and in a balanced manner through your nose. For example, you would inhale for 4 breaths, hold for 2 counts, and then exhale completely for four breaths. You can vary the counts according to your abilities.
- If you want to get the most out of your yogic breathing, so sit upright, with your shoulders back to allow for the full capacity of breath. Breathe slowly and evenly by focusing from your stomach, pulling in your belly to expand your lungs and rib cage.
- You can also try Ujjayi breathing, which can help you flow through your practice more effectively. You do Ujjayi breathing by inhaling and exhaling evenly through your nose and making a slight sound like the sea when you breathe.
- 9Devote time to yoga as often as you can. No matter what Asanas, Pranayam, or goals you choose for your yoga practice, it helps to practice as often as you can. Even if you can only spare 10-15 minutes, the more often you practice, the more you can learn and reap the benefits of yoga.
- Try playing music, lighting a candle, or going outside to relax yourself and forget about other concerns.
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Picking a Yoga Class
- 1Figure out what you want out of yoga class. Yoga has evolved into a many different styles and practices, each of which has a different focus. Try different types and instructors until you find the ones that are the right fit for you.
- Ask yourself what you want to achieve through yoga, considering various questions and potential practices that can help answer them.
- Do I want something that can strengthen, tone, and condition my body? You might want to try Vinyasa or Ashtanga.
- Do I want something to stretch tight muscles? Try Bikram, Iyengar, Kundalini, or Hatha.
- Do I want to relax my body? Try restorative, yin, Sivananda or Jivamukti.
- Do I want to invigorate my mind? Most yoga practices will help invigorate the mind, but in particular try Kundalini, restorative, Sivananda, yin, or Jivamukti.
- 2Find a qualified yoga instructor. While there is no national certification for yoga instructors, different types of yoga will have individual certification programs. Find a qualified and certified instructor in a type of yoga you want to try out. All good instructors share several basic attributes and should always make you feel comfortable.
- An instructor should show willingness to adapt to the needs of their students, even during the middle of a class.
- An instructor should have a positive and inclusive attitude and energy.
- An instructor should possess a well-developed knowledge of the philosophy, practice, and history of yoga. They should also be able to let you know when things are beyond their practice and provide referrals to other sources.
- An instructor should offer constructive feedback and guidance when it is needed or requested.
- 3Find a community or studio in which you are comfortable. Every yoga studio offers styles of yoga as well as a different energy. Some studios offer food and tend to be more social, whereas some studios of groups may leave more time for introspection.
- Consider the level of the other members. Do you want to be mentored by the other, more experienced students in your class or would you like to learn together with other people at your level? A good studio will offer different levels of classes for every type of student from beginner to advanced to even pre- or post-natal.
- Most yoga studios let you take your first class for free, so experiment with the different studios near you to find a studio and instructor that you like. You also don’t have to limit yourself to one studio or instructor. Varying your yoga classes can also help you improve.
- 4Begin a work-study exchange. Many yoga studios offer free classes for people who agree to sit at the reception desk, sweep the studios, or clean the locker rooms. Inquire at your local yoga studio if they allow these arrangements — they are a great way to save money and become a part of your local yoga community.
- 5Consider online classes. While the feedback and motivation provided by a class is one of the best ways to learn, you can learn new poses and techniques through a wealth of online sources. Yoga specific sites and apps contain thousands of videos detailing any type of yoga practice you can imagine.
- A quick internet search will reveal poses for every skill level for free.
- Make sure to check the qualifications of any online teachers or services. You want to find a class that is taught by a certified instructor.
- Some sites offer one-on-one instruction with a professional yoga instructor through a web camera if you cannot make it to a yoga studio.
Advancing Your Yoga Practices
- 1Set an intention. A solid yoga practice includes setting an intention. By taking a few seconds to dedicate your practice to something or someone, you may have a more fulfilling practice. Throughout your practice, bring your mind back to your intention. Notice how your intention relates to your practice. Use your intention as a focal point and place of inquiry.
- Lightly touch the bases of your palms, then the palms themselves, and finally your fingers to make prayer hands. You can leave a small space between your palms if you like to let energy flow.
- If you don’t know what your intention is, consider something as simple as “letting go.”
- 2Lengthen the time of your practice. After you feel comfortable with your yoga practice, try extending the duration of your practice by holding each pose a bit longer and flowing seamlessly between asanas. Add new and more challenging poses as you are able.
- Many yoga classes are between 60 and 90 minutes, so you could set your practice around that length.
- 3Intensify your practice. You may want to strengthen the intensity of your practice as you become comfortable with your routine. This can be done easily by holding each pose a little longer and by challenging yourself to sink deeper into challenging poses.
- Poses that involve lunges or squats can be taken a bit lower.
- You can vary the speed of transitions between asanas to create more intensity.
- You can also integrate more difficult asanas from each of the four types of poses. For example, you may want to try tripod headstand (Sirsasana II) instead of regular headstand.
- 4Increase the frequency of your practice. One of the best ways to deepen your yoga practice is to increase the number of days you practice. You can safely build up to 5-7 days per week. If you make yoga a part of your daily routine, its positive effects can benefit your physical and mental health.
- 5Start with meditation. Many people like to begin and their practice with a chanting mantra or meditation session. A mantra is a Vedic hymn, word, or phrase repeated and used as a focal point for meditation. This can help dismiss distracting thoughts, focus on your breath and energy, and raise your awareness of your mind and body.
- Meditation takes consistent practice and is an important part of yoga. Take time to find a style that suits you, and remember that some days may be more challenging than others.
- Consider starting your meditation and/ or chant with an “Om”, which is a sacred sound.
- If you chant, you can feel mantra’s vibrations in your lower belly. If you can’t feel this sensation, try sitting more upright.
- You can choose other mantras as well. You may choose one that is part of a personal goal or affirmation, or you may opt for more traditional mantras. Traditional Hindu and Buddhist mantras can be found through a quick online search.
- Let your thoughts come and whenever they arise. This will teach you to focus and let go of anything you can’t control.
- Any time you need to refocus your mind, you can repeat “let” with every inhalation and “go” with every exhalation.
- 6Integrate new goals. If you started doing yoga with a single goal—to become healthy or to find a mindful way to de-stress—try integrating another purpose into your practice. If you have been focusing on either the body or the mind, try to start focusing on the body and the mind together.
- You may want to add chanting or meditation to your practice to help you focus more deeply on your practice.
- 7Keep moving forward. Yoga has countless benefits and with by sticking with it, you can reap them. Keep in mind that yoga is a personal practice: it is not about whether or not you can do a particular pose exactly like the person on a video or in a picture. It’s about the journey. Keep an open mind and heart at all times.
How Often Should You Practice Yoga?