Welcome! You may have landed here because you’ve heard how
wonderful yoga is for you and its many benefits. If you’re brand new to yoga you may be wondering where to begin – here are a few pointers to help you find your way.
What is yoga?
I’m a yoga beginner, which style should I start with?
How do I know if I’m doing it right?
What are the benefits of yoga?
How often should I practice yoga?
What equipment do I need for my home practice?
When is the best time to do yoga?
Can I eat before yoga?
Can I do yoga when I am menstruating?
I have a health condition. Can I still do yoga?
Can I do yoga while I am pregnant?
In very simple terms, yoga is a system for bringing balance into your body and mind. It involves the physical practice of yoga postures called asanas, and breathing exercises called pranayama. Yoga also includes meditation, self-inquiry, and the study of yoga philosophy. ‘Yoga’ in the Western world tends to focus mostly on the physical asana practice – the yoga poses. This is a great place to start but there is so much more to discover as you develop your yoga practice.
Hatha yoga is one of the main forms of yoga and many other yoga styles derive from it, so it’s a great place to learn the foundations and names of the poses. My Beginners Yoga course takes you through the basics and is based on Hatha Yoga. You will learn to move and flow with the breath.
If you’re practicing yoga at home without a teacher you might wonder if you’re doing the poses properly at first. It’s good to bear in mind from the beginning that our bodies and bone structures are all very different so there isn’t just one ‘right’ way to do a pose. It’s about finding out what works for our own bodies. Developing this body awareness takes practice so follow beginners’ yoga classes at first for more in-depth extra instructions and variations offered. It’s always a good idea to go to a teacher in person as well as online yoga if you can. The main thing to know is that yoga is not meant to hurt – that goes for whether you're practicing yoga at home on your own or in a class with a teacher. You will probably experience different sensations than you’re used to, and you may feel your muscles working, but if you feel any type of “warning” pain, such as sharpness or pinching, listen to your body and come slowly out of the pose.
Practicing yoga has many physical benefits: it creates a flexible, toned and strong body and improves breathing, energy and metabolism. Yoga improves circulatory and cardiac health, as well as fitness levels, pain and posture. It also has benefits for your mental health, making you happier, more balanced and emotionally calmer. It helps you relax so you can handle stress better. Yoga encourages self-confidence and helps you to focus your energy. The spiritual benefits of yoga are also key: Yoga teaches you to be aware of what is going on inside and outside of you. Yoga teaches you to be present in your surroundings and open to what is all around – in other words, more mindful. You will feel some benefits immediately, such as the release of physical tension, the body opening and muscle strengthening – the “feel good” factor that keeps people hooked on yoga. Other benefits depend on how much you practice and every person is different. But most people will feel a positive change after a few weeks, if not before.
Even if you practice once a week, you’ll feel the difference. If you can, try to practice two to three times a week but don’t let unrealistic expectations stop you from doing shorter practices. 10 or 20 minutes is better than doing nothing at all. In short, do what you can, when you can. Focus on, and be proud of what you do, rather than focusing on what you think you should be doing.
If you’re practicing yoga at home you can get started right away without any special equipment. Wear clothes you feel comfortable in that won’t restrict your range of motion. A yoga mat will provide some cushioning and help stop your hands from slipping in poses like Downward Facing Dog. For some poses, you might find a yoga block or two is helpful – but most of the time you can use something in its place.
Basically, it comes down to whenever you can fit yoga in. The morning is a great time to practice; you might wake up stiff, so opening up your body with some energizing yoga sets you up for the day. In the evening, a more relaxing yoga practice can be a nice way to unwind after work. Some of us are early birds while others are night owls, so experiment with finding your own yoga rhythm and what works for your schedule.
It is recommended to practice yoga with an empty stomach; at least two hours after a meal. Digestion of food requires energy and when you do yoga straight after a meal, your energy goes to the muscles you’re exercising and the body can’t digest the food properly. Personally, I might have half a banana or a handful of nuts if I feel I’m too hungry to practice, to give me the fuel I need.
Some women prefer to pause their yoga practice when they have their period while others keep going. Many teachers advise not to do inversions such as Headstand, Handstand, or Shoulderstand where the head is lower than the heart as they feel they interrupt the downward flow. Strong yoga twists may also be uncomfortable for some women. It really depends on the individual so listen to what your body tells you.
Many people practice yoga as a way to manage their health conditions. There are many different types of classes which suit different health needs and can also be adapted and modified for injuries. However, if you have a medical condition or injury and haven’t practiced yoga before, we recommend that you speak to an experienced yoga teacher (or physical therapist with knowledge of yoga) to get advice about any poses or movements you need to avoid.
If you are pregnant, check with your doctor or health professional before starting yoga. If you’ve never done yoga before, it’s generally recommended not to start during the first three months of pregnancy, since your body isn’t used to it. However, if you’re a regular practitioner, you can continue. But there are some poses to avoid, including twists and strong core work. You also need to be aware that during pregnancy and breastfeeding the body produces hormones (relaxin) which will make you more flexible, especially in the hips and pelvis. Therefore you will need to work more on maintaining stability in the joints so that you don’t overstretch them.