Namaste: A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga

May 12, 2014

Whether you’re looking to increase your strength, find a low-impact exercise, improve your flexibility and mobility, or simply take some time out of your day to center yourself, yoga is a great practice. Yoga has been proven to reduce stress, improve fitness, and can even help manage chronic health conditions.

Dreaming of becoming a yogi? We’ve got you covered. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know before trying your first downward dog.

Who Should Try Yoga?

Because yoga is such a variable activity, it’s a wonderful form of exercise for those of all ages and levels of fitness, from young children to older adults. Most of the poses used in yoga can be modified, meaning that each person can uniquely customize their experience. Although most often conducted as a group activity, yoga is not a team sport and therefore no one person is relying on another’s performance, which creates a stress-free but shared experience. />

What Do You Need to Start?

Yoga also requires very little equipment and cost to get started. All you need is a yoga mat, appropriate clothing (something breathable and flexible such as yoga pants and a cotton shirt) and bare feet or Injinji socks. Yoga classes can vary greatly in their intensity, so if you’re going to a power yoga or a hot Bikram yoga class, then wear clothing that can help wick away moisture during your practice. Form-fitting clothing can help your instructor check your alignment during poses, and can also help keep your top from coming up during inversions (upside-down poses). Yoga mats come in all colors and levels of thickness, and they can often be purchased at the studio or at any sporting goods store for a minimal investment.

Where Should You Practice Yoga?

Yoga’s diversity extends beyond the actual practice in that it can be done anywhere you choose. Whether it’s on a bluff overlooking the beach, in a spacious studio, or in the comfort of your own home, beginning your yoga practice is as easy as laying out your mat and simply getting started. Your practice can also be done at any time, and whether you choose to start or end your day with yoga is a personal decision. It’s also something you can take with you during your travels.

Should You Take a Class or DIY?

Depending on your preference, you can either watch videos online and instruct yourself or let a trained yoga instructor take you through your practice. If you’re just getting started, it’s a good idea to get a few classes under your belt with the support of an instructor who can demonstrate poses for you and also check your form. If you do choose to practice yoga at a studio, it’s important to know a little bit about common yoga etiquette before you lay out your mat for your first class. Here are a few pointers for first-timers:

  1. Get to class early to get a spot and lay out your mat. Allow plenty of room between you and your neighbors.
  2. Take off your shoes before entering the room. Yoga is typically practiced barefoot or in socks.
  3. Turn off any cell phones and other electronics, and step outside if you must take a call.
  4. Don’t leave early. Wait until the end of class so that you don’t disturb the focus of others.
  5. Remain silent during class. The only one talking during yoga sessions should be your instructor.

The Basics: Namaste, Poses, and Breathing

A common term used in yoga is the word Namaste, which is a Sanskrit term meant to express honor toward one another. This is usually spoken at the end of class by the teacher, and then repeated back by the class.

Some of the common poses practiced during yoga routines include warrior 1 and warrior 2 (which look similar to lunges), the chaturanga (which looks much like the middle of a pushup), and downward dog (which looks much like a dog stretching).

The poses you perform should be challenging, but not at the expense of your form. Breathing is also a critical part of yoga practice, as matching breath to movement can help calm the mind and bring focus back to the present moment. Conscious breathing helps you stay centered and mindful of your physical activity. This can help keep your mind from wandering off to subjects outside of the studio. Just this simple practice of staying focused is a great way to keep stress from creeping in. It gives your mind a break from and offers you time to just be still.

A Final Word

In a busy life, much of the time is spent thinking about the past, or the to-do list of the future. Yoga practice is a healthy, meaningful way to stop the constant mind chatter and really take a physical inventory of your body’s health. Anyone can begin a practice of yoga, whether they begin at a young age or pick it up in their later years. Over a lifetime it can help you better handle day-to-day stress and remain flexible and balanced both mentally and physically. If you choose to incorporate it into your routine, yoga can become a permanent fixture that assures you take some time regularly to reconnect with yourself.