It’s paradoxical to call something literally thousands of years old “a modern fitness phenomenon,” but yoga has ascended to that very status. If you’re intrigued enough to try it, but are unsure of where to begin, we can help.
Here are some things to know about yoga before you get started:
- How is yoga good for you? You’ve probably already figured out that you’ll develop both your body and your mind (even if you only come to develop one or the other). What you shouldn’t find is a competitive or intimidating environment — yoga is especially welcoming to newcomers.
- How do I learn yoga? Most people learn and practice by taking yoga classes. Beginner classes are a great way to learn about and try the various styles of yoga, and to find out which style might be the best fit for you going forward.
- What do I need to get before I start yoga? There’s nothing special you’ll need to get started other than comfy clothes that won’t be revealing in various poses. Most yoga studios provide mats, though you may want to invest in your own once you know you’ll stick with it.
- What if I don’t know what all the yoga terms mean? Beginner classes will introduce these, so don’t worry if you don’t already speak the language.
The Yoga Workout
Yoga truly develops both the body and the mind. Regular practice can improve flexibility, balance, strength and stamina, while also developing mindfulness and concentration. You’ll likely notice improvement in your general fitness, and you might even see performance gains in other physical activities that you do. And yoga’s enhanced mental focus and control will be beneficial whether it’s your body or your mind doing the heavy lifting.
The mental dimension of yoga is what sets it apart from purely physical training. You’ll do plenty of strengthening and stretching exercises, but your yoga teacher will often encourage you to shift your thinking as you challenge your body. This unique aspect of yoga is one reason why it resonates so deeply with longtime practitioners.
What if I’m not flexible? It’s a common fallacy that you need to be flexible to do yoga. Greater flexibility will come with continued lessons and practice. It’s not a prerequisite to the activity.
How long and how often do I need to practice yoga? As with any training regimen, longer sessions and more repetitions will more quickly develop both your body and your mind. A good starting point is a one-hour weekly class. Studies have also shown that home practice of as little as 10 minutes daily can provide health benefits. Combining a weekly class with short sessions at home between classes is even better.
Classes are a great way to get into yoga, and it’s the way most people choose to regularly practice. The majority of classes are taught at independent yoga studios, though there are also many national brands of yoga studios. If you’re in or around the Vancouver Island, Canada area, look into signing up for lessons at Kathy White Yoga. Other options include places like health clubs, community centers and spas. These can be good places to find introductory or gentle yoga classes, but they’re less likely to offer the full spectrum of yoga classes you’ll want as you progress.
Yoga Gear and Clothing
The bare essentials are a flat, comfortable space (indoors or out) and some water for hydration. You don’t even have to get a mat, although many people do and will become quite particular about the type of mat they use. You might also decide you want some simple accessories to enhance your home practice, although that can wait until after you’ve talked to your instructor about recommendations and class needs. You’ll find more on this at the International Yoga Federation.
Most types of fitness clothing work just fine for yoga, especially when you’re getting started, but certain styles are preferable—especially those that offer ample stretch. Look also for styles with few seams, no pockets and minimal bulk.
Yoga’s rich vocabulary, much of which is Sanskrit names for poses, is derived from its origin in India. Learning so many new words can be confusing at first, but ultimately they’re part of yoga’s powerful mystique. As a beginner, learning the lingo is part of the fun—and part of your development process.
Below are a just a handful of yoga terms you might encounter early on. You can find more at Captured Waves.
Child’s pose: a basic asana you’ll learn in a beginner class; it can serve as kind of a “safe place” whenever you feel the need to pause, rest and breathe during a workout.
Savasana: The “corpse pose,” where one lies still in a state of relaxation, is often the final pose in a class.
Namaste: an honorable salutation, typically said at the end of class.
Asanas: physical poses or postures; these are the foundation of a yoga session.
Pranayama: breathing technique; one of the key components of yoga.
Om: an elemental chant that helps to center and focus your mind.