Even though yoga started in India, it has become an important part of Western society. About 80 million Americans do yoga. It’s easy to see why it keeps getting new people because it’s friendly, easy to get to, and flexible.
There are many different ways to do yoga. Yoga is great for people who are just starting out because there are many different kinds and it’s easy to join. Yoga is a practice that uses breathing techniques, meditation, and physical poses to help people grow and stay healthy. It is good for everyone because science has already shown that it has many health benefits.
Don’t know where to start? This page is meant to give you a place to start.
Yoga is “a system of physical postures, breathing techniques, and sometimes meditation” that is often done in Western countries to improve physical and mental health. Juan Gamboa, a certified yoga teacher and mindful movement expert at THE WELL New York, says that one of the goals of modern yoga is to make people feel comfortable and calm.
No one knows for sure where yoga came from, but most people think that the first yoga master was a god named Shiva, who came around the “dawn of civilization” in the third century B.C.E. Later, in the late 1800s, yoga teachers from India brought it to the West, where it quickly became famous because of its benefits for the mind and body.
Lindsay Grobman is a physical therapist, a certified yoga teacher, and a holistic health expert. She sees yoga as a way to learn more about herself. One yoga master says, “Practicing yoga helps us learn more about ourselves and the world around us.” She thinks that more people are interested in yoga because they care more about their health and well-being.
Types Of Yoga
Due to the variety of styles and modifications of yoga, there truly is a yoga practice for everyone. However, it’s okay to not know which style is right for you. When you’re starting out, you may want to try a few different classes to get a sense for the best fit.
Here are some good places to start:
Hatha is one of the foundational forms of yoga and considered the most basic version by many teachers. It’s beginner-friendly because it’s the most general type of yoga, according to Lisa Blum, a doctor of physical therapy, certified yoga teacher and physical therapist at Shift Wellness in New York City. “Hatha yoga will give the new yoga student a good understanding of the basics of yoga,” she says. Those basics include pranayama (breathing), meditation and asana.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. “Hatha joins the vigor and relaxation of the practice,” says Gamboa. “This harmonious balance offers a playful edge for a new student.”
Iyengar yoga, named after its creator B. K. S. Iyengar, includes clear demonstrations of each pose, allowing for props to support the body more comfortably when needed.
Gamboa describes Iyengar as slower and more form-based than other types of yoga. “It builds enough heat so the body feels worked and the mind can anchor itself to the breath,” he says. “This is valuable for the beginner student. “
If sitting still in a pose isn’t your thing, consider giving Ashtanga a try. Ashtanga yoga follows a sequence of poses connected by smooth transitions. The sequence is always the same, and practicing the sequence enables you to master the transitions gradually, allowing your body to develop strength and mobility as you learn to control your breath and mind.
Gamboa describes Ashtanga as more vigorous than Iyengar or Hatha. “It can build a good amount of heat and hone the mind,” he says. “It is an excellent way to have a disciplined and energizing practice.”
Like Ashtanga, Vinyasa keeps you moving, or flowing—it means “place in a special way,” according to Grobman. It incorporates a sequence of poses, emphasizing fluidity of movement and breath with the goal of “internal cleansing.” This continuous flow of movement from one pose to another helps calm the body and mind even though you’re moving. It can also be energizing. Modifications of poses allows for an all-levels-welcome practice that can be as challenging as you want it to be.
How to Practice Yoga
In order to begin a yoga practice, you’re going to need a few basics, such as:
- A yoga mat
- Props for modifications and comfort (these may include a blanket, two yoga blocks, pillows and a yoga strap)
- A quiet space that allows for free movement and relaxation
- Clothes that allow you to move comfortably
Experts agree that having the right teacher is one of the best investments for a yoga beginner. Gamboa recommends finding a teacher who encourages you to grow and explore your practice while motivating you and others.
When starting out, Grobman reminds beginners you don’t have to be perfect or committed to long sessions to practice yoga. “Yoga is for everyone,” she says. “Start where you are. Find a good teacher who you connect with and commit. Get on your mat everyday, even if it’s just for savasana (also known as corpse pose) or to sit and breathe.”
While a single session of yoga can be beneficial, Grobnman encourages consistent engagement. “Yoga is a lifelong practice,” she adds. “It’s also a very individual practice; you can go at your own pace without judgment.” What you spend, where you choose to practice and whether you do it alone or in a group is also entirely up to you.
Health Benefits of Yoga
The National Institute of Health considers yoga a form of holistic and alternative medicine due to its many proven health benefits. But keep in mind it will take more than one session to reap the rewards.
Here are just a few of the many health benefits of yoga:
Stress is one of the leading drivers of chronic illness and disease. Unfortunately, it’s also inescapable. Yoga reduces stress by decreasing the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. One study demonstrated that 24 women who perceived themselves as emotionally distressed had significantly lower levels of cortisol after a three-month yoga program. They also exhibited lower levels of anxiety, fatigue and depression.
Improves Overall Fitness
Studies link yoga to improved strength, mobility, cardiovascular health and overall fitness for people who practice twice a week (or for at least 180 minutes) over the course of eight weeks.
Inflammation can cause chronic pain and plenty of other health conditions. A 2015 study divided 218 participants into two groups: those who practiced yoga and those who didn’t. Both groups performed moderate to strenuous exercises to induce stress. The ones who practiced yoga had lower levels of inflammatory markers than those who didn’t.
Another study found that a three-month yoga and meditation retreat reduced inflammatory markers and positively altered psychological functioning, leading to “enhanced stress resilience and well-being.”
Enhances Overall Quality of Life
When you combine improved overall fitness with reduced stress and anxiety, you end up with better overall quality of life, making yoga good for your mind and body.