An introduction to yoga

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.

The health-benefits of yoga are well-documented and as a result, it’s 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 that can be started by almost anyone – no matter what your age or level of fitness/flexibility. It’s not uncommon for older adults 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 – for example, beginner, advanced, and mixed ability.

What are the benefits of taking up yoga?

Even just 15 minutes of yoga practise 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?

Types of yoga

As there are many different types of yoga, 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

“Hatha” yoga is the term you’re most likely to see and hear about when you first enter the yoga world. It’s 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 to practise meditation and breathing techniques. It’s where most modern styles of yoga are derived from.

Iyenger​

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’s great for beginners who want to learn the basic yoga poses.

Restorative​​

Restorative yoga can be helpful for everyone – but especially those who are recovering from illness, injury, or emotional trauma as it focuses on relaxing the mind and body.

Restorative yoga 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

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 anywhere between 45 seconds and two minutes.

It’s a very relaxed style of yoga which lets gravity do most of the work. This makes it a great option for focusing the 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 practising a more advanced form of yoga.

For example, if you wanted to work at a faster pace, you could try Vinyasa yoga which is characterised 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. This is believed to help you rid the body of unwanted toxins whilst building strength and flexibility.

How do I get started?

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 which guides you through simple to moderate yoga moves.

Some people also find it helpful to join a live class from home where 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 motivating to know that you’re one of many others 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’s an annual membership fee. Online fitness provider, Feelnoo*, also run online yoga classes, which you can join for a monthly fee. 

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 covers all of the essentials needed to get you started on your yoga journey. It also has soothing voice guidance that’ll help you to learn the moves, focus on your breathing, and clear your mind.

Install on IOS

Install on Android

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’s there to make sure that you’re learning the poses and breathing techniques correctly. 

Yoga classes are taught all around the country. However, there are two things that are important to check for when finding a class or instructor:

  1. That the teacher is insured.

  2. That they also have 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.

And remember…

Like everything else, yoga takes practise. 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.

For more tips and ideas on how to build strength and flexibility, you might want to check out our introduction to Pilates, or our article; 6 tips for improving and maintaining flexibility as we age.

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.

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