Yoga is a vast world of different styles, techniques, and ideologies. Its wide application and universal appeal is what truly makes it unlike anything else. That being said, it can be hard to know where to begin and often intimidating to those looking to get started. Avid yoga students often spend years learning and practicing.
With this kind of dedication showcased it can be frightening for a beginner yoga student afraid of embarrassing themselves or seeming oblivious. While Yoga Now Chicago tries to cultivate an environment free of judgement and open to those willing to learn, it is natural that some beginner yoga students will still feel nervous about trying yoga for the first time. That is why we have compiled some yoga basics, in order to help build an introductory understanding of yoga as a whole. This way you can show up to a class feeling at least a little familiar with what is going on.
What is Yoga?
Yoga has a long history spanning thousands of years. It has its origins in India. The traditions of yoga were passed down orally for generations, long before it was first written down. By the 20th century yoga practices began to modernize and adapt as it spread to western culture. Now it is an international phenomenon that offers participants a great way to exercise, meditate, and take a brief break from our modern world.
Yoga is a practice that brings the mind and body together. By practicing different poses, often referred to as asanas, the body is pushed into different positions that can strengthen, stretch, and relax the body in order to provide physical and mental stimulation that keeps both forces in tandem. When both the mind and body are working as one, movements become second nature, especially in repetition. Once the task at hand becomes natural, the mind can focus on the present and enter a state of meditation.
Yoga for Beginners
Meditation, or the calming of the mind, is an important part of yoga. For some people it is the main inspiration for them to maintain their yoga habit. This doesn’t have to be the case for you as a beginner yoga student, but meditation can offer a lot of great benefits, both in a yoga classroom and in your day to day life. Meditation is a stilling of the mind that allows you to look inward at yourself and the tasks you have at hand.
While you can meditate without yoga, yoga offers a great physical and mental space to be in while meditating. Meditation of any kind requires a centering point from the outside world in which you can hold on to. Dedicated practitioners of meditation can focus on simple things such as a spot on the wall. Most people, especially those starting out or those who don’t meditate frequently, need a bit of a stronger grounding point. This is why chanting or tools such as a crystal bowl are used in order to create a constant tone or rhythm to focus on. A yoga class can be a great benefit for this because it offers a communal group who all participate in this process as one.
Breathing is the other half to the physical attribute that contributes to the act of yoga. Along with completing a series of poses, breathing helps fuel the body and maintain concentration. Yoga poses can be difficult to maintain, especially over the course of a class, but by having a strong and consistent breathing technique you can ensure you will have the strength to get you through the class.
Your breathing technique should be one that isn’t too fast or slow and one that intakes enough air to feel comfortable in what you are doing. The instructor often guides the class through this, setting a pace and rhythm.
Having a consistent breathing flow helps you mentally focus on providing strength and flexibility where needs while also looking inward. Breathing can be used as a centering point and its effectiveness is often enhanced while working as a group. Once you have acclimated to the flow of breathing of a yoga class you may notice that yoga is a much more cardiovascular activity than you anticipated.
Basic Yoga Poses
When first starting out you should only focus on a few fundamental yoga poses in order to build a base of understanding. While each instructor will do things their own way, here are some of the most common yoga poses.
In the child’s pose you will position yourself on your hands and knees and reach your hands out in front of you and hold your head down. As your exhale pull your hands back towards your thighs. This is a relatively simple pose that relaxes your muscles.
Downward Facing Dog
First you start on your hands and knees and start to lift your knees off the ground. In doing so your arms and legs become straight with your feet and hands flat on the ground. In the end your hips should be the highest part of your body with your arms and legs supporting you.
This is a great pose for transitioning out of a downward facing dog. From starting in that position you begin to lower your hips and raise your heels. Your toes should stay on the mat and your hands should remain flat. Your back will straighten out as you suspend yourself with your arms and legs.
Four Limbed Staff Pose
Similar to a plank pose, this position is held by your arms and legs with your toes on the mat and your hands flat. With your body straight, you can start to lower yourself towards the mat, like you are doing a pushup. Hold yourself in this position to build abdominal strength.
Standing on your mat you begin by bringing one foot up and resting it on your inner thigh. You hold your balance in this pose while holding your hands palm to palm at your chest to help support your center of gravity.
Start by standing in a wide pose with your arms out straight on each side. Then begin to bend at the hip and move towards one of your outward legs. As you do this begin to shift to maintain balance, moving the outward foot of the side in which you are bending towards the direction in which you are bending.
There are many more poses and subjects of interest to cover in order to fully understand the world of yoga. At this point the best way to learn is from the classroom. Find an introductory class in a style of yoga that interests you and start practicing. If you are interested in a Yoga Now class we’d love to have you join us. For further details and inquiries, please contact us.