New to yoga? This article is a comprehensive guide that seeks to answer all of your questions about yoga, including everything that you need to know before doing your first beginner yoga workout. By the end of this article, you will learn about what yoga is, how to determine whether yoga is for you, what to wear, what equipment you need, how often to do it, and what style to choose for your first class.
THE YOGA BASICS
Yoga is done in bare feet on a yoga mat. Even the most basic yoga stretches require clothes that can stretch or move, so wear the most comfortable outfit that allows you to move around easily. If you’re doing a gentle, slower class then dress warm (sweat pants, long sleeve shirt) and if it’s a more rigorous class wear shorts and a t-shirt or a tank top. Teachers will often suggest that you leave your ego at the door, and that includes not being self-conscious about the clothes you are wearing. Wear what makes you feel good.
Some classes use additional equipment or props, such as straps, blocks, bolsters, blankets and chairs. You don’t need to purchase any of these to begin doing yoga. If you’re going to attend a class at a studio they will provide everything that you need. However, if you’re doing a class online you will need a yoga mat and you will want to check to see whether additional equipment is needed. If it is, there are easy ways to replace common yoga props. For example, you can use a belt or rope instead of a strap. If a bolster is needed, you can check out this short video on how to make a bolster at home. The teachers on DoYogaWithMe frequently recommend alternatives for those who don’t own the prop that is required in that particular class.
If you’re going to purchase anything, you should buy a yoga mat. Most studios provide mats for free or rental, but they are often cheaper plastic mats and you will likely feel better on a mat that you chose yourself. Mats come in all sizes and materials so it’s good to educate yourself, particularly if you’re looking for something non-toxic and supportive on joints such as knees and wrists. The variety can be overwhelming so check out our article on The Best Yoga Mats of 2018, where we review a few of the most popular yoga mats that can be easily purchased online.
IS YOGA RIGHT FOR YOU?
Yoga is accessible for everyone, no matter what you look like, how old you are, how you dress, how much you weigh, what you do for a living, where you live or what religion you practice. Yoga is in no way exclusive. It’s possible that you have a certain condition or a recent injury that makes it challenging or dangerous to do certain types of yoga, specific poses or breathing techniques, but there will likely be safe alternatives that an experienced yoga instructor can help you with. If you are 55+, out of shape or extremely inflexible, begin with a gentle class until you feel it’s safe to move onto something more challenging. Never be ok with pain. A certain amount of discomfort is ok, but pain is your body’s way of telling you to back off.
THE BENEFITS OF YOGA
There are so many benefits of doing yoga. Yoga can help you:
- improve and maintain the health of muscles, joints and organs
- keep your mind healthy
- get a better night’s sleep
- improve performance and prevent injuries in sports
- speed recovery from training
- prevent conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and auto-immune disorders
- slow down the negative effects of an office job
- and increase your sense of happiness and well being.
It’s a practice that is both physical exercise, helping improve toning, stamina, posture, strength, balance and flexibility, as well as a discipline that helps you de-stress, relax, feel healthier and more energetic.
The best way to know if yoga is for you is to give it a try. Do your due diligence first – visit a few different studios or, if you plan to do a class online, contact us with your questions. We will let you know what classes would suit you best and give you any advice you need before practicing. If you are someone recovering from an injury or are of poor health we recommended to see a physician before practicing. Especially if you think there may be risks associated with practising yoga.
PREPARATIONG BEFORE FIRST CLASS
Many of the expectations of a yoga studio are similar to any class – arrive early, don’t wear perfume, and don’t interrupt the teacher. Questions are always welcome, but you may want to ask at the beginning or end of the class, depending on how many students are present. If you’re doing a class with DoYogaWithMe, you’ll be in your own home so do what you want!
Every instructor has a different overall approach to teaching. Some focus more on physical postures, some on meditation. Some do mantra and some don’t. Some do adjustments to their students and others don’t. Your experience from one class to another can be radically different, even within the same yoga style. So don’t give up if you didn’t enjoy your first class. For example, although they both teach Power Yoga, our two DoYogaWithMe instructors Fiji McAlpine and Tracey Noseworthy have very different styles and there are many who prefer one over the other, and many also who enjoy taking classes with them both.
A yoga class is meant to be a place where you feel comfortable and cared for – a space without judgment. Don’t worry if you are unable to keep up with everyone. It’s more important to go at your own pace to ensure that you do everything safely. You don’t need to know the names of poses to participate. Most instructors provide clear instruction throughout and tips for alignment and positioning.
YOGA AND WEIGHT LOSS
Yoga is not a good cardio workout, so it is generally not an effective way to lose weight. However, it is a whole body workout that can make you work very hard, sweat and, in some cases, exhaust yourself. Its strength is in toning the body through challenging physical exercise and improving overall health through increased flexibility, body awareness and relaxation.
If you have never done yoga before, the best place to begin for most people is with a beginner hatha yoga class. Hatha yoga generally spends more time on physical postures, as opposed to mantra, pranayama and meditation, and moves slow enough for anyone to keep up while focussing more on safe alignment. As I said earlier, though, all of the above depends on the teacher.
If you are looking on DoYogaWithMe for a good place to begin, we have a great selection of yoga videos for beginners. For instance, you can try Melissa’s Hatha Yoga for Beginners: Foundation or David’s Hatha Yoga Therapy for the Lower Back. You may also want to try our 6-week program Yoga For Absolute Beginners, which has two classes and one tutorial each week, or our 1-month program, Beginner Yoga for Strength and Flexibility, which has 3 classes and one mediation each week. You can find both on our Yoga Programs page. The first you can download as a PDF and is pay-what-you-can (which means you can download them for free, if you like). The second is available free on our site.
If you are 55 or older, you may want to take a class that is either gentle or specifically for seniors. You can find our collection of seniors’ classes by choosing ‘Yoga for Seniors’ under ‘Style’ on our ‘Yoga Classes’ page. We also have plenty of gentle hatha yoga classes that many seniors can benefit from. For example, David’s Hatha Yoga for the Hands, Arms and Shoulders or Satiya’s Settling Into Relaxation.
If you consider yourself to be very inflexible, don’t feel discouraged! You will benefit just as much as anyone else but you may need to give it a little more time to realize the effects. You may want to consider trying yin yoga, which holds poses much longer and has a more meditative feel to the classes. Try Yin Yoga for the Hamstrings with Sarah-Jane or Yin Yoga: Sinking Into Stillness with Anastasia to begin with. One is 30 minutes and the other is 60 minutes long and they both will give you a good introduction to yin yoga. If you like it, check out our Yin Yoga library by choosing ‘Yin Yoga’ under ‘Style’ on our ‘Yoga Classes’ page.
If you are quite fit already and enjoy a really challenging yoga workout, power yoga may be for you. Fiji McAlpine created two online classes that are great starting points, helping you establish the foundations of the practice and slowing it down enough to avoid injury, while getting the same benefits. The two classes are called Power Yoga for Beginners and Beginner Basics in Flow.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A STUDIO CLASS
Studio classes are anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours in length and the class size can be 2 to 100 students, depending on the studio. Most studios allow anyone to drop in on a class anytime, which is great if your schedule is unpredictable, whereas some classes require that you register and pay for a specific duration beforehand.
Depending on the class size, your instructor may be able to give you individual guidance and adapt the poses to your needs, particularly if your instructor is highly qualified and experienced. If you have difficulty doing certain poses, you can be shown an alternative. In larger class sizes (20+), it’s more difficult to provide individual attention. Experienced instructors may also include the benefits of many of the poses you are doing in class.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I DO YOGA?
If you’re able to practice yoga 3 times or more per week, you will likely see significant improvements in areas such as flexibility, joint range of motion, strength, balance, ability to manage stress, quality of sleep, happiness and overall well being. Everyone’s bodies are different, so this of course is relative. Practicing a beginner yoga routine once or twice per week will help you maintain things as they are, while possibly seeing some smaller improvements over time. Like anything fitness-related, the more time you can dedicate to it, the more beneficial it will be.
THE YOGA MINDSET
Yoga is not a religion, a cult or a belief system. At the root of yoga is self-inquiry. Everything we do, whether it’s a yoga pose, a meditation, a mantra or a breathing technique (pranayama), has the purpose of encouraging us to connect to our bodies and our life experience in a more meaningful way. For example, understanding the balance of effort and release in your yoga practice requires constant attention and sensitivity and has profound meaning in our everyday lives as a meditation on balancing stress and relaxation. Experiencing true relaxation is a deeply rewarding experience. And understanding how to move into extremely challenging poses effortlessly, with a calm mind and steady breath, is invaluable to us all in our busy lives.
Yoga’s origins come from a deeply-felt drive for self understanding, physical and emotional release and total well being. It’s much more than the physical experience of a yoga pose. It digs deep into the reality of who you are, what you want and why you are here. As you spend more time doing yoga, you will likely dig deeper into the layers that make up who you are as a person. Yoga helps you let go of old patterns, feel more open and happy and connect with friends, family and your world in a more meaningful way.
I hope, that this article has provided you with all of the information that you need. If you do end up taking your first class, send us an email to let us know how it went.
We wish you the best in whatever journey you’re on.