Updated: 3 days ago
“I’m not flexible enough to start yoga,” is one of the most common concerns I hear from people that feel hesitant and a bit nervous about taking their first-ever yoga class.
Is this a concern that you share too?
Yoga is in fact one of the most effective ways to BECOME more flexible. And so if you’re feeling that your body is lacking flexibility then yoga might be just the thing your body needs most.
Even if you know that yoga can help improve your flexibility it can still be tricky to know how to get started as a beginner. I’ve therefore put together this beginner's guide to yoga based on the lessons I’ve learned from starting yoga myself and teaching thousands of beginners over the past decade.
Why Should I Start Yoga?
“Yoga isn’t about touching your toes. It’s what you learn on the way down.” — Jigar Gor
Before you choose to (successfully) take up any new hobby or lifestyle change there always has to be a reason behind why you’re doing it. What motivation do you have to start yoga? And why do you want to make time for it?
There are many reasons you could want to start yoga, including:
Increased flexibility and mobility,
Stronger muscles and more stable joints,
Improved sense of balance,
Increased activity through a low-impact form of exercise,
Larger breath capacity and ability to modify your breath,
Reduction in stress and anxiety,
Increased attention span, concentration, and focus,
Better ability to deal with strong emotions.
Likely, when you read this long list of benefits you’ll find that you are drawn to yoga for multiple reasons. But probably there are one or two reasons that jump out to you as things that feel most important to you at this moment.
What are the reasons that make you want to start yoga?
Interestingly, as you progress in your yoga journey it’s likely that your motivation to practice yoga will change over time. And so whatever your current reason(s) for practicing yoga are it’s helpful if you keep these in mind as your motivation.
After all, you’ll only experience these benefits if you actually make time to do your yoga practice!
Definition: What is Yoga?
The word yoga comes originally from an old tradition in India and translates from Sanskrit “to yoke” or “to unify”. Yoga consists of a series of practices focused on finding balance in your body, breath, and mind. These practices include:
A physical yoga practice where you move and stretch your body through a series of yoga postures, known in Sanskrit as asana.
More subtle breathing techniques that are carried out while the body is still, known as pranayama.
And mindful meditation practices focused on observing, concentrating, and expanding your awareness through meditation.
The purpose of yoga is to observe a mind-body connection and find peace and equanimity through practice and contemplation. These goals of yoga might sound a bit lofty and hard to connect with your daily life, but the idea is that by regularly practicing yoga you will feel more comfortable in your body and calmer in your mind.
Yoga is all about balance.
And by practicing regularly you’ll notice that your body starts to change. Regular yoga practice won’t just have an impact on your physical body but also make your mental and emotional state more flexible and stronger.
I don’t feel flexible enough to start yoga.
Due to the increase in popularity of physical yoga practice and social media, many people perceive yoga as acrobatic movements. Seeing pictures of extremely flexible people twisting their bodies into pretzel-like shapes. This can be intimidating and off-putting as a beginner when you are looking for a tool to improve your general health.
Once you join a class, you’ll realize that you don’t have to worry about not fitting in or being flexible enough. Everyone else will be much more internally focused on their own practice and not watching or judging how you perform.
The physical movement found in yoga is a great way to open the body. As you get more familiar with the poses you can start to focus on incorporating your breath with each movement, which in turn helps calm the mind. Over time, this can allow the body to feel more comfortable and allow you to also sit quietly for long periods of time.
Which Yoga Style is Best for Beginners?
So, you know you want to start yoga but then comes the tricky bit. How do you know which yoga style is best for you as a beginner?
As a beginner, it can feel overwhelming to navigate through the vast number of strange-sounding names that describe the various styles. You know that you want to try out a yoga class and wonder which style is the most accessible for beginners?
Is there really a difference between vinyasa yoga and yin yoga? Aren’t they in the end all yoga? And so by definition, all styles of yoga should surely help you reach your goals for starting yoga.
Even within the category of physical yoga practices, you could have a vastly different experience when doing a flowing vinyasa yoga class compared to a very slow yin yoga. You’ll also find variability between the breathing and meditation techniques, depending on the teacher and lineage.
But which yoga style is best for beginners? Well, it depends…
Before exploring the differences between yoga styles I think it’s helpful to remember what makes them similar and possible to call yoga.
Yoga is a series of practices that focus on stretching and moving the body, awareness, and modification of breath, observation of your thoughts and emotions, and a general body-mind connection. And it's these aspects that connect all yoga styles and lineages as similar practices.
All the physical yoga styles can be seen on a spectrum somewhere between very active and very slow. Usually, I would recommend beginners to start with the medium to slower styles of yoga to first get time to learn yoga postures before progressing to more dynamic and flowing practices.
Active Yoga Styles: Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Hatha
The most active and dynamic yoga styles are ashtanga and vinyasa yoga. These are both well-suited physical practices if you are looking to work on active stretching to become more flexible and stronger through flowing movements.
But what is the difference between ashtanga vs. vinyasa?
Ashtanga yoga is a relatively fast yoga practice that consists of a set sequence of yoga poses. You are encouraged to learn the sequence by heart so that you can flow meditatively through the sequence focusing on your breath.
Despite containing many challenging postures it is possible to practice ashtanga yoga for beginners by starting to learn a shorter part of the sequence and modifying some of the more advanced postures to beginner-friendly variations.
In vinyasa yoga you also move dynamically through a series of yoga poses guided by your breath. Often vinyasa yoga is less intense than ashtanga yoga and the yoga postures practiced could be different in each class.
When looking for a beginner-friendly vinyasa yoga class you might find a slow-flow class that gives you more time to explore the different yoga postures while still moving actively.
Hatha yoga can be great if you want to move at a slower tempo but still gain strength and flexibility. With more time spent in each yoga pose and slower transitions, hatha yoga is useful for beginners to get familiar with the most common yoga poses.
You will focus on learning about your alignment in various yoga poses and have time to explore the more subtle elements of posture.
Gentle Yoga Styles: Yin, Restorative, Pranayama, and Meditation
Slower yoga styles are ideal if your goals for practicing yoga are to help reduce stress and release tension. Gentle yoga also can be helpful to practice if you’re feeling low energy or want to do a yoga practice before bed.
Since more time is spent with the body in stillness you might find that your mind feels a bit busier than in a more active form of yoga. Therefore, it’s important to try and focus your attention on the sensations in your body and your breath.
Yin yoga focuses on increasing flexibility in tight connective tissue and fascia that surrounds your muscles. A yin yoga routine is made up of poses that are mostly seated or lying down. With each posture being held for around 3 – 5 minutes it provides time for beginners to explore and get comfortable in the pose.
Restorative yoga tends to use more props than yin yoga so that you can provide more support and comfort to your body. This allows you to find an active resting position where you hold each supported posture for around 15 – 20 mins.
Both pranayama and meditation can be done in a comfortable seated position or lying down.
Pranayama focuses on learning different breathing techniques where you lengthen, shorten or pause your breath. While meditation is done by focusing your mind on one specific point such as your body or breath. These more subtle practices are useful for calming the mind and can be started as short 5-10 minute practices. Building up gradually to longer practices as you get used to them.
Which Yoga Style Should I Do?
“Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory” — Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois
Reading definitions of the different yoga styles will help give you some idea about what to expect. But you’ll only really get familiar with various types of yoga by trying them out yourself.
As a beginner one of the best ways to get familiar with the different styles is to try them out. Join different classes either at a studio or virtually at home and see what you like best!
When you’re considering which yoga style to try out you could ask yourself the following questions:
Which style will help you best reach your main goals for doing yoga?
Which type of yoga do you enjoy the most?
Which style feels best suited to your current ability?
Which teacher do you feel most resonates with you?
Also, you don’t need to feel limited to practicing only one yoga style. In fact, you could find it beneficial to diversify your practice through different approaches and styles.
Do watch out though if you find yourself constantly changing between different styles and teachers, and ask yourself why that is. At a certain point, you’ll find that in order to deepen your yoga practice it will be supportive to be more consistent with what, when, where, and who you practice with.
No matter which style of yoga you choose remember that all yoga styles will bring you physical and mental benefits when done regularly over a period of time.
Tips on How to Prepare for Your First Yoga Class
Hopefully, by now you’re convinced that you want to give yoga a try. There are many different settings where you can learn yoga. And so you can experiment and see which fits best into your lifestyle and gives you the motivation to practice.
Yoga is an individual practice but one that can also feel inspiring to do in a group. It is traditionally taught from teacher to student with personalized one-on-one instructions. The role of a yoga teacher is to guide you on what and how to practice but only you can really feel what feels comfortable for your body.
Therefore one of the most important skills to develop as a new yoga practitioner is to understand the limits of your body. You want to learn to tune into not only what feels good in the present moment while practicing yoga but also what will still feel good for your body right after practice and the next day.
See if you can put in about 80% effort.
As a general rule, you want to try and work at around 80% during your practice. Something which can feel tricky, to begin with, when we’re used to pushing ourselves to the limits in many areas of our lives.
This should mean that you aren’t working at the maximum physical effort for your own flexibility and strength. And therefore have some capacity left over to focus on your breathing and find a sense of ease in your practice.
How to Start Yoga by Yourself
Starting yoga by yourself at home is easy to do with the help of online video tutorials. This way you can be guided virtually through the fundamentals of yoga and learn the basic yoga postures and techniques.
One of the big benefits of starting yoga at home is that you can do shorter practices of around 10 – 30 minutes more frequently. So instead of doing one longer practice of 60 minutes each week, you could do three shorter practices of 10 – 30 minutes throughout the week. Something that can feel much easier to fit into a busier schedule and stick with consistently.
For more support in practicing yoga at home on your own check out my free resource on how to start a consistent home yoga practice.
What Types of Yoga Classes Are For Beginners?
Private yoga classes allow the teacher to directly focus on your needs and tailor the class to help you reach your goals for practicing yoga. If you are interested to learn this way, it can be a great way to get personal attention when learning yoga.
Private classes are more expensive than joining group classes but you could choose to have semi-regular private classes (e.g. once per week or month) or online private classes and use the time between classes to practice at home what you’ve learned.
Drop-in group classes at a yoga studio or gym are one of the most popular ways to start yoga. You get the chance to learn directly from a teacher, while also getting motivated by others in the group. You will get assistance and support from the teacher, and feedback if you are doing the poses correctly.
If there are group classes close to where you live, it’s a good idea when starting yoga to find a beginner or all-level class with a relatively small group. This way you’ll get more personal attention from the teacher, which can be useful when you are new.
Do you notice that you’re comparing yourself to others in the class?
Try to remember that everyone is unique. Keep tuning into how your own body feels and avoid the temptation—as best as you can—to do anything that doesn’t feel good just because others in the group are doing it.
If you can, one of the best ways to start yoga is through a dedicated beginners workshop or beginners yoga program. These allow you to be introduced to the basics and be given the tools you need to practice yoga in a group or at home.
In this case, you’ll be guided through each step of the way by an experienced teacher. And get the opportunity to ask any questions you have about getting the most out of your yoga practice.
Whichever way you choose to start yoga, it’s useful to practice regularly for a period of time before you make up your mind if you want to continue it. This way you’ll give time to notice some of the physical and mental benefits. The beauty of yoga is that once you have some knowledge of what and how to practice, you can take your yoga mat with you and practice wherever you want.
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