The Beginner’s Guide to Yoga

Yoga practice has been around for centuries, and it is still gaining in popularity. Yoga developed in ancient India over 5,000 years ago. In the Indian tradition, yoga unites spirituality, meditation and physical exercise. Today, yoga is appreciated for a range of benefits including a sense of psychological wellbeing, improvement for disorders like high blood pressure, and for increased flexibility, balance and strength.

Beginner’s Guide to Yoga

While yoga is not a highly aerobic exercise, people who practice yoga boast a leaner, more limber body, a stronger mind-body connection and a more relaxed outlook on life.

What is Yoga?

There are many types of yoga practice, and the more popular forms concentrate on controlled breathing or pranayama, a variety of postures or asanas, developing flexibility and meditation or dhyana. Beginners often use yoga props to help them achieve proficiency in the various yoga techniques. A beginning yoga class will typically introduce you to controlled breathing while exercising, basic yoga poses and meditation techniques.

The Benefits of Yoga

Yoga proponents report that yoga poses and meditation can ease pain from conditions including arthritis, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel and back pain. Gastrointestinal conditions worsened by stress, like ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, can also be improved with yoga. Studies show that yoga can improve immune system function and improve the body’s reaction to autoimmune conditions like psoriasis. Slowing your breath during yoga practice can trigger the relaxation response to lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Yoga may even lower your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Types of Yoga Practice

As someone who is new to yoga, you may not be aware of the differences between different types of yoga practice in classes and videos. Here is a short list of the common styles of yoga:

  • Hatha Yoga is a slow and gentle form of yoga, ideal for the beginner. Hatha yoga classes generally offer an introduction to yoga, yoga breath control and basic yoga poses at measured pace. Many people start out practicing Hatha yoga.
  • Iyengar Yoga named for BKS Iyengar, is popular with yoga practitioners who are interested in holding yoga poses for a prolonged length of time. Individuals learn to focus on the alignment of their body through Iyengar yoga. People who practice Iyengar yoga often use yoga props like blocks and belts to accommodate various levels of ability.
  • Ashtanga Yoga or power yoga is an intense form of yoga that encourages a seamless flow from one yoga pose into the next. The breath is synchronized with a series of yoga postures to produce internal heat and detoxifying sweat that improves circulation and induces a feeling of calm.
  • Vinyasa Yoga focuses on the breath-movement connection using aggressive stretches like the Salutation to the Sun.
  • Bikram Yoga is conducted in a hot environment calculated to induce sweating that is believed to loosen the muscles and cleanse the body of toxins.

Yoga Equipment

Yoga equipment or props can help beginners who are intent on learning yoga in order to reap its many benefits. Your yoga instructor may have some equipment on hand for your use, but many people prefer to purchase their own. Yoga props allow for individuality and different levels of ability. Most people bring along a thin yoga mat with a non-slip surface to gain control when practicing yoga positions on a slippery floor. Yoga mats are also useful for hygiene. Using the proper form and technique is everything in yoga, and yoga blocks, sometimes called yoga bricks, can help beginners who are still developing their flexibility and strength.

Another common piece of yoga equipment is the yoga strap or yoga belt. Straps are typically held with both hands to help you stay in a yoga pose longer, using the proper technique and body position. They are also used for flexibility exercises. The yoga wedge, another yoga prop, is a triangular piece of equipment that provides support and assists with proper posture while sitting, squatting or standing.

If you try yoga, you may be amazed by how quickly you improve as you practice various yoga positions, breathing techniques and relaxation exercises.