Basics of Yoga
The word “yoga” comes from the ancient Sanskrit word “yuj”, which means “to yoke” or “to unite”. Yoga is much more than physical poses and sequences. Yoga is about unifying the body with the mind. This is achieved through poses (āsanas), breathing techniques (prānāyāma), and meditation (dhyani).
The origins of yoga stem from the Hindu religion in India, and date back as far as 5,000 years. The yoga we practice today is much different than what was practiced then. However, many of the core principles are the same.
Today, the majority of yoga practiced is considered Hatha yoga, or the physical branch of yoga. There are various types of yoga ranging from vinyasa, or flowing yoga, to yin yoga, or restorative yoga, to Bikram yoga. Be sure to ask your yoga studio for assistance when taking your first class.
Benefits of Yoga:
- Increases flexibility and mobility
- Increases muscle strength and tone
- Improves posture and core strength
- Improves circulation and respiration
- Increase cardiovascular health and lower blood pressure
- Improves sleep quality and relaxation
- Improves balance and mental focus
- Protects joints and spine from injury
- Improves athletic performance
Before Your First Yoga Class
Choose the right class – Just because a class fits better into your schedule does not mean you’re ready for it. Schedule time to take at least 3-5 beginner classes before moving up a level and always consult your instructor for recommendations first.
Bring the right gear – Wearing clothes that are baggy are quite honestly a pain in yoga class. You dont have to wear those fancy yoga briefs, but plan on wearing a fitted tank top or t-shirt, and slim fitting bottoms (men if you want to wear basketball shorts, just make sure to have some compression shorts on underneath). There’s no need for socks or gloves.
Don’t go to class on a full stomach – With twisting, bending, and upside-down poses, your stomach may become a little unhappy. Try to avoid eating 2-3 hours before taking class, and if you must eat before, try something small like a banana or a handful of almonds.
Arrive early – Get to the studio at least 10-15 minutes before your first class to fill out the necessary paperwork and get yourself set up for class. Pick a stop in class where you are comfortable, but can still clearly see the instructor. Also, if possible, connect with your teacher and tell them it’s you first class, they will be able to give you the proper modifications that way.
Grab all the props – Be sure to ask the studio before you arrive if you need to bring your own mat. Many have mats you can borrow or rent if you don’t want to invest in one quite yet. Once you choose your spot in the studio, pick up any props they may have, including blocks, a strap, or blankets. These are useful for helping you get deeper into poses or stretches and will help keep you in correct alignment.
Common Yoga Mistakes
1. Holding your breath – Make sure to always come back to your breath. Holding your breath will impede your mobility as well as keep tension in your muscles. Make sure to take deep breaths and allow your belly and chest to expand fully. Try to match your breath to the movements, your instructor should help guide you through each movement with the correct breath.
2. Pushing yourself too hard – Yes, headstands and splits may look cool, but rushing into poses that you aren’t ready for can lead to injury or pulled muscles. Mastering the basic poses first will ensure that you have the proper strength and flexibility to move onto more advanced poses. And always know, Child’s Pose is always an option if you need a rest, it will allow you to re-center and check in with what your body needs.
3. Thinking too much – Comparing yourself to others and thinking about what’s for dinner will prevent you from getting the full benefits of yoga. Because of the mind-body connection it is important to focus on yourself. If your mind wanders, you may likely get frustrated watching someone else or could possibly injure yourself in balancing poses. Focus on your breath and the poses that feel good for your body. In time, you will develop more strength and flexibility.
4. Skipping Savasana – Savasana, or the cooldown, is one of the most important parts of yoga, not only does it allow you to meditate and and relax, but it is important for preventing muscle soreness. Taking a few minutes to bring your heart rate and blood pressure down will also prevent dizziness and help you feel rejuvenated.
Basic Sun Salutation Sequence
1. Stand in Mountain pose with feet 2 inches apart and parallel and lengthening the crown of your head to the ceiling. Place your hands together in front of your heart. Take 2-3 deep breaths.
2. Inhale, raising arms up and slightly extending backwards to open up the chest. Gaze up towards your hands and keep lengthening your spine.
3. Exhale, and hinge at your hips to into Forward Fold. Reach your hands towards to floor and bend your knees if necessary. Keep reaching the crown of your head to the floor and you tailbone up to the ceiling.
4. Inhale, and lengthen your spine into a flat back and bringing your hands to your shins.
5. Exhale, fold back forward, and brings your hands all the way to the mat, bending your knees if needed.
6. Inhale, step one foot into a lunge, and step the other foot back to come into Plank, keeping your abdominals engaged and lengthening out through the crown of your head.
7. Exhale, lower into Chaturanga (or the downward phase of a tricep push up).
8. Inhale into a cobra pose, keeping your elbows slightly bent (or keeping your elbows on the mat) allowing your shoulders to relax away from your ears. Make sure there is no compression in the lower back and keep your abdominals engaged.
9. Exhale to shift your weight back, lifting your hips up, and pressing your heels down into Downward Facing Dog. Keep your back as flat as possible and your shoulders strong.
10. Take a few breaths here if you’d like and then return back to Plank, step forward into Lunge, and return to Mountain Pose. Repeat 4-6 times getting deeper into each pose.