What is yoga?
Yoga is a body-mind practice. It offers immense benefits for physical and mental health. As a result, it has grown in popularity across the world.
The root of the word yoga means union, integration, or wholeness. In the context of yoga, this means the integration of body, mind, and spirit, or the union of the individual and universal consciousness.
Yoga is a way of living. It provides a complete philosophy to live a healthy, happy life to its full potential. Gurudev, the founder of Art of Living Foundation, says, “Like a flower bud, human life has the potential to blossom fully. Blossoming of human potential to fullness is yoga.”
This guide to yoga for beginners will help you get started with a beautiful, fulfilling practice!
Yoga for beginners: a simple, step by step guide
Yoga might seem intimidating at first, but you don’t need to be strong or flexible to reap its benefits. We have put together an easy and complete guide to yoga for beginners with answers to some commonly asked questions as well as practice tips.
Do I need to have a flexible body to practice yoga?
The beauty of yoga is that yoga is for everyone. Every body is a yoga body! You don’t have to be a yogi or yogini to reap its many-fold benefits.
Whether you are young or old, flexible or tight, fit or unfit, a regular practice of yoga strengthens the body and calms the mind. Contrary to popular belief, physical flexibility is neither the pre-requisite nor the goal to practice yoga. Striking a perfect pose is not the goal. What matters at the end of a practice is the state of your body and mind. If you feel at peace and in the present moment, then you are practicing yoga. Yoga is work within and not a ‘workout’. Don’t let the intimidating postures scare you away and dim your enthusiasm to practice yoga!
How is yoga poses different from stretching or other types of fitness?
Unlike stretching, the benefits of a yoga practice extend much beyond only physical fitness. Yoga practice involves mind-body connection. When we do asanas, we connect the movement and stretching of the body to the rhythm of the breath and to the state of the mind. Integrating the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward. This in turn helps us to be more aware and in the present. There are no set goals to achieve. In fact, how much mental stuff we are able to let go and drop is what brings depth to the practice.
Some tips for beginners to get started with your yoga practice
When looking at yoga for beginners, how much yoga should a beginner do? How do I start doing yoga at home? Shall I practice alone or with buddies? The following tips will answer your questions and will also help you to get the best out of your yoga practice.
1. Find a good teacher with a rich tradition
There are many traditions of yoga. Choose one that is authentic and holistic. Once you decide which tradition to follow, go deeper into it instead of changing frequently from one to another.
It is best to start practicing yoga under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher from a rich tradition who can lead you through the correct sequences and alignment. Doing so will help you learn different postures and avoid possible injuries. Also, having a teacher lets you ask questions and clarify important points to guide you in your practice.
2. Focus on the yoga, not the pants
You don’t have to buy the newest Ganesh tank top or expensive yoga pants. Simply wear comfortable yoga wear—breathable clothes, not too tight, not too loose. Avoid wearing excessive jewelry as it can get in the way of your yoga practice.
3. The best time to practice yoga: wake up early
Ideally, yoga is practiced in the early morning at sunrise when the mind is clearest and the world is quiet. Practicing first thing in the morning allows you to avoid distractions and start the day off with vibrancy and positive intentions. It sets the right tone for the rest of the day. However, if you are not able to wake up early to practice, don’t let it be an excuse to skip practicing altogether! You can practice any time of the day at your convenience as long as you follow the next tip.
4. Practice on an empty stomach
It is best to practice on an empty stomach or at least 2-3 hours after your last meal. When practicing yoga you are much more in tune with your body’s subtle feelings than at any other point, and practicing with food in your stomach inevitably leads to discomfort. Eating before practicing can lead to feelings of heaviness, and can disrupt the digestion process. It is also advised to drink at least two to three liters of water during the day in order to flush toxins that are released while practicing out of the body.
5. Start with a gentle warm-up
When beginning yoga, start with gentle warm-up exercises to help loosen up and prepare the body. Then move into basic yoga poses. It is best to learn the right way of doing all yoga postures before you start with yoga sequences or advanced poses. Practicing a Sun Salutation is one of the most popular yoga sequences. It is a flowing sequence made up of 12 basic yoga poses. If you are already familiar with pilates, you can also try yoga with pilates once in a while as a warm-up.
6. Talk to your doctor and yoga teacher
Just as when starting anything new, you may want to talk with your physician before starting yoga and be aware of your own physical limitations. That being said, yoga is overall a very safe practice that almost anyone can participate in. If you do have a medical condition, inform your yoga instructor before class begins. Doing so helps the teacher customize the sequence for your needs and abilities. An experienced yoga instructor can also recommend props like a yoga block, strap, or chair. Whether you are a beginner student or an advanced yogi, don’t hesitate to use these props.
7. Be gentle, graceful, and steady
Whether it’s yoga for beginners or yoga for the advanced, the essential elements are the same. One crucial part is to find a place of ease and steadiness in your postures. The ancient yogic texts define a yoga posture as Sthira Sukham Asanam, which translates into “steady, comfortable, and meditative”. So growth in yoga is to achieve the greatest ease within a posture. Do only as much as you can comfortably do and then stretch a bit more (to improve body flexibility). If you are having difficulty discerning your body’s sweet spot, use your breath as a reference point; when it is light and long, the muscles are relaxed and comfortable, but when it is jagged or uneven it means you have over-exerted. Going slightly beyond your comfort zone will keep the yoga practice interesting and will add a spark of a challenge as you progress and learn new postures. However, make sure you understand the difference between going beyond your comfort zone and straining.
8. Smile to take you through the miles
See the difference for yourself. Maintaining a gentle smile relaxes the body and mind. It helps you enjoy the yoga postures much more. Like your breath, your smile is another barometer of how effortlessly you are practicing.
9. Be where you are
The beauty of yoga is that it meets you where you are. We live in a competitive culture, where we can be competitive with ourselves and others, often pushing ourselves beyond our limits to be the best. When looking at yoga for beginners, wherever you are in a yoga posture is exactly where you are supposed to be, so try to avoid comparing yourself to other students in a yoga class. Remember that each body type is unique and that different people are at different levels of expertise. Some might easily perform a particular asana, while others may need a little more time and practice to get there. Yoga teaches us to accept the present moment as it is, and therefore to accept ourselves (and our bodies!) exactly as we are in the moment.
Do not be alarmed if you experience a little sweet soreness during the initial days of your yoga practice. However, if there is any pain and persistent discomfort, inform your instructor immediately.
10. Savor the ending
As you complete your yoga practice, don’t be in a hurry to get up and start moving about with the tasks lined up for the day. Often, if you attend a yoga class, students will jump up at the first opportunity to leave after the final pose (known as the corpse pose!). However, learn to savor the moment and give your body the rest it deserves after a long practice. If you have time, give yourself extra love and lie down in Yoga Nidra for a few minutes, as it helps cool down the body and completely relax the mind and body after the session.
11. Yoga is a way of living
Understanding what yoga can offer—its depth and profundity—will help create your vision and path in yoga. Yoga teaches us valuable wisdom, social and personal ethics, postures, breathing exercises, meditations, mindfulness, a healthy diet, and a balanced lifestyle. When practiced together as a whole package, these factors will take you beyond the just body level, offering you the greatest benefits and a deeper spiritual experience.
12. Creating a beautiful practice with consistency
Have your own yoga mat and a clean, dedicated place to practice. Wear fresh yoga clothes. This will bring a sense of purpose, intention, and commitment to practice. Start gradually, create an intention of practicing two or three times a week and be regular and consistent. Yoga, like anything else in life, offers the most benefits with regular practice. Regularity will improve your overall practice and get you closer to your goal of touching your toes or doing a headstand. Regular practice will also benefit in more subtle ways, resulting in a peaceful state of mind that extends to life beyond the mat. The rewards of regular practice will unfold in unexpected ways. And start to notice how yoga positively affects your daily life. It’s really amazing.
So roll out your yoga mat, set your intention, breathe, and let go!
How to learn yoga poses: get on to your yoga mat now
Learning yoga poses starts with stepping onto your yoga mat.
Gone are the days of learning from a yoga DVD or even a book! Modern yoga has gone digital. There are tons of YouTube videos and yoga apps. But the best way to learn yoga is with a certified yoga teacher in a yoga class, yoga retreat, or yoga studio. In the meantime, our A-Z yoga poses catalog will help you to get familiar with poses.
Sri Sri Yoga Foundation Program offered by the Art of Living is a great platform to learn an integrated, authentic, and holistic yoga practice.
What are the benefits of a yoga practice?
Backed by scientific research, yoga for beginners has proven beneficial for people from all walks of life. Practitioners have experienced the loosening of tight muscles, the strengthening of core muscles, better overall physical health, sustainable weight loss, a glowing complexion, relief from chronic pain and sickness, mental clarity, emotional stability, better intuition, reduced stress, deep relaxation, and more creativity, energy, and enthusiasm for life. Yoga is also spiritually fulfilling and offers a feeling of deep connection and inner peace.
The history of yoga
The origins of this ageless practice lie in the deep inquiry and study by the sages of ancient India, dating back to over 10,000 years ago. In-depth study and meditative practices helped them reach a state of consciousness in which the mysteries of how to have a happier and more meaningful life were revealed to them. The sages called this secret and sacred knowledge “yoga”. Due to the oral tradition of imparting knowledge, it wasn’t written down until 5000 years ago. Around 400 CE the famous Sage Patanjali is believed to have first collated the philosophy and practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra. It consists of 196 aphorisms. Here is a video showcasing a brief history of yoga that can give you some more interesting facts about this ancient practice and philosophy.