Yoga for Beginners - A Guide To Get Started On Your Mat
Written by Claudia Fodera
Last Updated on 13th October 2023
Our guide "Yoga for Beginners: A Guide to Get Started on Your Mat" covers everything a newcomer to yoga needs to know, from the basics of yoga philosophy and breathing techniques, to an introduction to commonly used yoga poses. We offer tips on how to find the right class or home practice that works for you, props you might find helpful, and advice on necessary yoga equipment. We also provide guidance on how to choose appropriate yoga classes, considering factors like the class's style and the expertise of the teacher. Whether you're completely new to yoga or have dipped your toes in before, our yoga for beginners guide is designed to help you take your first steps onto the mat with more confidence and ease.
We will also look at the far reaching benefits of yoga that can help you in many parts of your life. We hope you enjoy your journey and start practicing yoga regularly to find out how rewarding yoga can be for your body and mind
Benefits of Beginners Yoga
As a beginner starting your yoga journey, the world of yogis warmly welcomes you. Let me assure you that the benefits of yoga are vast and encompass not only physical but also mental and emotional well-being. Regular yoga practice can bring about positive changes in your overall health and help you lead a more balanced and fulfilling life.
In fact, according to Patanjali, the man behind the Yoga Sutras - yoga asana (the physical postures) is only one of the 8 limbs of yoga. Asana forms such a small part of what yoga is about that out of the 196 Sutras, only 3 are about asana.
Let's start with the physical benefits. Yoga improves flexibility by stretching tight muscles and joints, which can reduce the risk of injuries and enhance your body's range of motion. Through various classes and practicing different poses, you'll gradually build strength in different muscle groups, toning your body and improving overall muscle balance. Moreover, yoga helps improve posture as it encourages proper alignment of the spine.
But there's so much more to yoga for beginners than just physical fitness. It's widely known for its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. Mindful breathing techniques incorporated into yoga practice promote relaxation, calmness, and a sense of inner peace. As you focus on your breath and tune in with your body during each pose, you'll find an increased sense of mindfulness that can carry over into your daily life, effectively helping you manage stress.
Emotionally, yoga for beginners provides a safe space to connect with yourself on a deeper level. It aids in cultivating self-awareness and acceptance, allowing you to explore any emotional blocks or limitations that may be holding you back. By practicing kindness and compassion towards yourself during yoga sessions, inevitably, you'll develop a stronger sense of self-esteem and self-love.
So as a beginner at yoga embarking on this transformative journey, remember that the benefits of yoga extend far beyond the physical realm. It is a holistic practice that can enrich your life, bringing balance, peace, and a deeper connection with yourself.
Now that we are aware of the incredible benefits of yoga, let's explore the tools that can enhance our yoga journey and make it even more enjoyable and effective.
- Yoga is a holistic practice that has vast benefits, including physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Regular yoga practice can improve flexibility, posture, muscle strength, reduce stress and anxiety, promote relaxation and inner peace, cultivate self-awareness and acceptance leading to increased self-esteem and self-love. Incorporating yoga into your daily routine can positively impact overall well-being by bringing balance and a deeper connection with yourself. To enhance your yoga journey further, explore the tools available to make it more enjoyable and effective.
Tools for Your Beginner Yoga Journey
As you embark on your yoga journey, there are a few essential tools that can enhance your practice and overall experience. While beginner's yoga can be practiced with minimal equipment, using the right yoga equipment can provide support, comfort, and aid in proper alignment during poses. These tools will come hand-in-hand with your yoga classes or home practice, ensuring a rewarding and enriching yoga experience.The first tool you'll need for your wellness journey in yoga practices is a yoga mat. A good quality yoga mat provides cushioning for your joints and grip to prevent slipping during poses. Look for mats made of eco-friendly materials that offer adequate thickness and traction, especially if you're planning on indulging in intensive sequences like vinyasa or ashtanga. Take your time to find a mat that suits your needs and personal preferences in your chosen yoga studio.
Next, consider investing in some yoga props. Props like blocks, straps, bolsters, and blankets can assist in modifications or adaptations of poses to accommodate any limitations or to deepen stretches. They add versatility to your practice and help you explore different variations as you progress.
When it comes to clothing, choose comfortable attire that allows for unrestricted movement. Opt for fabrics that wick away moisture to keep you cool during more vigorous practices such as vinyasa. Remember, being comfortable in your clothing allows you to focus fully on your practice without any distractions.
Additionally, consider creating a dedicated yoga space within your home or wherever you plan on practicing regularly. Find an area with minimal distractions, enough room to move freely, and perhaps decorate it with calming elements like plants or candles to create a peaceful atmosphere for your yoga practices.
Armed with the knowledge of these essential tools, you're ready to embark on your yoga journey with confidence and support. You're well-equipped to step into yoga studios and begin practicing sequences designed to enhance your wellness. Now, let's explore some basic poses and breathing techniques that are perfect for beginner's yoga.
When it comes to yoga for beginners, selecting the right mat is essential. A good yoga mat provides comfort, stability, and support during your practice, ensuring you have a safe and pleasant experience. Here are some key factors to consider when choosing your perfect yoga mat:
Selecting a Perfect Beginner's Yoga Mat
See our related article on creating a sacred space for your practice:
Thickness: The thickness of a yoga mat plays a significant role in providing cushioning for your joints and stability during poses. Thicker mats, typically around 6mm, offer more padding but can be less stable. Thinner mats, around 3-4mm, provide better balance and connection with the floor but may be less comfortable during kneeling or lying poses. Consider your personal preferences and needs to find the ideal thickness for you.
Texture: The texture of the mat affects grip and traction. Mats with a textured surface, like those with raised patterns or non-slip coatings, help prevent hands and feet from slipping during sweaty sessions, especially useful for flowy vinyasa or energetic ashtanga classes. If you tend to sweat a lot or practice hot yoga, opt for a mat with excellent grip to ensure stability throughout your practice.
Material: Yoga mats come in various materials such as PVC, rubber, TPE (thermoplastic elastomer), cork, and natural fibres. PVC mats are durable and affordable but may not be environmentally friendly. Rubber mats offer excellent grip but can have a strong odour initially. TPE mats are eco-friendly options that provide good cushioning and grip. Cork mats are natural and antimicrobial but tend to be heavier. Consider your priorities regarding sustainability, durability, and comfort while selecting the material. This decision is as critical as choosing the right yoga studio or course.
Size: Ensure that the dimensions of the mat suit your body size and type. Standard yoga mats typically measure around 172 -183cm long and 60cm wide. However, taller individuals or those practicing hatha yoga, which includes extended poses such as backbends and cobra, might benefit from longer mats for full-body support during lying postures like savasana.
Price: Yoga mats vary in price range based on their quality and features. As a yoga teacher would advise, establish control over your expenses. Determine your budget and look for a mat that meets your beginner yoga requirements within that range. Remember, an investment in a good-quality mat can enhance your yoga practice and last for years.
Take your time exploring different options, read reviews, and even try out mats at local stores if possible. Like completing an advanced hatha yoga backbend or achieving stillness in cobra pose, you'll find that the perfect yoga mat is the one that aligns with your unique needs, preferences, and budget.
Ideal Yoga Clothing & Equipment
Breathable Fabrics: Opt for clothing made from breathable fabrics like cotton or moisture-wicking synthetic materials that allow air circulation and help absorb sweat during your practice. This is specifically important if you're going deep into backbends, cobra pose, or ending with savasana.
Flexible Fit: Choose clothing with a flexible fit that allows you to move freely without any restrictions. Remember, mastering control over your postures is easier when your outfit allows it. Loose-fitting tops or tanks paired with leggings or stretchy pants work well for most yoga styles. However, be mindful of any loose fabric that might interfere with certain poses or distract your focus.
Layering Options: Depending on the temperature of the space where you practice, layering can be beneficial. Start with a comfortable base layer and add additional layers like lightweight jackets or sweaters that can be easily removed as you warm up.
My advice is that whatever you choose to wear during yoga, make it something that you won't have to adjust during your practice because of feeling self conscious. If you are uncomfortable with your belly being exposed for example, you don't want to have to worry about pulling down your top to cover up while moving from one pose to another. Pants that roll down are another product I can't abide. Whilst I can guarantee almost no one will be looking at your belly, the self consciousness you feel from clothes that aren't comfortable will most definitely detract from you being able to really immerse yourself in the practice.
While minimal equipment is required for practicing yoga, a few essentials can enhance your experience.
Yoga Blocks: Foam or cork blocks are used to modify poses, provide support, and increase accessibility. They can be especially helpful for yoga beginners who experience challenges in certain postures, such as difficult hatha yoga backbends. We prefer the natural texture and composition of cork for our yoga blocks.
Yoga Strap: A strap is a useful tool for deepening stretches and maintaining proper alignment in seated and standing poses, even something as subtle as savasana. It can also aid in increasing flexibility over time and providing better control over your poses. An adjustable strap will be most beneficial so that you can make it shorter or longer for different poses while still providing support and stability.
Blanket or Bolster: Having a soft blanket or bolster nearby can offer added support and cushioning during your practice. They can also be utilised for relaxation poses or as props for certain stretches. In fact, I would suggest that both a blanket and a bolster are essential props for use in yin yoga where support in poses forms the basis for the practice. After a long day in the studio or a demanding yoga course, these items become especially valuable.
Remember, the most important aspect of yoga clothing and equipment is their ability to support and enhance your practice. Whether you are a yoga beginner, a yoga teacher or a seasoned practitioner, choose options that allow you to move freely, feel comfortable, and enjoy every moment on your mat.
Yoga is a rich and varied practice, offering a wide range of poses to explore. Whether it's a challenging backbend, the controlled strength of cobra, or the relaxing savasana, there's a pose for every mood and every yoga teacher to share with their students. When starting your yoga journey as a beginner, it's crucial to familiarise yourself with some fundamental asanas or yoga poses that form the foundation of your practice. These poses, characteristic of different styles such as vinyasa yoga, kundalini yoga, and ashtanga yoga, not only help to build strength and flexibility but also introduce you to the mind-body connection that is at the heart of yoga.
Fundamental Beginner Yoga Poses
One of the most basic yet powerful poses is Mountain Pose (Tadasana), often incorporated in vinyasa yoga sequences. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, grounding them firmly into the mat. Engage your leg muscles while lengthening your spine, lifting through the crown of your head. Relax your shoulders away from the ears, and bring awareness to your breath as you find stillness in this pose.
Another essential pose for beginners yoga is Child's Pose (Balasana), a restorative asana common in yoga which provides a gentle stretch for the back and hips while promoting relaxation. Begin by kneeling on your mat and then lower your upper body down, allowing your forehead to rest on the ground or a block. Extend your arms forward or rest them alongside your body, finding comfort in this restorative pose.
This particular pose is a favourite of mine in dealing with pain in my lower back. I modify this pose by widening my knees and keeping by big toes together. This allows me to drop closer to the ground while also allowing me to not feel so tightly bound. This is your reminder to adapt poses to suit your body.
Moving on, we have Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), a prevalent posture in ashtanga yoga, which strengthens the upper body, stretches the hamstrings, and lengthens the spine. Start on all fours, tuck your toes under, and lift your hips up towards the ceiling. Press evenly through your palms and heels while actively engaging your core muscles. Allow a slight bend in the knees to maintain a lengthened spine.
A fundamental standing pose is Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II), which builds strength in the legs and improves balance. Begin by stepping one foot back while keeping both feet facing forward. Bend your front knee at a 90-degree angle, ensuring it aligns with your ankle. Spread your arms wide, parallel to the ground, and gaze over your front fingertips, feeling grounded and strong in this warrior-like pose.
Now that we have explored some fundamental yoga beginner poses, it's essential to warm up the body to prepare it for the practice ahead, regardless of whether you're gearing up for a vinyasa, kundalini, or ashtanga yoga session. Let's dive into some easy exercises for warm-up that can help you ease into a session smoothly.
Before diving into more dynamic asanas or yoga poses, it's crucial to warm up the body gently. Warming up helps increase blood flow, loosens muscles, and reduces the risk of injury during your practice. Here are a few easy movements, suitable for all yoga styles, you can incorporate into your warm-up routine:
Easy Movements for Warm-Up
1. Forward Fold: Stand tall, then hinge at your hips as you fold forward. Let your head hang, relax your neck, and reach for your shins, floor, or blocks. Breathe deeply and feel the stretch in your hamstrings.
2. Shoulder Circles: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Gently roll your shoulders forward in circular motions, gradually increasing the size of the circles. After a few rotations, reverse the direction. This helps open up the shoulders, a crucial area of focus in many yoga poses including those in ashtanga yoga.
3. Cat-Cow Stretch: Come onto all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees under hips. Inhale as you arch your back and lift your tailbone towards the ceiling (Cow Pose). Exhale as you round your spine upward, tucking your chin towards chest (Cat Pose). This stretch is a fundamental vinyasa used in different yoga styles to warm up the spine.
Remember to move slowly and mindfully through these warm-up exercises, paying attention to any sensations or limitations in your body. Take deep breaths and allow yourself to connect with your body's needs in that moment.
Now that we have prepared our bodies through warm-up exercises, let's move on to explore some basic yoga postures for beginners.
Breathing Practices in Yoga
The breath is a vital component of the yoga practice as it helps connect the mind and body and brings awareness into the present moment. Breathing exercises, or pranayama, play a significant role in regulating the breath, calming the nervous system, and boosting overall well-being. Let's explore a couple of common breathing practices in yoga:
Ujjayi Breath: Also known as "victorious breath," ujjayi breath involves inhaling and exhaling through the nose while gently constricting the back of your throat, creating a soft hissing sound similar to ocean waves. This deep diaphragmatic breathing technique helps calm the mind and brings a sense of focus during asana practice. When participating in a yoga class, I like to focus on my ujjayi breath for the whole practice. I find that it helps me to really immerse myself in the practice and my favourite classes are when teachers cue the breath to align with the movement of the pose.
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana): Start by sitting comfortably with your spine upright. Use your right thumb to close your right nostril and inhale deeply through the left nostril. Then close the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through the right nostril. Continue this pattern, alternating between nostrils with each breath. Nadi Shodhana balances the energy in the body and calms the mind. Here is a great video that explains what a wonderful practice this is and how to do it:
These are just two examples of breathing practices in yoga; however, there are many more techniques available that offer various benefits such as energising or relaxing effects. Incorporating regular breathing exercises into your yoga practice can deepen your connection to the present moment and enhance overall relaxation.
This is just a light introduction to Yoga for Beginners but if you are anything like me, there will be an aspect of yoga that will particularly resonate for you and perhaps also send you down a rabbit hole of learning. Yoga has so much to offer but it is really up to us to claim the parts of yoga that work for us as our own. Will it be yoga asana for you? Or will it be pranayama? Perhaps both? We are so lucky that there are a myriad of practices at our disposal. I really hope that you find yourself on a yoga journey soon - it is so rewarding.