Curious about yoga? This quick guide should give you all the information you need to get started including the benefits for mind and body, styles for beginners and how to get started.
What is yoga?
Yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India about 5,000 years ago and has since been adopted by countries all over the world, taking on various forms.
It’s designed to boost mental and physical wellbeing by increasing strength and flexibility. It also has a special focus on breathing to help calm the mind and body. Yoga has well-documented health benefits and is commonly taught in schools, hospitals and leisure centres.
Who can do yoga?
Anyone! Whilst experienced practitioners can end up performing impressive stunts and routines, for most of us yoga is a low-impact gentle form of exercise which can be started by almost anyone – no matter what your age or level of fitness/flexibility. It’s not uncommon for older people who take up yoga to say that they wish they’d started sooner.
There are a range of different class-types to choose from depending on what style of yoga you’d like to do and what your fitness and experience levels are e.g. beginners, advanced and mixed ability.
What are the benefits of taking up yoga?
Even just 15 minutes of yoga practice a day can help to transform your mood and improve your health. Widely-recognised benefits include:
- Improved strength and flexibility.
- Reduced stress levels and increased happiness.
- Weight loss.
- Increased energy levels.
- Improved quality of sleep.
- Becoming more self-aware and mindful.
- Improved concentration.
- Improvement/reduction in physical ailments such as digestive trouble and tension headaches.
What types of yoga are there?
There are many different types of yoga and at first it can be a little confusing to work out which one might be best for you. However, there are certain styles which offer a good starting point for complete beginners:
“Hatha” yoga is the term you are most likely to see and hear when you first enter the yoga world. The term is often used as an umbrella term for all yoga practices, but can also be used to describe a slower, gentler form of yoga with stretches and breathing exercises. Hatha is considered a great option for beginners because it gives you the time and space to become familiar with traditional yoga poses and practice meditation and breathing techniques. It is where most modern styles of yoga are derived from.
Iyenger yoga is a form of Hatha yoga, which uses props like straps, chairs and blocks to achieve the perfect alignment in every pose. It is great for beginners who want to learn the basic yoga poses.
Restorative yoga can be helpful for everyone, but especially those who are recovering from illness, injury or emotional trauma. It’s style focuses on helping you relax your mind and body. It works by holding the body in simple poses for up to 20 minutes at a time using props like pillows and straps, which are there to help you enter into a deeper state of relaxation.
Yin yoga is also great for beginners because it’s done at a slow pace and tends to use a lot of seated postures, which are held for between 45 seconds and two minutes. It’s a very relaxed style which lets gravity do most of the work, which means it’s great for focusing your mind and achieving inner peace.
More advanced yoga practices
Once you become more comfortable with basic yoga practices and breathing techniques, you may want to challenge yourself further by practicing a more advanced form of yoga. For example, you may want to work at a faster pace, in which case you could try Vinyasa yoga which is characterized by the flow of movement from one yoga pose to another. Or you might want to try Bikram yoga (also known as “hot” yoga), which takes place in a room set to a temperature of 35–42 °C, which is thought to help you rid your body of unwanted toxins whilst building strength and flexibility.
How do I get started?
Yoga at home
There are plenty of online videos that can teach you the basics of yoga in the comfort of your own home (or garden). You could try Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube – she has a free 30-day workout series where she will guide you through simple to moderate yoga moves.
Some people also find it helpful to join a live class from home! An instructor will take you and anyone else who has tuned in, through a yoga routine in real time. Although you won’t be in a room full of people (like you would during an in-person class), it can still be motivational to know that you are one of many people across the UK who is currently watching and taking part in the same workout.
If you want to give live classes a try, then yoga coaching programme, Yogaia, is free for the first two weeks – after which there will be an annual membership fee. Online fitness provider, Feelnoo*, also run online yoga classes, which you can join for a monthly fee. They too are running a 14-day free trial, so you can decide whether you enjoy the classes before committing to a subscription.
You could also try downloading a free app on your Apple or Android smartphone, which will allow you easy access to yoga routines from any room in the house – or even from your local park if that’s where you prefer to work out. The Yoga for Beginners app will cover all the essentials needed to get you started on your yoga journey. It has soothing voice guidance that will help you to learn the moves, focus on your breathing and clear your mind.
Joining a yoga class
Yoga classes are helpful when you’re developing your yoga practice, because you can receive direct instruction from a teacher, who is there to make sure that you’re learning the poses and breathing techniques correctly.
Yoga classes are taught all around the country and there are two things to be sure to check for when finding a class or instructor:
- That the teacher is insured.
- That they also have an accreditation from a well respected yoga association. The main UK yoga associations usually provide a list of accredited classes and this can be a great starting point for finding one near you:
If you’re feeling a little nervous about starting a new class then it can help to take a friend or a willing family member along with you for some extra moral support – they might really enjoy it too!
When you start learning, it can also be helpful to speak to your yoga teacher about any worries or concerns you might have, so they can give you tailored advice or exercises if necessary. A good teacher will continue to offer you support and guidance as you develop your practice, so that you can get the most out of it for years to come.
Like everything else, yoga takes practice. It’s worth doing at least three or four sessions before you decide whether or not it’s right for you, because it can take a little while to get to grips with the basics.
Yoga has plenty of benefits for both mind and body, which can be useful during and after the coronavirus outbreak – so if it’s something you’re interested in, now could be a great time to give it a try!
Have you tried yoga as a hobby? Or perhaps you’re a real yoga enthusiast? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Join the conversation on the hobbies, sports, and leisure section of the Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below.