A beginners guide to yoga
Starting something new on your own can be exciting and a little scary at the same time. Not knowing what to expect but wanting to try can be a confusing place to be in. So here I’m going to share my top tips for anyone looking to start yoga.
Firstly there is sooooo much to yoga. If you google the word Yoga you’ll get nearly 2 billion results, so that’s a bit overwhelming and finding where to start can be a little tricky, so let's break this down. Yoga has many definitions but for the majority of people when they think of yoga they think of physical practice and that’s what I’ll start with today.
Yoga Asana (yoga poses) can be practised anywhere; gym, studio, at home, on the beach, on a sunny terrace in Ibiza (my personal fav), in a forest, literally anywhere. And actually you don't need anything fancy to practise yoga, just yourself and some space.
I began my yoga journey in a gym class in Australia in 2001, I really enjoyed the class and felt very calm afterwards. I think things have changed and perhaps most people find yoga online rather than in a gym nowadays, but I could be wrong. There is a tonne of free yoga online but there is something very special about being in a class with others and a teacher.
There are a lot of different styles of yoga from Ashtanga, Hatha, Vinyasa,Rocket, Power Yoga, Menopause yoga, Yin, Restorative, Kundalini, Acro, Ariel, Hot. Let me give you my breakdown of these styles and what you would typically expect in these classes.
Ashtanga - a set sequence that is led by a teacher or can be practised at home. You could go to any studio in the world and if it is the Ashtanga sequence you’d do the same series of postures. This is a strong practice for those looking to build strength and enjoy repetition.
Hatha - this is a broad umbrella term for a style of yoga which can be a little slower and typically you can expect to hold poses for a few breaths. Some teachers may add flow elements to this class but some may not. This is a more moderate pace of practice for those looking for something a little more calming and grounding.
Vinyasa Flow - or sometimes called flow yoga. This is a faster moving pace of class where the movements are linked to breath in a sequence. This could look like down dog, cobra, downdog, or a sequence of lunging poses. This is a quicker pace of class for those who like creative sequencing and dynamic movements.
Rocket - a style of yoga based on the Ashtanga sequence but with modifications. This is a fast and physically demanding class. The clue is in the name here,
Power Yoga - a style where there will be a focus on strength building, typically with a focus on endurance. If you’re looking to sweat and build strength then this is the one for you.
Menopause yoga - a specifically designed class by women for women who are at a stage of menopause. There will be elements of education on how yoga practices can support your health during menopause as well as poses, breathing techniques and meditations.
Yin Yoga - a series of seated or reclined poses which are held for a longer period of time from 1.5-5 mins. Mainly the poses are focussed on the lower body but there are a few upper body poses that can be added. This is a more relaxing style of class. Ideal if you’re looking for a slower pace and a very calming class.
Restorative yoga - in a restorative class the focus is on complete relaxation. Good for managing stress and releasing tension in the body. Poses are all seated or reclined and use a lot of props to make everything maximum comfortable. Ideal for those managing stress or injury.
The following styles of yoga I have very little personal experience of, but here is a general overview.
Kundalini - a practice around shifting energy through chanting, repetitive movement and breathing practices. You will typically see the teachers wearing all white clothing.
Acro - this is a partner style of yoga combined with acrobatics.
Ariel - this style uses straps which are attached to the ceiling or from a swing like base.
Hot - this is a style practised in a room heated up to around 33-40 degrees with a lot of humidity. If you enjoy sweating then this is for you. This class is not suitable for all, especially pregnant women.
Secondly, With so many styles of yoga to choose from it is wise to try a few and see which you enjoy, or speak to a good friend who can recommend a class they have enjoyed, Sometimes at gyms the class is just called yoga, to find out more call or email the gym and they should be able to advise.
If you're looking to start at the gym this is a good option as most gyms include classes with their membership package. The gym has it’s own equipment and the classes will generally be very busy with sometimes up to around 30 people in the class. If you are brand new or have any injuries or pregnancy it is important to talk to the instructor to let them know your situation.This will be better for you and the teacher so they can help keep you safe in class. In the gym setting you might find there is a lot of external noise from the weights or the hustle and bustle of the building.
A yoga studio will have perhaps more styles of yoga offered and typically will have more yoga props. In my experience studio classes are generally smaller numbers of participants and you’ll have more chances to interact with the teacher. In this scenario you’ll be able to perhaps have greater personal attention and have a more relaxing experience with no external distraction.
1:1 yoga is where you have a session with just the teacher and you to focus on the specifics that you would like to develop. This is ideal for those with specific injuries or perhaps you’ve been practising for a while and are looking for some tips on techniques or modifications.
Yoga at home - since 2020 and C19 a huge number of teachers (including me) had to take their classes online. Personally I love yoga at home as I can simply roll out my mat and then after class roll into the kitchen and get dinner going. The beauty of a home practice is you can add your own flavour, you don't even need a teacher. So if you want to practise for 20 mins or 2 hours you can, if you’d like to spend 30 mind working on your balance poses, or have 10 mins in a lovely supported restorative pose you can as you have all the home props available to you. However having an online class does mean you’re not in a physical space but a good teacher will make sure you feel part of a community and very welcome.
Third in my list of tips is to not give up. Ok so picture this, you’ve got yourself ready, you walk into the class, talk to the lovely friendly teacher (me) and roll out your mat (near the front where you can see and hear the teacher, no point in hiding at the back). Class begins and you are feeling good, maybe a little stiff, but good. Then out of the corner of your eye you can see people touching their toes or balancing on one leg with ease and then the dreaded comparison creeps in and then by the end of class you’ve talked yourself out of going again because you’re not flexible/bendy/strong/insert the adjective of choice here, but these things only come with time and dedication. That’s what yoga is, a study of yourself, how you react in situations and how to manage those reactions. So in this situation do you a) never come back and miss out on all the fun of yoga or b) be a little kind to yourself and reframe those thoughts to say ok I can’t touch my toes yet, I’m working on getting better at my balance or whatever it might be. You get my drift.
My last point here is what you see on social media if you put in #yoga is not typical of what you’ll see in a class (and definitely not in any of my classes). So don’t panic, yoga is not about putting your foot behind your head, balancing on one hand upside down or really any of that stuff. Most of that level 1000 stuff is for a tiny percentage of folk, and for the majority yoga is not about how it looks but how it makes you feel. How it can help you with your life off of the mat, how you can be a better person, a better friend/partner, how you can self-regulate and most importantly be part of a kind and loving community.
So if after all of my sage advice you’re keen for a class, send me a message or book yourself in and I’d be most happy to see you on the mat. And if you are looking for something I don't offer I’d be most happy to signpost you to a teacher that might be able to.