“Educate yourself on the various styles of yoga classes that are offered, and pick a class that peaks your interest. You can try different styles and then decide which you like best.”—Charity Poole
Where Do You Start Your Yoga Practice?
So you have decided to begin a yoga practice, and are wondering where to start. If you are a beginner, consider taking classes from a certified instructor.
While yoga videos are convenient and inexpensive, it is ideal for beginners to learn face-to-face from an instructor. This will ensure that you are doing the poses accurately, to avoid injury and achieve maximum benefit.
Once you have learned the correct alignment, you can certainly take your practice home, but there is also something special about taking class in a group setting. There is a wonderful energy that is generated from practicing with others, a synergy that is created as the group collectively shares in the experience.
That being said, you will need to find a studio. Start by researching studios in your area and explore their class offerings. Educate yourself on the various styles of yoga that are offered, and pick a class that peaks your interest. You can try several different styles and then decide which you like best. Obviously if you are new to yoga, you will want to chose an “All Levels”, “Beginners” or “Basics” class.
Try Different Teachers
In an “All Levels” class you will find both beginning and intermediate yogis, and the instructor should offer modifications and “kramas” (stages) of the poses in varying degrees of difficulty.
It is a good idea to try out a few different teachers, and even different studios until you find the right fit. Look for one whose atmosphere suits you best, one whose energy resonates with you. It should be a place where you feel a sense of serenity, comfort and ease. Your studio will be your yoga home, so take your time and choose wisely.
To help you prepare for your first class, here are a few basic poses that you can familiarize yourself with beforehand, to help you feel a little more comfortable once you step into the studio.
Yoga Pose 1: Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- From all fours, set your hands slightly in front of your shoulders, and your knees under your hips.
- Spread your fingers wide and root through the knuckles and the tips of each finger.
- Tuck the toes, and press into the palms as you straighten the legs, and lift the hips up and back.
- The feet should be hips’ distance apart. Feel the sensation of the thighs pressing back as the heels reach for the earth.
- Lift through the belly, engaging your core. This will lift some of the weight off of your wrists and shoulders.
- Keep the head between your arms. Draw the shoulder blades down the back.
Yoga Pose 2: Plank (Phalakasana)
- From Downward Dog, keeping a lift in the belly and taking care not to drop into the low back, draw the torso forward until your shoulders are lined up over your wrists.
- Keep your arms perpendicular to the floor, spread your collarbone, and press the heels toward the wall behind you.
- Press the thighs toward the ceiling. You should feel your core really working here!
- This takes the form of the top of a push-up.
Yoga Pose 3: Chaturanga (Chaturanga Dandasana)
- From Plank, bend the elbows and keep them tracking directly behind the shoulders, tucked in toward the rib cage.
- Slowly lower the torso and hips at the same time, keeping the body parallel to the floor.
- Hover a few inches off the floor, balancing the body on the hands and toes.
- Beginners often lack the core strength to lower through chaturanga while keeping the body parallel to the floor, so you are welcome to first drop your knees to the earth, then lower the torso down and straighten the legs back.
- Your core is key here, so focus on drawing your belly toward the spine and maintaining that lift in the abdominals. The legs should be very active, firming the thighs.
Yoga Pose 4: Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
- With the wrists aligned directly beneath the shoulders, press firmly into the hands and scoop the chest forward through the arms, lifting the head and trunk as far back as is comfortable.
- Simultaneously un-tuck your toes, pointing them straight back, and press the tops of the feet down as you extend the legs behind you. Keep the thighs and calves firm, the legs fully stretched and lifted off of the earth.
- Pull the pelvis forward. Allow the gluteal muscles to be soft. Feel your heart lift as you spread your chest. To avoid strain in the wrists, remember to continue rooting into the knuckles of the index fingers.
The Constant Connecting Component
In a Vinyasa Flow class, you may hear the instructor tell students to “move through” or “take” a vinyasa. This simply means to flow from Downward Dog, to Plank, to Chaturanga, to Upward Dog, and back to Downward Dog. Vinyasa, literally translated from Sanskrit means, “connection.” This series of postures connects movement and breath, as well as being the constant connecting component in a Vinyasa Flow sequence.
Familiarity with these basic poses will help you confidently enter your first class. The most important thing to have, however, is the desire to learn, to grow, and to restore.
Knowledge, strength, and flexibility will come with practice. Remember that every advanced yogi was once a beginner, too. You will never forget the first time that you step onto the mat, and begin your journey into the magic of yoga.