How to Start Yoga: A Beginners Guide

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Do you remember how nerve-wracking your first day of school was? Every year for 12 or 13 years you probably walked through the doors of your school in new clothes, with a backpack full of crisp notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils.

No matter what grade you were in, that first day was always nerve-wracking. I don’t know about you, but at almost 30, I still have nightmares about my first day of school.

When I walked into my first yoga class, I felt like it was my first day of high school.

The beginning of class reminded me of the dreaded lunch time experience, where your friends were nowhere to be found and you had to start eating alone.

Not knowing any of the poses was akin to having no idea where my classes were, and not remembering the yoga sequence brought pangs of panic, similar to when I forgot my locker combination in between classes.​

If you’re avoiding yoga because you’re nervous about attending a class or you can’t shake that “first day of school” feeling, hopefully this guide can help you get your booty into a yoga class with confidence and enthusiasm.

Why You Need to Try Yoga​

I could tell you, “You have to do yoga for all of these reasons,” but that’s pretty pushy and that’s not what yoga is about. I can, however, share with you why you should try yoga.

Obviously I’m in love with yoga, mainly because developing a practice is so good for your body and mind!

Even though I could go on for days, here’s a short list of reasons to unroll your mat:​

  1. Yoga boosts your self-esteem and body image, while improving your mood, because it increases serotonin levels in your brain.​ (1)
  2. Vinyasa yoga, or a power class, greatly improves your cardiovascular fitness. (2)
  3. Yoga strengthens your arms, shoulders, core, thighs, and buttocks while refining your muscle tone. (3)
  4. A regular practice reduces short and long term stress levels because you become more mindful, which means you can then to take that amazing skill out into the world. (4)
  5. Patients with chronic back pain saw a reduction in their pain after 14 weeks of a daily practice. (5)
  6. The American Heart Association says that a yoga-based model of fitness, combined with a heart-healthy diet, prevents or even partially-reverses heart disease. (6)
  7. Yoga is useful during smoking cessation because of its stress-reducing properties. (7)
  8. If you’re tired all the time, yoga helps you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. (8)
  9. With such high rates of obesity, there have been multiple studies done on how yoga lowers the risk of obesity and helps people maintain a healthy long-term weight. (9)
  10. Yoga is incredibly beneficial for patients diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Even cancer patients found they had a better outlook on their current situation when they practiced yoga regularly. (10)

How to Get Started with Yoga

It isn’t every day you get to be a beginner. Practicing yoga can be initially frustrating because you don’t know all of the poses.

Or maybe you’re not strong enough to hold an arm balance, but this period passes because of the excitement that comes with learning new poses.

Enjoy the challenge of working on new sequences and improving with every yoga practice you do!

#1. Pick Your Type of Yoga​

Yes, there is more than one type of yoga! In fact, there are lots of different types.

What type you choose really depends on the studios you have in your area or what you want to get out of your practice.

Here’s a brief breakdown to help you get started!​

Picking the right yoga for your needs:

Best for beginners: Hatha

Relaxation and/or flexibility: Yin or restorative yoga

Strength: Vinyasa flow, power yoga, or Ashtanga yoga

Cardio: Vinyasa flow, power yoga, or Bikram/hot yoga

Spirituality: Kundalini

Injured from another sport: Iyengar

Hatha is the best place to start if you know absolutely zilch about yoga. It’s slow moving so you can easily follow along, and it puts a lot of emphasis on proper alignment to prevent injuries.​

#2. Find a Local Studio​

Finding a studio where you feel connected and confident is much more meaningful than finding one that seems elite or especially yogic.

Another thing you should think about is whether or not you should attend a yoga studio instead of sticking to a home practice.​ There are several benefits to joining a class at your local yoga studio over practicing by yourself.

a) Learn How to Prevent Injuries​

The number one reason to find a studio as a beginner is to avoid injury. On average, every 3.5/10,000 yoga students report injuries that occur from a yoga practice. (11)

Surgeons agree you’re far more likely to experience an injury, particularly in the shoulder and hip joints, if you don’t know the mechanics of yoga poses. (12)​

You can’t truly understand the basic dynamics of a pose if you’re a newbie, which is why having a teacher in the room greatly reduces your chances of getting injured, because they’re trained to notice if you’re putting yourself at risk for significant injury.​

b) Learn Different Variations of Poses​

​Not every pose has to be advanced, because every yoga pose is truly accessible to every student, regardless of how long you’ve been practicing.

However, if you’re simply going off of books or printouts from the internet, you can’t possibly know of the best ways to safely modify your poses for your current ability.

If you’re injured, safe modifications are especially important, and an experienced teacher in a class is the best way to prevent injuring yourself further.​

c) Experience the Yoga Community​

The yoga community is a wonderful place where people from all walks of life are seeking peace, relaxation, or fitness.

Serious athletes, senior citizens, and college-aged “bros” are just a few of the people you will probably meet while you’re doing yoga. Contrary to popular belief, not every yoga class is filled with incense-burning hippies!​

Regardless of your and your classmates’ backgrounds, you’re going to find a community of people who are open-minded, non-judgemental, and generally positive.

You never know, you might also meet your BFF or soulmate during a Sunday morning yoga class.​

d) Advance Your Practice More Quickly​

If you do yoga regularly, your practice will become more advanced every time you roll out your mat. However, you can certainly improve your practice by leaps and bounds when you practice under the guidance of an experienced instructor.

Hands-on adjustments might seem like an insult at first, but they’re designed to help you get deeper into your poses, which will improve your strength and flexibility in a safe manner.​

How to find the right yoga studio


Now you know the “whys” of going to a yoga studio, but the “how” is a bit trickier to execute. Google might seem tried and true, but there’s no replacement for going to a studio and actually giving it a try.

Most studios offer at least one free class, but the majority of them will offer you a free trial week so you can decide if their community is really right for you.

I fell in love with my current studio as soon as I walked in the door, but I also knew ten minutes into class at another studio that it was the worst possible fit for me.

I honestly thought the studio I hated would have been “The One”, but it absolutely wasn’t. I wouldn’t have known this unless I had given both studios a try.

Before you ultimately decide on a studio, determine what makes a studio feel like home.

Are you considering the community? There are studios that offer lunches, satsangs, and book clubs to make the students feel like they’re part of a family.

Do you have a hectic schedule? Smaller studios offer fewer classes and many of them may be in the morning or afternoon, when you’re at work or have to pick up your kids.

Larger studios offer classes in the evenings, so take a look at the schedule before settling.

As a beginner, it’s ideal to find a studio that offers beginner classes. I started at a very beginner-friendly studio and it helped my practice blossom!

I did eventually outgrow their classes though, so keep that in mind if the majority of their offerings are tailored for beginners or intermediate students.

If there is no yoga studio in your area you can try online yoga studios like Grokker.

#3. Learn the Sun Salutations

Consider the Sun Salutations the core of most yoga practices. Regardless of what type of yoga you choose, chances are you’re going to get a surya namaskar variation thrown in somewhere.​

Sun Salutations

In my experience, if you know absolutely nothing about yoga, going into your first class semi-familiar with the sun salutations makes it so much easier to catch on to the other poses.

Once I picked up on the sun salutes, I was able to keep up with the class and not feel like I was lost in a foreign country.

Knowing the sun salutes doesn’t just give you the benefit of keeping up with your instructor and peers, either. A group of men and women were given the task of doing 24 sun salutations every day, six days a week for 24 weeks.

Their strength, endurance, and body composition were measured before and after the 24 week study, and at the end there were dramatic differences.

Every person showed vast improvements in upper and lower body strength, as well as endurance and muscle tone.​ (13)

Not only will a proficiency in sun salutations make your first few classes less stressful, especially if you’re doing a vinyasa flow class, it will also give you the necessary strength and endurance to get you through an entire yoga class.

#4. Get the Right Gear​

Sure, technically you don’t need anything to do yoga. Ancient yogis used nothing more than a cotton rug to practice, but times are changing!​

Honestly, sometimes the best part of a new hobby is the new stuff you get to buy. I’m not the only one who feels that way, right? Moving on...

Mats​

The number one thing you need as a yoga student is a good mat. Not only does your mat provide cushioning for your joints, it provides grip and stability, both of which are integral in preventing injury and helping maintain your balance.

There’s a ton of yoga mats on the market to match all budgets, and in the end it really depends on what you’re looking for.

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Clothing​

As for clothes, you should wear what you want, but keep these things in mind:

  • Skip bulky, heavy clothes like sweatpants and sweatshirts.​
  • You’ll be more comfortable if your shirt fits snugly enough to keep it from riding up in the down dog position.
  • If you’re taking heated classes, opt for clothes that wick sweat and moisture (i.e. skip cotton and polyester).
  • Make sure your pants fit well, because if they’re too big you’re going to spend a lot of time yanking your drawers up.

There’s no need to drop hundreds of dollars on expensive clothes. Cute clothes are fun, but no one in your yoga class is going to judge you if you aren’t decked out head-to-toe in Lululemon.

Props​

Props are a necessary part of any practice, but you don’t need them as a beginner. However, blocks help you gain flexibility in forward folds and offer support if you’re injured. Click here for some ideas on how to use your blocks during your practice.​

As a novice, straps are incredibly useful for maintaining proper alignment in chaturanga until you’ve built the necessary strength to maintain it strap-free, but they’re also great for making yin and restorative poses more juicy.

Towels

In terms of yoga towels, there are two types: hand towels and mat towels.

The hand towel is exactly what it sounds like, a small towel you use to mop away perspiration during class. A mat towel is a cloth the exact size of your mat, which is placed on top to keep your hands and feet from slipping during heated classes.

Neither of these are necessary unless you sweat a lot or if you’re taking hot yoga classes.

The mat towel keeps your mat from turning into a skating rink, so you’re able to maintain your balance and hold your poses as long as necessary.

Sliding all over your mat is incredibly frustrating and leads to injuries, so make sure to check out our list of mat towels here.​

Perhaps these tips are common sense in terms of beginning a yoga practice, but the biggest piece of the puzzle is simply working up the nerve and believing you can do yoga.

Finding the right studio, learning the poses, and developing a love affair with the mat you choose is just the tip of the iceberg! Remember that every yoga student was a beginner at one time, so don’t let your teachers’ or your classmate’s experiences scare you away.

Take a deep breath, unroll your mat, and enjoy your time in class. You’ll find out that yoga will quickly become a second home to you!

If you’re an experienced yogi, do you have any tips or advice for our newer readers? What gave you the confidence to go to your first class?​

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