Yoga – how to start your practice
While yoga originated in South Asia many thousands of years ago, its popularity, particularly the physical practice of yoga, has boomed in the West over the last century. With such a rich history and a plethora of options to choose from, it can be difficult to know how to start a yoga practice.
With a number of health benefits ranging from stress management to stronger bones, yoga is a practice that can help us to live well for longer. Here we share a few tips for getting started.
What is yoga?
Much of the yoga that we now practice in the West is based on an eight-path system, outlined by a sage in Ancient India called Patañjali.
Little is known about Patañjali’s life but his wisdom, as explained in The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, has become internationally recognised.
These sutras (or ‘words of wisdom’) outline the eight limbs of yoga that, if followed, are said to help a person to reach enlightenment. One of these branches is the physical practice of yoga postures, known as asana.
We’ll mainly be discussing the physical practice of yoga in this feature, but it’s important to be aware of the historical and cultural context of your yoga practice before starting out. Plus, as you further your physical practice, you may wish to dive into yoga’s rich history even further.
The health benefits of yoga
Yoga has a number of physical benefits for our body. Yoga poses can help to build strength and flexibility all over our body, helping to keep us mobile throughout life.
Not only that, as a low-impact weight-bearing exercise, yoga can also help to keep our bones healthy and strong.
Many scientific studies are also beginning to recognise the number of benefits that yoga has for our mental health. People often turn to yoga as a means to deal with stress and anxiety – and for good reason. Research shows that yoga can actually decrease the secretion of cortisol – one of our key stress hormones.
How to start a yoga practice
What you’ll need
While you can practice your yoga anywhere, mats and props can make poses more comfortable and accessible.
Grippy mats can prove hugely beneficial to your practice and prevent slippage in certain poses. They can be expensive, so are something of an investment. Our pick? The Jade Harmony mat is well worth a look. Not only does it have incredible grip, but these mats are also eco-friendly. They’re sustainably made, with Jade Yoga planting a tree for every mat sold.
We also like the thickness of this mat. It’s plenty thick enough to provide cushioning, but not so much that it impacts on our ability to balance.
Bricks and blocks are also really useful for getting the most out of your practice. Blocks are thinner and have a flat surface area – they can be really handy for sitting on. They can help to create a little more ease in the hips and knees, making sitting postures more accessible. Bricks are helpful for ‘raising the ground’. For instance, if you often feel squashed in a lunge pose by having your hands on the floor, placing your hands on bricks can help you to lift you up and create a little more space in your chest area.
A yoga strap can be really helpful for making poses more accessible. For example, if you struggle to touch your toes in a forward fold, you can place a strap around the ball of your foot. From here, hold onto the ends of your strap, stretching into the pose.
Other props that might prove useful can be bolsters and blankets for additional support, and maybe even a foam roller to provide relief to tired muscles. Yoga wheels are becoming an increasingly popular prop and can help as an aid to balancing, stretching and strengthening.
What to wear
Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable, but ideally you want something with plenty of stretch that’s also not going to flap and get in the way.
Our recommendation? A comfortable but well-fitting top with plenty of space around the arms that you can stretch in. Bear in mind that you may be upside-down in some poses, so avoid tops that might fall down over your head. We also love to wear high-waisted leggings. These give more support around our mid-section and are less likely to roll down in poses like forward folds.
Asquith London makes beautiful, stylish yet practical clothes for yoga. Enjoy 20% off with the code LIZLOVES, too.
While it’ll be okay to wear socks in slower styles of yoga, like yin and restorative, you ideally want to go barefoot with more dynamic classes to give you more grip. If you don’t feel comfortable going barefoot, there are a number of brands that offer ‘grippy’ socks, with a rubber, trainer-like grip on the sole.
Choosing your style of yoga
There are a huge number of styles of yoga, which will help you to find your perfect class.
In general, hatha yoga is the phrase that describes physical practices of yoga. Nowadays, it also commonly refers to classes that aren’t so flowing and focus more on classical asanas.
Looking for something strong and challenging? Ashtanga, vinyasa or even Power Yoga classes could be for you. These flowing classes have a strong focus of using the breath to move between postures. Ashtanga, in particular, offers a series of poses that are held for five breaths, alongside the more flowing sun salutations.
Iyengar yoga comes from the same lineage as Ashtanga. The teachers who developed these styles, BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois respectively, were taught by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya is often credited as the ‘father’ of much of the yoga we practice today. While the poses are similar to Ashtanga, Iyengar yoga is much more focused on alignment. Expect to see props, like belts and blocks, used to help you access different postures.
Bikram yoga and hot yoga are ones to try if you love to sweat! Both are practiced in heated studios, so be sure to pack a change of clothes with you. The difference between them? Bikram yoga was founded by Bikram Choudhury and is fairly regimented. The class will feature 26 poses in each class performed in the same order every time for 90 minutes. A hot yoga class will have a little more freedom in the poses and will vary depending on the teacher and studio you attend.
Yin yoga focusses on longer, passive holds. Expect to be in poses for several minutes. Over time, you may notice an increase in your flexibility. There’s also often a lot of focus on the breath, so can be a great one for calming the mind.
Restorative yoga is all about relaxation. Here you’ll have your body completely supported. Expect luxurious cocoons of blankets, bolsters and blocks. Once your body is fully supported and comfortable, your mind is better able to settle. This can be a lovely entry level for meditation, as it’s a great one for calming the mind and focussing on the breath.
And the styles don’t stop there. As you further your yoga practice, you’ll come across a number of varying styles including Kundalini, Jivamukti, Forrest and more!
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