The Start of Your Journey
Advice from a new yogi...
So, you’ve been thinking about trying yoga. What’s holding you back? Are you confused? Overwhelmed? I get it. I’ve been down that winding road and it’s easy to get lost. But the journey doesn’t have to be intimidating. Keep reading, I’m going to map it out for you.
Difficult First Steps
A couple of years ago I thought about trying yoga. Not sure where to start, I decided to look into local classes. Instead of an enticing roster with interesting options, what I found were strange Sanskrit terms and yoga styles I didn’t know existed. I thought yoga was, uh, well… just yoga. What did those unpronounceable words mean? What were the differences? Where should I begin? I had no idea which road to take.
I wondered, how many people throw in the yoga towel and give up? I almost did. For awhile I kept postponing my start. After seeing all those different forms of yoga I was frustrated and hesitant. Eventually, I conquered my fears and took the first steps on my new journey, Not too far down the road, I fell in love with yoga.
How did I do it? My advice: Don’t toss in that yoga towel if you’ve been procrastinating. You can find a yoga practice that’ll work for you… if, unlike me, you go about your search more systematically.
The New Kid on the Bus
Newbies to yoga don’t look alike, so a one-size-fits-all class doesn’t exist. For instance, a newcomer could be a professional athlete considering a 360 departure from their usual sport wanting to gain flexibility and balance. A beginner can be young or “not young” and plagued by joint injuries, looking to maintain functional ability.
Or, the new kid might be someone like me. I wanted an all-body fitness routine that would boost my health. But, I was also searching for one I could enjoy. Pleasure equals motivation in my travel book.
A Map for Your Journey
Don’t do what I almost did. Don’t let an initial uncertainty and lack of information prevent you from giving yoga a shot. Getting off on the right foot goes a long way in discovering a real passion. Especially if you're starting a new endeavor.
Study the Map to Find The Best Route: You need to learn about the different forms of yoga. Age, natural flexibility, fitness level, and personality type are all factors to consider in deciding on the right class to begin your journey.
Locate the First Destination on Your Trip: Your next objective is to find the right yoga space, be it studio or gym, to help you become acquainted with the practice.
Study the Map To Find the Best Route
Understanding Common Types of Yoga + Tips and LIVING BETTER Notes for Beginners
Listed here are 9 common styles of yoga found in most communities. Study the different types. Eliminate classes that don’t suit you. Rule out types not ideal for new students. Some forms, on the list, will require an advanced understanding of yoga skills—not the best introduction for a newbie. Discover your perfect place to get started. With a firm understanding of what’s involved you’re off to a great start.
Ashtanga is a highly structured style of yoga composed of five series. Each series features specific postures — always done in the same sequence. In other words, you’ll perform the same poses, in the same order, every time, in every class. Mysore is a subset of Ashtanga. In Mysore studios, you will perform the series from memory in time with the rest of the class. There’s a teacher in the room to give reminders and assistance if needed.
Ashtanga is one of the longer yoga classes. Each class is 90 minutes, or longer, depending on the level. Its a challenging form of yoga. The sheer number of postures and sequences will constitute a thorough, rigorous workout.
Who’ll like Ashtanga? People who prefer the predictable. If you’re the type who prefers to be in the know, with no surprises, then Ashtanga is the style for you. You’ll always know what’s coming up next in class. Ashtanga is for people looking for a vigorous, not tranquil, form of yoga.
Is Ashtanga right for beginners? It’s not ideal for a beginner’s first yoga class. You’re expected to know the poses and routines of Ashtanga. Beginners should consider Ashtanga after becoming comfortable with enough poses to participate in a quick moving class.
LIVING BETTER health notes on hot class temperature: Yoga is rarely practiced in a cool room except for some Yin Yoga classes. Some degree of warmth, especially at the beginning of a class, helps muscles and joints to loosen up.
Bikram is one of the specific forms of hot yoga. It was one of the first major styles to be performed in a heated room. In Bikram classes, you’ll perform a series of twenty-six poses and two breathing exercises. In every class, in all Bikram studios, you’ll do the same 90-minute sequence. Yes, 90 minutes. So be ready for an extra long class. And a hot one! The class is performed in a room heated to 95-108 F° (35–42 C°) and 40% humidity.
Who’ll like Bikram? Anyone who prefers to know what’s coming next and prefers to sweat it out in a workout. Just like Ashtanga Yoga, Bikram lovers are people who like set routines. And, it's for those who want a vigorous form of yoga.
Is Bikram Yoga right for beginners? Because of the specific sequence of posing required, this is not the best first class for a beginner. Consider attempting these classes after you know basic poses and sequences used in Bikram. An introductory hot class will also help you adapt to heated sessions before jumping into this brisk form of yoga.
Tips for all Forms of Hot Yoga:
- Ashtanga and Bikram are great forms of yoga for travelers. Once you’re comfortable with these styles, you can go into any class, anywhere, at any time and be assured the sequence of poses will be the same. Kinda like us Catholics, going to Mass in Rome, Italy or Rome, Georgia. No learning curve here, if you’re familiar with the series.
Many forms of yoga today can be classified as Hatha Yoga—a yoga of physical poses. In ancient traditions, Hatha rituals were used to prepare for meditation. In Hatha Yoga, you’ll perform traditional yoga poses, moving with your breath.
A Hatha class can be easy or challenging depending on the individual. Lunges, as in a warrior pose, or squat-like postures, used in chair pose, can be done with ease or difficulty— depending on your level of ability and how long, or deep, you move into poses.
Who’ll like Hatha Yoga? Come one, come all — any level of athletic ability or age is welcome. Hatha reinforces mindfulness, breath work and achieving poses. Poses can be adapted to any level of flexibility and strength.
Pro athletes like to incorporate Hatha Yoga into their fitness routines for its emphasis on balance, breathing, and flexibility. No matter your favorite sport: football, CrossFit, tennis, running — non-athletes and pros alike, can benefit from the skills found in this yoga practice. Check out this article in Men's Journal about the inspiring comeback king - Tyrann Mathieu. Former LSU Tiger (my team) and now with the NFL Arizona Cardinals, Tyrann discusses incorporating yoga into his training routine. There's a great photo of him performing asana - a yoga pose.
Is Hatha Yoga right for beginners? It’s a great place to start for beginners, at any level of fitness and ability, since it is the most basic form of yoga.
Tips for all Forms of Hatha Yoga:
- Check class descriptions for the level of intensity of the Hatha session.
- In an “all-level” class you’ll adapt postures to your own ability and see a range of practitioners congregated in a group.
- Good yoga teachers will instruct, during the class, in all expressions of a pose — from easy to difficult.
- A steady paced class, such as Hatha, makes it easier for new students to pick up yoga skills and Sanskrit terms.
Vinyasa Yoga is like doing a Hatha dance. You’ll move into poses in a smooth glide. Sounds easy? Not, necessarily, so. The flow from pose to pose can be rapid or slow, depending on the class. You’ll perform a great number poses linking each with your breath making it a brisk rather than, relaxing style of yoga. There are slow flow classes, but a typical Vinyasa is an energetic moving program.
You will keep moving…until corpse pose! If you have not practiced yoga - this is am not a tasteless joke. This is what the final, resting pose is called in English. In Sanskrit its called Savasana. In other words, you'll be in constant motion until the cool-down phase.
Who’ll like Vinyasa? Those preferring an active, cardio style yoga. Runners and athletes, of all types, will enjoy incorporating Vinyasa. It’s for people who like to get their pulse rate up in a workout. Dancers will like the fluid dance-like quality of the moves.
Is Vinyasa Yoga right for beginners? Newcomers, beware, this class moves at a quick pace so know your poses before attempting Vinyasa. Because of the brisk pace, this may not be the ideal place for a beginner. Save this one for a bit later. However, you may be able to find Vinyasa introductory classes or start with a slow flow class. If so, go for it, newbie!
Tips for Vinyasa and all Forms of Vigorous Yogas:
- You’ll get an intense workout and break a sweat, but not as much as in Bikram or Hot Yoga.
- No special drip-proof, sticky mat needed, a regular one will do.
- You’ll want to keep a towel handy, though.
Iyengar Yoga is detail oriented, methodical and focused on alignment. The goal is to perform each pose correctly rather than “flowing” through poses, as in Vinyasa. At first glimpse, this may sound easy but holding poses can be a mental and physical challenge.
Can’t touch your toes? No problem, add a block to rest your hands on. Tight hamstrings? Don’t worry, use a strap. In Iyengar, you're encouraged to use blocks, straps, bolsters and folded blankets as tools to assist you in assuming postures. You will work within your individual limits to stay safe and still reap the benefits. You will practice breath work by breathing in time with your movements and while holding poses.
Who’ll like Iyengar? Those obsessive about form, medical professionals, and those with previous injuries. If you are compulsive about details in your fitness routine you’ll find your space in Iyengar. Those who worry about safety or have joint issues or medical conditions will feel comfortable in an Iyengar class. It emphasizes tools and props to assist in joint safety. If you work in healthcare you’ll appreciate the attention to anatomy, alignment, and correct movement. Hyperactive types may not prefer classes that call for holding poses vs. attending a more rapidly moving class. But it could be just the thing for slowing your roll, though.
Is Vinyasa Yoga right for beginners? Iyengar is a great place for beginners. You’ll learn to achieve each pose in its correct form. New students will appreciate the extra instruction that can be received from an Iyengar instructor.
LIVING BETTER health note on all exercise: Consult a physician before beginning any new exercise program, particularly, if you have previous injuries. Also, speak to your doctor before restarting a former exercise program following a new injury or medical condition
Kundalini is not a typical yoga session of poses and breathing. You’ll experience a variety of yoga rituals not usually seen in other classes. Viewed as a spiritual form of practice, it combines mind, breath, body and energy work. In a Kundalini class, you’ll perform repeated, challenging poses along with chanting and singing and you’ll meditate.
Feeling at home in Kundalini will depend on your comfort level with mysticism, being verbal, and working on higher levels of energy.
Who’ll like Kundalini? People who want to experience the spiritual and enlightenment concepts of yoga in addition to its fitness aspects. If you’re interested in combining an energy practice along with a physical form of yoga then Kundalini is for you. You’ll get a rigorous exercise session and a mental workout. The goal of Kundalini is individual energy work and self-awareness.
Is Vinyasa Yoga right for beginners? Depending on the level of Kundalini class a beginner could choose to start here. Getting your start in both yoga and Kundalini will depend on your desire to experience a yoga that works the body, planes of energy and doing it out loud!
Yin Yoga, similar to Hatha Yoga, can range from mild to intense. Similiarly, in Yin classes, you’ll hold poses and breathe. There's also work on flexibility and balance. When holding poses and stretches — you’ll really hold them, ranging from a few seconds up to 10 minutes for the more advanced.
The purpose of Yin poses is to increase circulation and increase flexibility. Ancient practitioners used similar concepts of holding postures and breathing techniques as a part of martial arts training.
Yin is a great class to add to other aspects of a fitness program. Runners, ballplayers, former dancers, and gymnasts can benefit from alternating in a good Yin class to stretch tight bodies and sore muscles.
Who’ll like Yin Yoga? Those seeking to add yoga to an existing workout and those who want a good stretch class. If you’re somewhat hyperactive, you may think a Yin class will be too slow. But don’t let that prevent you from giving it a try. If you want to work on your tight joints and sore muscles Yin is an ideal routine.
Is Yin Yoga right for beginners? Depending on the level of class this is a good option for a newcomer to start down the yoga path. Look for a beginner or introductory Yin class where you won’t hold stretch poses very long initially.
LIVING BETTER health note on stretching in yoga: It’s not good to push your joints past their max no matter what you’ve seen ballerinas do. See the movie “Black Swan” to witness the downside of these athletic performances. Due to genetics, age and gender each body is a unique combination, structurally. It can be easy to push and injure yourself in a stretch class. Take care not to push too far into poses.
LIVING BETTER health note on using yoga props: In any yoga style do not hesitate to use blocks, straps, bolsters or folded blankets to assist you in assuming postures comfortably. Each yogi, new or experienced, should work within their individual limits to keep joints safe and prevent injury. Using tools helps you to focus on the main essential in yoga - breathing deeply and evenly throughout the class.
Restorative Yoga and Gentle Yoga
Restorative Yoga is just what it sounds like. Restorative and Gentle Yoga are both designed to calm the mind and soothe the body. In both methods, you’ll focus on breath and awareness. In Restorative you’ll use any number of props — blankets, bolster, blocks to enable you to relax into poses without a lick of effort. Soooo relaxing and restful. Just hanging out in a blissful place... and it's therapeutic for your joints.
What’s the difference between these two? Only a small number of poses, as little as 4–6, are performed in a true Restorative class. Setting up blankets and props and spending time in each pose takes up a good bit of time. A Gentle class will utilize more poses and a greater number of gentle stretches. In Restorative, you'll do more hanging out in relaxing postures propped up in a comfortable and mindful way.
I'm very flexible. And, I tend toward being a yoga over-achiever. As a result, I have a tendency to push deeper into stretches if I’m not mindful. I forget I’m no longer, in my 20’s, on my college dance team. I often find myself with very sore muscles needing a restorative class to renew.
Who’ll like Restorative and Gentle Yoga? Those seeking to de-stress and unwind a hectic mind and over-worked body. Restorative Yoga will appeal to anyone needing to relax. Those with sore muscles, joint or medical conditions will enjoy either one…or both.
If you’re somewhat hyperactive, you may think you won’t move enough in a Restorative or Gentle session to suit your taste. But don’t let that stop you from the experience. You may enjoy or need this form of yoga as a method to chill out body and mind.
Is Restorative or Gentle Yoga right for beginners? Either method can be a good place to kindle your first yoga love. Be sure to note, in Restorative you won’t do a large variety of poses…and none of the standing poses. Beginners will need to learn the foundational postures in another style of yoga. Gentle classes utilize a good number of poses, standing and otherwise, but in a slower, placid motion. This can be an outstanding place to start in yoga. You will learn poses performed in a steady, low tempo session.
Tips for Restorative and Gentle Yoga:
- You may notice that Restorative classes are held on evenings and Fridays. This is designed to help the overworked, the sleep deprived and over-achievers replenish their tired psyches and bodies at the end of the work week.
- Bartenders and night workers may need to reverse this schedule and find their restorative classes at an earlier hour.
LIVING BETTER health notes on Restorative or Gentle Yoga:
- Practiced before bedtime, or in evening classes, these classes, especially Restorative, can help insomnia.
- If you have anxiety or extra daily stress, these styles can assist in restoring the body while bringing zen-like calm to the mind. The breathing techniques learned in these classes can be carried over for use in everyday stressful situations or anxiety attacks.
- When experiencing soreness from overdoing exercise or sitting too long, Gentle or Restorative Yoga can leave you feeling energized and amazing!
Locate the First Destination on Your Journey
Find Your Initial Yoga Space
Each studio will have a different atmosphere. Some will give off a spiritual or a nouveau hippie feel. Others, held at a health club, will “sport” an exercise or fitness vibe. A bit of time visiting and tuning into your comfort level will show which location, teacher and method is right for you.
See who’s offering yoga in your town. With the exploding popularity of yoga classes are now available in studios, continuing ed classes, community centers, and health clubs. Determine which are holding beginner level or introductory yoga classes. Watch for my upcoming post on the explosion in the popularity of yoga and what causing it.
Beginners need a safe space. It’s legit to feel vulnerable and clueless when taking part in your first new classes, particularly in a group session. Legs in the air, feet spread, butts raised - precarious positions to say the least!
If those feelings make you hide in the back so no one notices if you’re uncomfortable or fumbling. Nope… rewind! That’s not the atmosphere of yoga. The goal of yoga is peace and acceptance.
Try a few sessions at different studios and with different instructors when you try your first classes. That’s only for the beginning of your journey.
After you’re comfortable with the basics and can perform foundational poses and breathing - you’re ready to move on. It’s time to embark on the next leg of your journey. Explore other styles of yoga that interest you.
More Advice from a New Yogi...
Going back to the beginning, a couple of years ago:
In the beginning, yoga seemed foreign and overwhelming. At first, I focused on gentle yoga sessions and explored a few studios. I talked to the instructors and found experienced yogi friends. Soon, I was hooked.
Give it time. There’s a lot to absorb — new concepts, and even a new language. It may take a class or two, or even four, to get adjusted. If a space doesn’t begin to resonate with you, after a couple of classes, you may need to explore further.
Don’t give up on the practice too soon. You may need to try a few different instructors or forms of yoga. These days I rotate between a studio and my health club. In the near future, I’ll explore even more classes and styles of yoga. Finding options gives you choices of sessions and time schedules to suit your weekly lifestyle and daily habits.
LIVING BETTER health notes on overdoing exercise: Sore muscles are a part of any vigorous fitness program. Putting stress on muscle fibers enables them to grow bigger and stronger. However, sore joints should never be the outcome of a workout. If you have painful joints following a session, you may not be performing the exercise correctly or overdoing it. Osteoarthritis is a condition that occurs over time as we age. But, arthritis can also result from joint overuse and abuse. If you have joint issues or previous injuries, speak to your instructor for pointers using props or correcting alignment to prevent further damage. Be kind to your joints!
Yoga pros will tell you that you should take a resting posture, such as child’s pose, or ease up on the pose during class. This is encouraged by good instructors as opposed to pushing yourself, beyond your limit, when a class or posture gets too tough.
Continuing On the Next Leg of the Journey
For me, the key was finding an atmosphere where I felt comfortable yet challenged. Two years later, I’m beginning yoga teacher training. I’m not certain if I want to teach but I’m looking for ways to deepen my understanding and skills.
LIVING BETTER health notes on yoga: Yoga is not a competition sport. Each of us is composed of a unique joint and muscle configuration. Some postures you’ll never be able to achieve nor would it be safe for you to do so. Use only what yo’ mamma gave you. Each day and each side of your body will always be different.
Your only challenge, in yoga, is self-improvement, not self-comparison to others in class. Don’t judge yourself or others — that's the opposite of yoga’s goal of peace and acceptance. Doesn’t that sound like a nice space to be in?
LIVING BETTER Final Thoughts
Let’s back the bus up and review our trip so far:
- The first step is understanding the various forms of yoga.
- Next, locate the studios or health clubs offering yoga in your geographical area.
- After that, choose suitable beginner types of yoga you're interested in exploring.
- Finally -- go for it. Try as many as types as you're willing - in order to find your new yoga home.
To round out your yoga education get my free publication — The Ultimate Yoga Resource List. In the UYR I’ve compiled suggested learning materials from top yogis and yoga teachers around the world. It’s also the required reading list for many certified yoga teacher training courses.
Chime in and help us complete the map for our yoga journey. Have you tried yoga? What's your suggestion for a beginner's first class. What tips do you have for getting comfortable with a new yoga practice? Tell us about it in the Comment Section below.
Thanks for reading. I hope you found this was useful. If you think this post would be helpful to others, please share on social media.
Also watch for soon-to-post article on my decision to take a Yoga Teacher Training Course. For another good article on healthy living see the post on Healthy Fish Choices to Eat, Low Mercury.