A Comprehensive Guide to Yoga
by Sequoya Dakota
Yoga looks hard. I'm not flexible. I can’t stand on my head or bend into a pretzel, and to top things off, it’s too expensive!!
These are real responses I receive from people when I ask them why they haven't started yoga yet.
Fear, laziness, and a lack of resources are a few of the top reasons people keep themselves away from the sacred practice of yoga. Fear, that you cannot do it "correctly", and will end up embarrassed in class. Laziness because sometimes you lack the motivation to even try. And lack of resources because classes can be very expensive, and sometimes the yoga gear is too.
I totally get it. These are all very valid reasons to not give yoga a try. But I don't want you to feel like you have to hold back anymore. Yoga has changed my life immensely, and you will hear me say often that, "yoga is life". And that's because it is. So as cliche as it may sound, if I can do it, you can too.
And I’m not talking about bending into pretzels either.
I teach a lot of beginner yogis, and I love every second of it. I've paid very close attention to their needs in a class. I’ve put together five tips to help you start yoga with confidence!
Find a yoga style that suits you and your needs
Here is a quick overview of some of the most popular types of yoga:
Hatha - an umbrella term for all physical postures of yoga; best for beginners since they are usually paced slower than other yoga styles
Vinyasa - Sanskrit word for flow; Vinyasa classes are known for their fluid movement-intensive practices
Kemetic - ancient Egyptian system of Yoga enlightenment based upon the practices of physical movements combined with controlled deep breathing and meditation
Power - fitness-based vinyasa practice; building internal heat, increased stamina, strength, and flexibility, as well as stress reduction
Hot - another form of vinyasa; the flow can vary depending on the teacher; warmer temperatures ranging from the 80s +; Bikram yoga and hot yoga are not the same. Bikram classes run for 90 minutes and consist of the same series of 26 postures, including two breathing exercises in temperatures of 95 degrees upwards of 100 degrees. Hot yoga offers more variety and not as extreme temperatures.
Understand the physical and mental benefits
Yes, you can break a sweat in yoga. Yes, yoga can improve your range of motion and flexibility. And yes, yoga can help reduce stress. The physical and mental benefits of yoga are numerous!
Physical benefits of yoga: build muscle strength, perfect your posture, increases your blood flow, drains your lymphs, and lowers your blood pressure, to name a few.
Mental benefits of yoga: makes you happier, helps you focus, sleep, feel more centered, and it makes you more compassionate.
A basic yoga sequence to try at home
Sun salutations are a great introduction for yoga newbies and advanced yogis alike. Composed of only 7-8 postures. You will become familiar with the fundamental asanas (poses) of yoga, which will help you in classes and advancing in your own personal practice.
Yoga off the mat
Yoga originally began off of the principles of the 8 limbs of yoga by Patanjali. Within these 8 limbs is Pranayama, your breath. Yoga on the mat and off the mat is all about the breath, Pranayama, or prana as some call it. Ease some of the anxiety of beginning your yoga practice by taking a few breaths. Mouth closed, taking a deep inhale from way down in your belly, pause, and then slowly exhale through your nose.
Notice your body start to loosen up a bit, and the tension melt away? Imagine if you keep doing that how you’d feel. But oh, you can! And yoga teaches you that. The moment I first left a yoga class and had no road rage after, all because I simply focused on my breath… I was sold. Yoga is indeed, life.
Pro tip: you can take your breath with you anywhere. To places, your mat can’t go. Center yourself with a few inhales and exhales, anytime, anyplace *cues yogic breathing practice to Janet in the background.*
What do you actually need for your first yoga class
This is when people start to believe yoga is too expensive. Yoga studios almost always have yoga mats for you. Check beforehand to see if they offer them for free for your first class or if there is a small renting fee. This could save you some money if you might not want to invest in your own mat before you’re sure you actually like yoga.
Things like blocks, bolsters, and straps also may be provided by your yoga studio (usually for free) during class. They aren’t a necessity, however, they can offer many modifications for difficult postures, which is helpful for anyone new to the practice.
However, the two things you must absolutely bring to a yoga class are a water bottle and an open mind.
Learn from my mistake of attending my first (hot) yoga class and nearly dying of a dry throat because I forgot water. We don’t all need to suffer.
And an open mind! Release any expectations that you have. Remove the fear from your mind. And try not to assume you know what your instructor is going to say. Just let go, and flow!
By now, you shouldn’t have any reason to not join the next yoga challenge you see on Instagram, start your own at-home practice with Youtube, or get a 30-day class pass at your local yoga studio (most studios offer a very affordable introductory rate - don’t be afraid to ask).
And another pro-tip: your yoga practice is yours and yours alone. It may not look like anyone else’s and it’s not supposed to. Enjoy the journey.