How To Start Yoga

I am often asked how I got into yoga, to which I usually reply “it was a natural transition after I stopped gymnastics as a teenager”. But this isn’t entirely true, or helpful, just a useful, quick response in social situations. The real path I took to yoga was a little longer and had a few more twists and turns but that’s a story for another day.

Today is all about how you can start your own yoga journey and some of my top tips to get the most out of your new practise.

1. Why

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Ask yourself why you want to start yoga? Grab a notebook, journal or just a pen and paper and jot down a couple of the key motivators for starting yoga. Perhaps you want to…..

reduce anxiety

reduce stress

improve flexibility and fitness

relieve physical pain

improve focus

increase mindfulness

There are so many benefits to practising yoga which is why there are also multiple reasons for starting, Whatever your motivator, make sure it is strong and personal to you. You may notice that what keeps you coming back is completely separate to the reason you started.

2. Where

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Would you like to begin at home following alongside Youtube videos or apps? Or would you prefer a shared experience in a studio with a physically present teacher.

There is no right way to practise yoga there is simply the practise itself. The correct environment for you is where you feel comfortable and will benefit most from.

With this being said, I personally recommend practising in an established studio with qualified teachers, mats, props and an intentionally designed space. Not only will you have a better experience, but with the help of a physically present teacher, you can be sure you are correctly aligned and practising safely.

There is also the option of a yoga retreat , although intense this would be a great way to master the basics in a short space of time a really kick start your journey. They are generally expensive and so I would recommend you have at least an understanding of what yoga entails before you invest.

3. Style

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Most studios offer a wide range of classes and so I recommend trying several different styles before deciding what works best for you. Yoga styles can also vary depending on the teacher so be sure to explore several different teachers as well as styles. You do not have to commit to one style as they all have different benefits and can be very complimentary, however you may find one you resonate with most.

Here is list and short description of popular styles found in most commercial studios.

Vinyasa – a modern, flowing and active practise that links breath and movement. Usually practised to music in a warm, dim lit environment.

Ashtanga – a traditional, fast paced series of set asanas (postures), linking breath and movement. Introduced by  Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in 1975.

Hatha – a traditional style, now used in such a broad way that it is difficult to say what a particular hatha class will be like. In most cases it will be relatively gentle and the postures will be held for a longer duration, making it ideal for beginners or those who prefer a more relaxed style.

Hot Yoga – Usually sequenced as a Vinyasa class except practised in a hotter, more humid environment.

Power Yoga – A Western, fitness twist on Vinyasa yoga. Often incorporating physically demanding posture variations as well as press-ups, plank holds and lots of vinyasas.

Yin Yoga – a slow-paced, meditative yoga style, focused on releasing tension in the ligaments and connective tissues. To do this all of the asanas are passive and held for extended periods of time (typically three to five minutes.

Yin & Yang a fusion of styles in one practice – bringing together the benefits of long passive asanas (yin) with more active, dynamic asanas (yang).

Restorative Yoga – the practice of asanas, each held for longer than in conventional classes, often with the support of props such as folded blankets, to relax the body. Similar to Yin

Other Styles

Kundalini– translated to “coiled like serpent” in Sanskrit, aims the to awaken the kundalini energy, thought to lie dormant at the base of the spine. In Kundalini yoga, practitioners use specifi asana, pranayama chanting and meditation to release this energy.

Bikram – devised by controversial figure Bikram Choudhury, this intense style is practised at 105°F (approximately 41°C ) and follows a set sequences of 26 asanas. It is someties referred to as the original hot yoga.

Iyengar – Named after it’s founder, B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the most influential gurus of our time. This style pays close attention to the precise musculoskeletal alignment of each asana. It also utilises props, such as blocks, belts, bolsters, chairs and blankets, to accommodate injuries, tightness or structural imbalances.

Tantra – Defined in Sanskrit as “woven together,” tantra seeks to connect the inner self to the universe or cosmos by awakening ones kundalini, unblocking chakras and balancing innate human tendencies. . It requires a variety of practises including asanas, pranayamas, mantras, meditation, mudras, kriyas (cleanses) and visualisation of deities. In western culture it is often considered a sexual yoga practise, however this is not the primary intention. By enhancing a persons sense of self and connection, tantra may benefit your sex life but to simplify it as sexual techniques is a distortion of this intricate, sacred system of enlightenment.

4. How

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What do you need?

Yoga mat – you do not need a yoga mat to begin practising yoga as most studios offer mats to borrow and you can always practise on a rug at home. However I do recommend investing in a high quality mat once you have established your practise as it will save you money in the long term and serve you best i. e non-slip, grippy, supportive and comfortable. P.S don’t be surprised if you form an emotional attachment to your mat…

Yoga block / s – yoga blocks are definitely not essential however they can be beneficial especially if you have limited flexibility. I only invested in a set of blocks after my yoga teacher training and they have been great for arm balances and flexibility development.

Active wear– most people will have suitable clothing for yoga in their cupboard so don’t feel you have to splurge on expensive yoga brands. Anything stretchy, soft and secure will do the job, for example a pair of legging and a t-shirt / vest is perfect.

Studio membership – if you are looking to join a studio, I highly recommend checking if they have any free day passes or trials. I used an app called classpass which let me try a variety of studios in Edinburgh for free before I joined my local studio. They are expensive so be sure to give a couple a go before committing.

Tv / laptop for online tutorials – if you decide to practise from home with online tutorials I recommend using a TV or laptop rather than a phone so that you are able to clearly see what the instructor is doing without having to stop your practise.

I’ve written this page of tips to help you start and maintain a yoga practise but the key is really is just starting. Nobody starts anything as an expert or feeling 100% ready so be kind to yourself and enjoy the process of development.

Namaste – Zara

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