Yoga For Beginners & Benefits of Yoga
“You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state.”
—Sharon Gannon, Yoga Guru
Yoga for beginners – OK, for those unfamiliar with yoga, it involves the spiritual, mental, and physical disciplines involved with the Hindu and Buddhism practices. With evidence dating before Vedic Indian traditions, yoga began in the fifth centuries BCE and has continued to grow in the West.
In 1980s America, beginners yoga made its way into the mainstream as a form of exercise. For purists, the tradition is more than physical, so those traditions of meditative and spiritual practices remain a key to advanced yoga. In the scientific community, it remains alternative medicine, as most results have been inconclusive.
The Benefits of Yoga
First and foremost, yoga improves flexibility. While most newbies can’t touch their toes in the beginning, their abilities will grow over time. Certain difficult poses will become possible and many report improved joints and reduced aches. Tight hips strain other joints, so there is a domino effect of flexibility in muscles and joints.
In addition to flexibility, yoga builds and tones muscle. Strong muscles protect individuals from things like back pain and even arthritis. With yoga, stretch increases flexibility and balance, so other forms of exercise, such as weightlifting, are also improved. Otherwise, weightlifting alone means improved strength without flexibility.
Increased respiration, stamina, energy, and vitality are all benefits of yoga, as well. You will not only avoid getting winded during everyday tasks, such as climbing the stairs or carrying in the groceries, but will be able to handle more strenuous activities, like playing sports or strength training, without being overcome with exhaustion.
Yoga is an excellent place to start your fitness journey if you are a beginner, and a great addition to any routine even if you are the most fit and athletic person on the planet. Since there are so many different types and difficulty levels of yoga it is possible for anyone to start, no matter your size, strength, nor flexibility.
Those who start a regular yoga routine also tend to have better metabolism and increased weight loss. The increase in heart rate from yoga causes a greater number of calories to be burnt, thus resulting in weight loss. Combining yoga with good nutrition is an excellent way to quickly shed pounds without spending hours in the gym.
Improved athletic performance and protection from injuries are benefits of yoga, as well. Stretching to have longer muscles, as opposed to short tight muscles prevents various ligament and potential muscular tears, which are very common in athletics.
While participating in sports, it is common for an athlete to need to make sudden jerking movements, such as pivoting to turn or rolling in a fall. These movements cause injuries to tight muscles because of the quick shock to what should be an elastic muscle.
If you’ve ever used an old rubber band, you’ll know that a new rubber band is stretchy and can be pulled and stretched and pulls back to its original state, while an old rubber band tears with the slightest touch. Muscles and ligaments are similar in this way: if they are not stretched regularly they will tear. Simply put, yoga improves posture.
Yoga also provides mental benefits, as yoga is typically coupled with meditation, which helps a participant manage stress. Stress, as we all know, can lead to sleep problems, headaches, a lack of concentration, or unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs or alcohol. Since yoga incorporates breathing and meditation, it can improve a person’s mentality and mindfulness, resulting in better stress management, calmness, clarity, and self-awareness.
Necessary Tools for Yoga
“With practice, theory is obvious; without practice, theory is useless.”
—KP Jois, Yoga Teacher
While the general concept of yoga doesn’t require any physical items, there are certain tools that are useful to get started. Many will start with a class or online membership as these options include more instruction than online videos alone.
Performing the acts with others or under supervision will help reduce possible injuries for those unskilled in the practice. Yoga Basics, for example, provides an online course that includes multiple yoga sequences to practice.
In addition to considering a membership of some sort, yoga books are also useful to get started. Yoga books like Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar will provide overall advice, while niche books like Real Men Do Yoga by John Capouya, which features football’s Eddie George on the cover, is ideal for athletes.
Yoga DVDs and CDs are also helpful additions to further your yoga education. Some DVD examples include Yoga for Beginners, Kripalu Yoga: Gentle, and instructional CDs such as Drops of Nectar: Yoga Relaxation for Rejuvenation and Healing and then, Yoga Sanctuary, which is also quite popular for beginners.
Finally, and most well known, there are props such as yoga mats, blocks, straps, bolsters, and blankets. A mat provides padding and a non-slip surface. Thicker mats are recommended for hardwood floors for comfort and to prevent injury during more advanced positions. Yoga bricks are used for stabilizing certain positions, straps can help further seated poses, and bolsters are for healing poses.
As a bonus, make sure to wear the right clothes. Loose, stretchable clothing is best for the majority of yoga poses. The expensive manufacturers who specialize in yoga clothing intrigue many beginners, but enhanced performance gear is, of course, quite expensive. Stick with relaxed and stretchable to get you started.
Where to Yoga
One of the greatest benefits yoga has over other exercise routines is that, due to its use of body weight resistance and lack of equipment, yoga can be done anywhere. For those that are interested, you may sign up for a variety of different types of yoga classes at a gym, or some coaches will even host classes in a park or other community recreation area.
To learn the ropes, some people may prefer yoga at home, which is very easy to start off with. To start doing yoga at home, simply find a beginner routine that doesn’t have terribly complex movements and give it a shot; most will find that even after their 20 minute session they feel calmer and all around healthier. The only thing really required is a bit of open space and some time.
Types of Yoga
“The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in,”
—Geeta Iyengar, Daughter of B.K.S.
There is a plethora of styles and class options available: Hatha, Hot yoga (also known as Bikram), prenatal (for the expecting mother), restorative, Vinyasa (also known as power yoga), Yin (also known as Taoist yoga), and so many others. After a few sessions of hatha yoga, most participants will want to branch out and try other forms, and thanks to the diversity of yoga, there are many options available, even tantra yoga, for couples.
A great majority of modern yoga is done in the style known as Hatha, and is typically where most beginners will start. Most hatha classes will be basic and desire to teach yogic breathing and posture exercises. Hatha is the general category which a lot of other modern styles of yoga fall under (such as Ashtanga, and Bikram).
Bikram, or Hot yoga, is a favorite of some – this involves doing yoga poses in a room with 40 percent humidity and the heat turned to nearly 105 degrees (in an official Bikram class, otherwise it may simply be a sauna-like room). The series involves 26 basic yoga postures, each done twice, and is named after Bikram Choudhury, the creator of hot yoga.
Prenatal yoga carefully adapted for pregnant women with postures tailored to assist expectant mothers at every stage, or those who want to get back into shape after birth. The idea is that keeping your muscles strong throughout the term of your pregnancy will allow you to have the energy and strength to return to normal after delivering.
Restorative yoga is more about relaxation than strenuous work. There are only a handful of poses and you will spend up to 20 minutes in each to allow for deep relaxation. Psychic cleansing is another part of restorative yoga, which is where you give your mind a reboot. While it is tempting to fall asleep during a restorative yoga session, it is best not to.
Vinyasa is developed from the ashtanga system, but is more active and athletic, combining aerobic movements to up the heart rate. Power yoga does not have the same poses in sequence like ashtanga; depending on the teacher, the style may vary drastically, but in general follow ashtanga and vinyasa movements.
Yin is a meditative and quiet yoga. The focus is on lengthening connective tissue and is designed as the complement to more active yoga styles, such as ashtanga. These poses tend to be passive, meaning you remain relaxed and allow gravity to do the pulling on your body for long periods of time.
This list is nowhere near exhaustive, there are many different forms of yoga ranging from very active to relaxed, and with varying levels of difficulty. I say, go out and give a few different styles a try to find your favorite.
Yoga for Weight Loss
At first, yoga may seem like something to do in your free time to unwind or relieve stress, but it is actually a powerful tool to lose weight. As cliché as it may sound, yoga can burn the same amount (if not more) of calories as jogging, weight-lifting or other intensive sporting activities.
The only difference is that every activity activates its own set of muscles. However, you can’t really tone your arms while running, and weightlifting is a strange choice if you want to lose weight; whereas you can make yoga suit your needs. The only thing that matters is this – yoga is great for weight loss.
Yoga’s benefits for weight loss has scientists scratching their heads. As it’s clear from the get-go, it’s not that vigorous to work as a typical burn-more-calories-than-you-take-in deal. There are several theories on how yoga works for weight loss.
Some say that yoga is associated with a healthier lifestyle. So, if you’re doing your sun salutations in the morning, you’ll probably opt for a nice salad for lunch instead of scoffing down on a double cheeseburger.
Others say that yoga helps eliminate stress eating, as it’s impossible to still feel stressed after a workout. And finally, there’s the physicality of it all. When you’ve been doing yoga for some time, you learn to breathe properly and control it better, you become nimbler, less slouchy, and less stressed, which leads to lower cortisol levels, making it easier to lose weight.
Either way, the take away is that if you want a flatter stomach, look no further than your local yogi.
“The quality of our breath expresses our inner feelings.”
Simple Poses to Get You Started
- Warrior I Pose
The two warrior poses are one of the most elementary poses you’ll learn at any yoga class and they do wonders for your whole body. Simply bend one knee at a 90° angle and kick your other foot as far back as you can. Now, spread your arms and lift upwards, while stretching your back. Imagine you’re trying to reach the sun.
- Warrior II Pose
Warrior II is very similar to Warrior I, except instead of lifting your arms upwards, you’re extending one in front and one in back to form a T-shape.
- Half-Moon Pose
The half-moon pose requires some balance. Stand on your right foot and bend to touch the floor with your right hand, while keeping both the arm and the leg straight. Kick the left foot upwards and extend your left arm upwards as well to keep balance. Looking up also helps.
- Chair Pose
The chair pose is a fun one, especially for beginners. Extend your arms upwards, as if you’re holding a box of air above your head. Now, while keeping your legs together, try to sit down and hold the pose.
- Bridge Pose
The bridge pose is also light, as it allows the person to lie down. So, while lying on the floor, hold your arms straight against the floor. Bend your knees and bring your heels to your fingers. Now, lift and gently thrust your pelvis upwards.
- Upward Plank Pose
The planks are deceptive in their simplicity. They are actually often implemented in other types of training to strengthen the core muscles. Lie down on the floor with your fingers pointing to your toes. Now, bring yourself up with your arms and your stomach, but don’t move your legs or bend them in any way. Hold this position for as long as you can.
- Side Plank Pose
For a side plank, lie down on your side, then lift yourself using the arm you’re lying on, while keeping the rest of the body straight. Extend your other arm upwards for balance.
- Upward-Facing Dog Pose
The final set is the dogs. A favorite of pop culture, the two dog poses are actually great for the back muscles and do wonders for your posture. For the upward-facing dog, lie down on your stomach, with the tops of your feet facing down. Use your hands to lift your upper body, while keeping the legs straight (but off the ground). Lift your head and look upwards.
- Downward-Facing Dog Pose
For the downward-facing dog, start with a typical push-up pose, then shift the weight onto your feet, lifting your hips (try not to move your hands or feet) until your heels touch the floor, your butt is up, and your back is straight.
Yoga is much more than a simple exercise routine. It’s a way of life, as cliché as it sounds. It affects everything from making you more aware of how you breathe, sit at your desk, pick your lunch, how stressed out you are, and even how much you weigh.
The good news is, because yoga requires so little preparation and hardly any tools, you can do it anywhere. So, any excuse you might have – you’re too tired, have to get up early tomorrow, ate too much – are useless.
Remember, you will only see results with consistency and dedication. Practice yoga for several years, at least a few times a week, and you’ll see your body transform, your mind at ease, and your wallet none the poorer.