To a newcomer yoga can be a daunting mystery… ‘Is it actually a good work out?’ ‘Will I have to chant?’ ‘Will I be flexible enough?’ ‘Is it like a cult?!’ are all questions that run through people’s minds before they actually give it a go.
The truth? Yes it’s a fantastic workout but there’s so much more to it than that and once you give it a go you will see the wonders that it brings, not only for your physical body but also for your mind and general attitude to life. On the chanting… well that depends on the teacher but it’s honestly fun and if you really can’t bring yourself to do it it’s cool you won’t be asked to leave!
Do I Need To Be Flexible?
Flexibility-wise, no, you don’t have to be able to touch your toes or contort your leg around your neck. One of the main benefits of yoga is to stretch out all of those tight muscles you have. In any one class there will be a mixed level of practice so don’t be put off by lack of flexibility – keep going and soon you will see a massive change for the better. Is it like a cult? In short no, but be warned it will change your life and for the better. Once you really start to open up and get into it you will notice subtle but great changes in the way you view yourself, the world and other people… it’s a good thing!
Yoga For The First Time
Having said all of this I totally get that yoga for a first timer is pretty daunting, mainly because you have no idea what to expect other than some stretching right? In this article my aim is to give you an intro into what you might expect if you do pluck up the courage to go and also some tips on beginners practice with some easy postures that you may want to try out at home before you join a group class.
What Do You Need To Practice Yoga?
Most studios will offer mat hire, however if you intend to go to regular classes I would recommend in investing in your own. A strap and a block would always be my go-to accessories to help you with postures. Again most studios will have these for you to use but if you wanted to practice at home I would get your own. You can pick them up pretty cheap online like Amazon.
Traditionally in a class you would expect anything from a 10-15 minute warm up; this focuses on your breathing which is the most important part of your practice. If you don’t breathe it’s just going to be hard work throughout, so let’s take a minute to talk about the breath.
In yoga we use something called Ujayi breath which means ‘Victorious breath’. To do it you inhale and as you exhale you construct your throat like you want to mist up a mirror but you keep the mouth closed and exhale through the nose. If you’re doing it right you sound a little like Darth Vader! Why do we do this ridiculous sounding breath? Can I not just breathe normally? The Ujayi breath allows us to warm the body from the inside up and it acts as an energy lock within the body allowing us to move through the practice with ease. Without the breath you just won’t get the benefits from the asanas (postures).
Back to the warm up: after breathing exercises and some gentle stretches you will most likely move on to a sequence of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) A or B or a combination of both. These are a set sequence of postures aimed to get the body warm and the blood pumping! Typically I will place between 6 and 8 sun salutations in my classes – you will have sweat on by the end of it!
The Main Yoga Class
After your warm up where the class goes depends on the teacher. It might be a general flow class which will focus on standing postures, balancing postures, core work, arm balances, twists and potentially inversions; or they may be working towards getting you in to a certain ‘peak pose’ in which case you’ll work through a series of targeted asanas to get the body ready. For example, if the peak posture was Bakasana (crow pose) you would focus a lot on hip openers, core work and warming up the hip flexors and wrists.
Most people get a shock at their first yoga class by how much you actually work as by the end you’ll probably be exhausted. Good news, though: you should get at least 5 minutes at the end in Savasana (corpse pose) which is basically lying on your back and relaxing. Sounds good right?
The purpose of this pose is to realign the body and mind – call it a thank you to your body for getting you though the class.
Postures For Yoga Beginners
Please don’t expect to get in to a Sirsasana (headstand) on the first go with absolute ease – it just doesn’t happen and that’s absolutely fine. For me, yoga is about the journey. Every time you practice you will see an improvement (maybe only a small one but an improvement) it might take you 6 days to nail a posture…it might take you 6 months and either is fine. Try not to let your ego take over and give yourself a hard time. It’s a process of development!
Another point to note here is that although it doesn’t matter how far along you are in your posture it does matter that you are aligned correctly to avoid injury and to get the benefits, If you’re taking a led class then the teacher will queue key alignment and physically adjust you if required. If you’re practising at home, most online tutorials will talk about alignment so please listen and bear in mind as you practice. Personally I would recommend for your first go to take a led class or invest in a one-on-one lesson to ensure that you are practicing safely.
Suyra Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) x 3 times – to warm up the body
Padugasthasana (big toe stretch) – killer for those hamstrings
Utthita Hasta Padagustasana A&B (on both legs) – modify by keeping the knee bent instead of extending the leg out straight
Baddha Konasana – depending on hip flexibility it might feel better to have the feet further away from the body
Modified inversion – lay on your back with your legs up against the wall – stay here for 10 breaths
Savasana – aaaaahhhh.
Give it a go – the worst that can happen is that you find it’s not for you and you never have to do it again. My advice would be to attend a led class or get a couple of one on one lessons for your first couple of times, but if practicing on your own at home please be super careful with your alignment, it’s so easy to injure yourself if you don’t do things correctly
Above all.. REMEMBER TO BREATHE!
Have an open mind enjoy the wonderful journey that I have no doubt your practice will take you on.