Yoga Essentials for Absolute Beginners
Find out how to excel as a yoga newbie
Yoga with all of its varied poses and names can be intimidating for those who have never taken a class, or even for those who have taken a few classes but haven’t practiced it much. It can instill instant fear as soon as a new student hears that they’re going to eventually be doing the Downward-Facing Dog or the Upward Plank Pose or the Marichi’s Pose, not to mention the unusually named Half Lord of the Fishes Pose or the difficult Crane Pose.
But if you’re new to handstands, headstands and Gumby-like back bends, don’t pretend that you’re a performance at Cirque du Soleil and attempt these poses before you’re ready. Find an experienced yoga instructor who can guide you through the motions safely and teach you everything a beginner needs to know.
And whatever you do, don’t forget to breathe. Proper breathing is essential to yoga.
Emily Ginsburg, yoga instructor at the Om Factory in New York, N.Y. shares her top tips:
Try out many different classes.
So many times I've heard people say "Oh, I tried yoga once. Not for me." There are so many different studios, styles, classes and teachers, all with different approaches. You may not find one that resonates with you on your first try. Keep an open mind, ask people for suggestions, and do some research on studios in your area.
Visit donation-based studios and community classes.
If you're on a budget, find out if there is a donation-based studio in your area. Many higher end studios offer community classes where you can take classes with newer teachers at a discounted rate. It's a great way to check out a studio and get a feel for their style.
Take classes specifically geared toward those new to yoga.
Look for classes on a studio's schedule labeled "beginner" or "newbie." If it's unclear, visit or call the studio and say, "I'm brand new to yoga, do you have a class for me?" The teachers in these classes will break down the poses and be more open to answering basic yoga questions. Take these classes for as long as you need to get a solid foundation before jumping into open level classes.
Look for classes on a studio's schedule labeled "beginner" or "newbie."
Ask questions and give feedback.
As a yoga teacher, one of my favorite things is chatting with students after class, getting their honest feedback and answering their questions. If you've found a knowledgable teacher whose classes you enjoy, pick their brain. But make sure to ask if they have the time. They may be running straight to another class, and perhaps before class is a better time to speak with them.
Accept where you are (and where your body is) right now.
Easier said than done, of course. But above all else, this is what yoga is about. You may see people doing crazy arm balances and back bends before class, or you may see pictures of people in these awe inspiring poses on Facebook. Interesting feelings may come up. You may do those things one day, you might never do them. The most important lesson to take from yoga is to fully accept where you are right now. Because where you are right now is amazing.
When you’re actually practicing yoga, there are three specific things you can do to improve your experience, according to Erin Goldman, a yoga instructor and founder of Awakened Heart Yoga in Seattle:
Practice mindful breathing.
Breathing is the first step in body awareness and is fundamental in any yoga practice. Take a comfortable seat. Place one hand over your belly and one over your heart. As you inhale, feel your belly expand into your hand and your heart lift. As you exhale, relax your chest and belly down.
Do the Cat/Cow spine warmup.
Get on your hands and knees and alternate between arching and rounding your back. Exhale to round, inhale to arch.
Do the seated twist.
Sit on a chair facing sideways and hold the back of the chair. Keep your butt steady on the seat and your feet flat on floor, then use your hand to gently pull you into a twist.
Goldman said, “Remember to start where you are. You will get the most out of your yoga practice if you allow yourself to progress mindfully. Pushing it will only set you back. Also, stay connected to your breath. This will help you stay connected to your body, which is constantly giving you feedback. Your body will tell you when to slow down, back off, adjust. The key is to listen and we listen through the breath.
And finally, Goldman said, “Allow yourself to enjoy your yoga practice. The experience of being in a body can feel bound and painful but it can also feel freeing and joyful. The practice of yoga allows us to move towards experiencing the joy of embodiment.”
You will get the most out of your yoga practice if you allow yourself to progress mindfully.