The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “yoj” which basically means to join or unite. This joining actually means the unification of body mind and soul. In this beginners guide to Yoga, we wiill take you through many elements of Yoga,, so that you can decide if it is the right fit for you.
People have been practicing yoga for more than 5000 years now. The Yoga discipline was developed by an Indian called Patanjali.
Yoga can help you in strengthening the body, stretching the muscles, improve focus & concentration and also to relax the body & mind.
This is why yoga has become popular all over the world and in the United States alone there are more than 11 million yoga practitioners. Depending on how you do it, yoga can be a set of exercises or a way of life.
Yoga and Yogis
People who perform yoga are known as yogis in India. Yogis normally abstain from lying, stealing, harming people and being greedy. Yogis are also known to follow certain basic things like keeping clean, maintain self control, being studious and devoted.
Yogis perform breathing exercises, which involve taking deep and full breaths. According to yoga breathing the life force and life is counted not in years however the number of breaths on takes during his or her life.
Yoga not only helps in strengthening the body however also making it flexible. Yoga exercises are called as asanas and many of these exercises make appear difficult and awkward to do initially. However once you practice and learn it properly, you can do it with easy. The real essence of yoga is to do exercises with easy and not force things.
Yoga is really not based on the no pain no gain concept. The idea is to stretch and do as much as you can the first time and over time improve the stretching.
Since yoga requires a lot of balancing work therefore you will also need to focus and concentrate. With improved concentration you can excel in so many other activities that you do in life like playing chess, golf, tennis or studying for examinations.
Naturally, when writing a beginners guide to Yoga, you have to discuss the poses iin Yoga. Most of the yoga poses follow nature and this is the reason the poses can be traced to the shapes of creatures like cobra, cow and lion.
For example in the cobra pose one would lie down with the face facing the floor. Lying on the stomach you will slowly inhale and raise your head with the hands supporting you. You will hold the raised head position for some time and then slowly come down exhaling back to the original position.
There are many benefits of practicing Yoga regularly. Performing yoga exercises not only provide strength and flexibility however also calmness of the mind. These exercises have an positive impact on muscles, glands and nerves and therefore several health benefits.
There are yoga exercises for specific health ailments like asthma, diabetes, back pain, leg pain, anxiety, stress, depression, arthritis and many more.
You can read a yoga book or beginners guide to Yoga like this one, watch some of the thousands of Yoga videos on YouTube to understand all the asanas and then slowly start performing this. The best way to learn would be to join a class where an instructor helps you to learn the asanas. Get all the information about these amazing techniques and resources at high tech yoga
You need not be in stressed mode in your life if you follow some basic yoga breathing exercises. With breath you can easily relax your body and mind. In fact as per yoga the natural state of the human body and mind is the relaxed state and this is how it should be most of the times.
Deep Yoga Breathing
Next in our beginners guide to Yoga, let’s discuss something we all do every day; breathing. Slow and deep breathing is a powerful way for not only energising the body however also calming the body. All the anxiety and nervousness will vanish and you will start to fell calm and cool. The real problem is that most people do not even devote 15 minutes a day to perform deep breathing exercises regularly.
Slow, steady and quiet deep breathing sends a message to the nervous system to be calm and cool.
There are numerous books and articles that have been written about yoga breathing and the benefits. However you can really see and feel the benefits only when you start performing it regularly with out fail.
Yoga Breathing Steps
To make the process simple and easy, here are some steps that will take you only 5 minutes to perform. Once you learn this you can repeat it several times during the day to get full benefit.
1) First find a place and a chair where you can sit without being disturbed. Sit on the chair upright with your spine absolutely straight. Don’t rest or lean while sitting. Let your feet touch the floor flat. If required use a cushion on the floor so that the feet are relaxed and comfortable placed on the cushion. Your knees should de directly above the centre point of the feet. Now place your hands on the knees.
2) Now close your eyes and let the eyes rest behind those closed eyelids.
3) Think about your lungs, which are protected by the ribcage at the front, back, and the sides.
4) Slowly inhale and let your lungs fill up and your ribs expand slowly. Don’t try to force the breath. Hold the breath for a few seconds and then start exhaling so that your lungs get empty and the ribs come back and in.
5) Initially you can do this yoga breathing exercise for couple of minutes. Once you are comfortable increase the duration to 10-15 minutes. Best would be to set aside a time everyday when you perform this exercise.
Once you feel the energy and calmness you will want to do it several times during the day.
What is Ashtanga Yoga
Next in this beginners guide to Yoga, let’s discuss a very popular style of Yoga, Ashtanga. Ashtanga Yoga, practices correctly, leads a person to discover their full potential on all levels. Through breathing, postures and gazing point, you learn to regain complete control over all your senses and to become aware of yourself once again. Regular maintenance results in a steady mind and a steady body.
Ashtanga means eight limbs and, as described by Patanjali, they are:
- Yama – Abstinence
- Niyama – Observance
- Asana – Posture
- Pranayama – Breath Control
- Pratyahara – Sense Withdrawal
- Dharana – Concentration
- Dhyana – Meditation
- Samadhi – Contemplation
Each one of these supports the others. You must establish Asana for Pranayama to work and this is key to developing proper practice of Yama and Niyama. These are the external limbs and, once properly rooted, the other four internal limbs will evolve.
Vinyasa translates as “breath synchronized movement”. Breath is the very heart of this and links the asanas in a very precise order. If you can learn to synchronize breath and movement, and practice your Mula and Uddiyana Bandhas, you should experience internal heat. This is what purifies your organs and your muscles, getting rid of toxins and is responsible for minerals and hormones being released. When you sweat during Yoga you must massage it back in to the body as this enhances the nourishing qualities of the hormones and minerals.
Ashtanga Yoga contains three sequences:
Primary Series – Yoga Chikitsa – Detoxification and body alignment
Intermediate Series – Nadi Shodhana – Purification of the Nervous system
Advanced Series – Sthira Bhaga – Integration of strength and the grace of the entire practice
Each level must be developed before you can proceed to the next one. And asana order must be followed exactly. Each separate posture prepares you for the next on, in turn developing the balance and the strength required to move forward.
Deep and even breathing are vital to Ashtanga Yoga. Breath is life and the very act is fundamental to the sequence. Exhalation is the act of moving towards God and inhalation s inspiration from God. Our very last act in life is an exhalation – total surrender.
No effort is equal to no benefit. The three “S’s” of Ashtanga Yoga are Stamina, Strength and Sweat. It is a demanding Yoga and requires dedicated practice in order to tap into the energy that flows through the body.
Mysore Self Practice
Mysore Self practice is the most traditional and effective form of Ashtanga Yoga. It is suitable for all levels, from beginners to the most experienced.
Mysore self-practice has been described as “a private class in a group environment”. Each person can work to their own pace at the same time as receiving attention and instruction. The teacher will also note and help you make any physical adjustments.
Daily practice is necessary for self-practice to work effectively. It must also be said that, if you wish to learn ashtanga Yoga, you must not just read a beginners guide to Yoga, yet rather consult the services of a teacher who has been traditionally trained and is fully qualified. This is the only way to ensure that you get the guidance you need for safe and steady progress without causing any injury, to either your mind or body.
Ashtanga Practice Guide
Ashtanga means, in literal terms, eight limbs. The reference is to the eight different aspects of Yoga that are explained and practiced in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. If you are planning to take up Ashtanga Yoga, you should take note of these tips for good practice:
Never practice on a full stomach. Always wait, at the very least, 3-4 hours after you have eaten before practicing any Yoga. You may drink small amounts of water or an herbal tea before however not during or for at least 30 minutes after.
Evacuate your bowels and bladder before starting. To help with this, practice the Sun Salutations, inverted and standing poses. If you have been ill with a cold or the flu, make sure you fast for one day to ensure your body is more flexible.
Be clean. Whether you are attending a class or doing Ashtanga at your own home, you should bathe and wear clean clothes for every session. Have clean mats or rugs. Cleanliness is one of the eight aspects – it brightens your mind and calms you.
Be comfortable. Always wear comfortable stretchy clothing, such as leggings, t-shirts and shorts. These allow for freer movement of the body without any restrictions. No jewellery must be worn and no socks.
Be prepared to sweat. A lot. Instead of wiping the sweat off though, massage it into your body. Do not drink anything – if you have a dry throat, saliva should be sufficient.
Never force yourself. Try to relax your facial muscles and do not hold on to any frustration or anger – the postures will come easier. Yoga is about working with the emotions not against them.
Be aware of your breathing. This is vital for asana during which Uljayi breathing is used. Relax and open your throat – every breath should produce a sound. Your breathing must be deep, strong and soft and will help to expand the lumbar area, diaphragm and chest, as well as the back.
Learn Drishti. This is an important part of Ashtanga Yoga and is connected with breathing. Each position has different gazes – end of the nose, belly button, between the eyebrows, etc. It takes years to get the practice to the stage that simply gazing will balance and relax you.
Use Mula Bandha during practice. This is the Root Lock. Also, use the abdominal lock – Uddiyana Bandha. The root lock is contracting the anus, which, in turn contracts the pelvic floor. Abdominal lock is contracting the lower abdomen back to the spine.
Vinyasa. Learning to synchronise breathing and movement is vital. How you enter a posture and leave it is a part of the Yoga and must be smooth and balanced.
At the end of every session, there is a relaxation stage. This is one of the most important parts and must be done. The relaxation stage helps you enter into meditation and helps to stave off headaches, tiredness and irritability.
Ashtanga Yoga should be practiced 6 days a week with one day off. During menstruation, women must rest up for the first three days and must not enter inter inverted postures.
Practicing Ashtanga Yoga At Home
Practicing Yoga at home is one of the easiest things in the world. You don’t need anything in the way of expensive equipment, just yourself and a room. In today’s busy world, it isn’t always possible to make it to every Yoga class however it is important to keep your practice up. As Ashtanga Yoga practitioners, we advocate the group environment method however we do understand that isn’t always possible so we have some tips for you to practice Ashtanga and Vinyasa Yoga at home.
Set Sequence. Sticking with the same poses every day is a very powerful way to be consistent. It helps you to see your progress, see the changes in yourself. There’s no thinking about what to do next, you just move gracefully from one pose to the next.
Minimum Practice Time. You must set a minimum time each day, even if only for 15 or 20 minutes. Anything over and above your set time is a bonus.
Sanctify. Turn a set spot in your home into your practice zone and, once in that zone stay there. Focus only on your Yoga – switch off the phone, the TV, no music, no distractions. Your practice time and zone are sacred.
Time. Always take the time to sit in stillness and silence. Include this a part of your practice time – it will bring about a sense of peace and fulfillment.
Invert. Turn yourself upside down every day, whether it’s a headstand, shoulder stand or Viparita Karani. It clears your head and your perspective.
Classes. Make sure you do get into a class on a regular basis or a workshop. A great teacher will notice areas that need tuning and it gives you the motivation and the inspiration to continue at home.
Smart Sequencing tips
Get in touch with your breathing – try Uijayi Pranayama, either seated or in a child’s pose.
Warm up the spine and the backs of your legs very slowly with gentle stretches. Try the rag doll forward fold or gentle lunges.
Sun Salutations – These are vital to your sequence – Surya Namaskar A and B. Make sure you follow the breath and be very precise when you go through the Vinyasa positions – Chaturangas are not to be skimped on.
Standing/Balancing Poses – Include Trikonasana or Parsvokonasna in your practice. Pay attention to your hip flexors with the Lizard or Runners Lunge or a low lunge, arching the arms back over the head.
Seated Poses – Make sure your practice includes twists, forward folds and hip openers and ensure you treat both sides of your body equally.
Focus on your core strength by using long and strong Chaturangas, the Navasana pose, and the side and forearm planks.
Backbends – practice when you have warned up properly – try the Camel, Locust, Bridge or Bow pose to build up strength in the spine area and to open your chest. Make sure you stay fully engaged with your Bandhas throughout your backbends and practice to ensure a strong lift at the navel to increase the space in your lower back.
After backbends, finish with a forward fold to neutralise the spine.
Finish with inversions and any other quiet pose.
Savasana – Allow your mind to relax and your body to become receptive to the movement
Meditate to finish.
Naturally, this beginners guide to Yoga needs to mention what to wear, and how to find appropriate yoga clothing. This should not be too difficult. There are plenty of shops, online and offline, to shop fitting yoga clothes.
Important points to consider when buying yoga clothes
It is best to try yoga clothes in a shop and find out what suits you well. Only go for clothes that you feel most comfortable.
Yoga pants should either have a full-length or Capri.
Yoga pants must fit well.
The fabric should be breathable.
Enjoy the great selection of yoga clothes online and find the best yoga clothes at the best price.
Before you decide to buy one should know whether the selected yoga clothes fit well. Yoga clothes should fit well, or there might be problems when doing a yoga movement or keeping a yoga position. Make sure that your yoga clothes are not too tight or too loose.
Wearing yoga clothes you must be able to move easily and freely and the fabric should be breathable. Experts say that cotton, or a substance with high cotton content is the best material for yoga clothing. Cotton is breathable and will easily absorb sweat.
Where to buy yoga clothing
Online – Online shopping provides several advantages not to be overlooked. Online there are a great selection of yoga clothing in all styles and you can go with just one mouse click from one shop to the other. Without having to traverse half the city. Before buying, however, you should inquire about the exchange opportunities.
Special yoga shops – You can also look for a shop specialising in yoga clothing. In urban areas there is usually enough of such shops. However for people in the countryside, this may be a problem. In a special yoga shop, you can try the clothing before buying it right away and find the right size. Special yoga stores usually have a wide range of yoga clothing in different styles and you can choose what you like best.
Ordinary clothes shops – To practice yoga you need not necessarily wear special yoga clothes. If you are practicing yoga exercises at home you can always wear normal clothes. Light cotton clothing is suitable for all yoga exercises. For training at home you still need a yoga mat and maybe a beginners guide to Yoga.
Beginners guide to Yoga
We hope you found our detailed beginners guide to Yoga everything you needed to get you motivated to try Yoga out; either in a face to face class, or online. All the best with your practice and I hope you stick with it for years to come!