Yoga 101: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Yoga is a fascinating tradition that is steeped in both physical and mental benefits and, for many, is life changing. If you want to begin yoga and start a successful yoga practice, here is a complete step-by-step guide just for you.

Yoga 101 The Complete Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

You may be under the illusion that yoga is all about back bending your way around the studio, being able to get your feet behind your head or creating that Insta-worthy pose of a handstand performed effortlessly on a tropical beach. In the West, this is the most popularised view of yoga, not helped by the advent of social media.

And sure, yoga may help you with all of this, however, it is actually about so much more! 

Yoga is a hugely encompassing range of spiritual practices to align the mind, body and spirit. It is a path of self-enquiry, a way to travel inward, getting to know yourself and exploring your mind and body. It’s also a way of life covering aspects of how you conduct yourself in the world, your breath and your mind.

Despite what social media may lead you to believe, yoga is not centred only on asana (postures) – this is actually just one aspect of eight parts of yoga! Check out the yoga philosophy section for a brief rundown.

Most people do begin their yoga practice with asana, however, following later with the deeper dimensions.

But here’s an interesting fact – the yoga tradition is over 5000 years old and did you know that for the first 1000 years, the only asana to master was sitting still?

Yoga MatOne of the beauties of yoga is that there are no prerequisites to practice; yoga is for everyone. It doesn’t matter whether you’re green, pink, small, large, can touch your toes, can’t sit cross-legged, female, religious, older or even come from the planet Zog, yoga is all-inclusive.

So, leave your inhibitions off the mat and just step onto it.

 

Summary:

To jump to a section, click the headings below.

Why practice yoga?

People begin yoga for a multitude of reasons ranging from physical health to mental wellbeing and some may not even know why they find themselves on the yoga mat.  

In a study by the Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal, over half of survey respondents referenced flexibility (61%) and stress relief (56%) as their motivation for starting yoga practice. Others included improving fitness (44%), strength (42%) and weight loss (21%).

There have been many scientific studies exploring the health and wellness benefits of yoga often citing that it can relieve neck pain and reduce depression, among others.

If you feel you need to...

  • Have a little ‘me time’
  • Lose some weight
  • Sleep better
  • Improve your concentration
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Reduce your stress levels
  • Improve your posture or flexibility
  • Do something positive
  • Feel stronger

...then yoga is for you.

A Brief Yoga Philosophy

Yoga is more than just the asana we practice. Yoga is a scientific discipline allowing the exploration of mind, body and spirit. It’s a path of self-enquiry, a way of life.

Sadhguru, Indian Yogi and founder of the Isha Foundation says “The word 'yoga' essentially means, ‘that which brings you to reality’,” (Sadhguru).

Yoga Philosophy

Patanjali, who systemised the ancient teachings and is often referred to as the ‘father of modern yoga’, composed 196 adages called the Yoga Sutra. These detail eight paths or stages of yogic lifestyle. Each stage relates to an aspect of achieving a healthy and fulfilling life and builds on the previous.

Yoga philosophy is a huge topic - too much to do justice to here! If you’re interested we’d recommend reading about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. A good book to start with is the Four Chapters on Freedom which offers a commentary on them.

Here is a (very!) brief overview of the eight stages;

  1. Yamas – your attitude towards others and the world around you
  2. Niyamas – your attitude and treatment of yourself
  3. Asana – Postures
  4. Pranayama – Life force
  5. Pratyahara – Sense withdrawal
  6. Dharana – Concentration
  7. Dhyana – Meditation
  8. Samadhi – Oneness

As you’ll notice, asana only features as one of the eight stages. Interestingly, some say if we can put into practice the elements of the Yamas and the Niyamas we’re already yogic.

The Practicalities

What Kit Will I Need?

So, what will you need in your beginner’s yoga quest? How do you start your yoga journey?

Well really, you don’t need an awful lot. You can even start just by using a towel on the floor at home.

Yoga Mat

Ideally however, we recommend using a yoga mat, particularly if you’re wanting to practice asana at home.

“I wish I knew the importance of a good yoga mat at the beginning. I’ve since tried a better-quality mat and realise the difference it makes to performing the various asana. I think that a lesser-quality mat actually has the potential to be quite damaging!” ~ Byron P., Beginner Yogi at Ashtanga Saadhana Yoga Shala, Mysore, India (December 2019)

Click here to check out our guide to finding the right yoga mat for you (article coming May 2020)

The Ultimate Yoga Mat Selection Guide 2020 Edition

At Plyopic we have a mat to suit every yogi and every style of yoga. All mats come with free & fast shipping, so you're just a click away from finding your perfect mat. To check out the full Plyopic Mat Collection simply click the image below (opens in new window).

Plyopic Yoga Mats Collection

If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge just yet, often gyms and yoga studios will offer the use of theirs. Trying a few Surya Namaskars (sun salutations) and Adho Mukha Svanasanas (downward dogs) on borrowed yoga mats will also help when buying your own.

Props

If you’re practicing at home you might also find it useful to keep a few props handy. Nothing fancy. Just grab a cushion off of your sofa or a pillow from your bed, perhaps some hardback books to use as blocks and a belt.

Yoga Props

Yoga studios and gyms will have any props needed available for you to use.

Clothes

Here’s another social media myth-buster - you don’t need any fancy colourful patterned skintight yoga pants to practice asana. Just pull on some comfy clothes and off you go.

Oh, and no socks or shoes required – free those feet!

Yoga Clothes

A Positive + Attitude

We think you’ll get the most out of yoga if you come to it with a positive mental attitude. Approach yoga with a little curiosity, have an open mind and an open heart.

Leave your self-limiting beliefs and pre-emptive thoughts about what yoga will be like at the door and just see how it feels. This will stand you in good stead and help you get the most from your yoga journey.

Where Can I Practice?

Another beauty of yoga is that you can practice (almost!) anywhere. So, whether you’re at home, on holiday poolside, in a hotel room, at the gym, in a yoga Shala or at the park, find yourself a little space on even ground (very important!) and roll out your mat. As with everything in life, each place has their pros and cons.

1. Practicing Yoga at Home

‘Home practice’ can also include roof-terrace yoga, park yoga or holiday apartment yoga. Essentially, it’s asana and/or pranayama practice where you’re not being led by a yoga teacher in person. Instead you may follow a free YouTube video, a program on a dedicated yoga website like Glo or even move through a sequence completely solo.

Yoga at Home

Pros:

  • No commute/traffic/stress/effort of getting to the mat – saves energy!
  • Saves time
  • Can be more affordable
  • Provides space to find your own rhythm
  • Relieves pressure to ‘perform’ or comparison with others
  • Makes the practice personal to you
  • You're free to listen to your body and what it needs that day
  • Practice anywhere, even when travelling
  • Works around your own schedule
  • Spend as much or as little time as you like on the mat
  • Access excellent yoga teachers from all over the world

Cons:

  • No guidance on postural alignment and corrections
  • Lacks personal feedback
  • Lacks governance of video and teacher quality
  • Lacks the structure and discipline of attending a class
  • Choosing which class can be difficult, particularly as a beginner
  • Lacks a social element, or group energy

 

There are a multitude of ‘at home’ yoga practices out there which is both a pro and con in itself! To save you some more time, we’ve done the leg work to find the best free online beginners yoga video series for you.

Follow Along at Home Series: Yoga with Adriene

An ultimate favourite is Yoga with Adriene. Her videos are available on YouTube or her own website and she has some great ones for beginners, like the one above.

You can even stick with her as your practice develops as she has a wide variety of videos.

We love her 30 day challenges which are a great way to develop a regular practice.

Follow Along at Home Series: Brett Larkin Yoga

This beginner morning yoga sequence from BrettLarkinYoga is also a great starter yoga video with some good information on alignment and key asana.

 

Whilst practicing yoga at home is a fantastic option with many pros, popping along to a few gym or studio classes would be a good idea when you first start out to ensure your postural alignment is sound.

Avoiding injury is key!

2. Practicing Yoga at a Gym

Yoga at Gym

Most gyms offer yoga classes and so bundling yoga into your normal gym routine is possible. Asana classes often complement other workouts quite nicely.

Pros:

  • Classes often included in cost of existing membership
  • High quality teachers
  • Structured classes
  • Opportunity to meet fellow yogis, provides group energy
  • Alignment guidance and correction
  • Dedicated yoga space
  • Free from ‘at home’ distractions
  • Advice provided for injuries
  • Can ask questions and obtain knowledge and support
  • Equipment provided
  • Build rapport with the teacher
  • Can tie yoga in with other gym workouts
  • Regular set classes help with routine building

Cons:

  • Cost and commitment of gym membership
  • Gyms sometimes employ some newer, less-experienced teachers
  • There can be noise distraction from other classes
  • Students come and go during practice
  • Have to follow a set schedule
  • Environment may be too hot, too cold, too noisy for personal preference

3. Practicing Yoga at a Yoga Studio

Yoga in a Yoga Studio

Studios dedicated only to yoga have sprung up all over the place and many offer a different experience to going to a regular gym.

Pros:

    • Wide range of classes available throughout the day
    • High quality and experienced teachers
    • Structured classes
    • Dedicated yoga space, rare distraction from other classes
    • Yoga centric environment often offering more than asana
    • Opportunity to meet fellow yogis, provides group energy
    • Free from ‘at home’ distractions
    • Equipment provided
    • Alignment guidance and correction
    • Can ask questions and obtain knowledge and support
    • Build rapport with your yoga teacher
    • Advice provided for injuries
    • Regular set classes help with routine building

    Cons:

      • Some studios can be costly
      • For some, they can be more intimidating to go to
      • Have to follow a set schedule

      Yoga Types: Where Do I Start?

      Types of yoga

      There are so many types of yoga out there, so how do you know which one will be right for you?

      Here's a brief summary of the history of yoga and the most popular types of modern yoga around.

      The tradition began over 5000 years ago and was passed down by word of mouth for centuries.

      The advent of modern yoga began in the late 1800s and in the 1920s, yogis including T. Krishnamacharya and Swami Sivananda promoted Hatha Yoga. Krishnamacharya opened a school in Mysore where he trained three followers who continued his legacy; Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar and T.K.V. Desikachar. These disciples developed Ashtanga, Iyengar and Viniyoga, respectively.

      Ashtanga

      Taken to the US by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, this practice synchronises breath with the asana through a specific sequence which is accomplished in the same way each time. It starts with Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A) and Surya Namaskar B (Sun Salutation B), proceeds with a standing sequence, a seated sequence and closing sequence. Sometimes it is practiced Mysore-style which is self rather than teacher led.

      Iyengar

      Named after B.K.S. Iyengar, is focussed on alignment and pranayama. It specifically introduces the use of props and is often practiced at a slower pace for students to go deeper into the postures. It is also good for people with injuries or ailments.

      Hatha

      A broad term for a yoga based on physical practice. It’s a great class to take as a beginner as it tends to be practiced at a slower pace.

      Bikram

      Popularised in the US in the 1970s by Bikram Choudary consists of ninety minutes of twenty-six asana accompanied by two breathing exercises. It is performed in 105 degrees heat and at 40% humidity.

      Yin

      A more restorative and meditative type of practice which focusses on lengthening the connective tissue in the body and is often performed using props.

      Vinyasa

      This is a derivative of Ashtanga yoga with the asana aligned with your breath. The pace is quick with asanas flowing from one to the next.

      What Types of 'Beginners’ Classes are there?

      Gyms and yoga studios will cater for beginners to yoga, often offering specific class types and times for those new to the practice. As a beginner, look for a ‘hatha yoga’ class which will be a broad range of physical asana practiced at a slower pace.

      Studios like TriYoga in London provide beginners classes for a range of different types of yoga like Iyengar, Hatha and Ashtanga or general ‘yoga’ classes.

      Some studios, like RYOGA in Rome, may offer an introduction to yoga to provide information on what to expect in a yoga class.

      Others like Pure Yoga in New York offers a ‘Basics class’ where the pace is slower and students can ask questions.

      If you’re unsure what may be suitable to you at your local studio or gym, just explain your experience, what you’re looking for and ask for their advice.

      Starter Asana

      Some basics to practice before hitting your first class

      If you’ve decided on which yoga you want to try but don’t want to dive in green, here are a few fundamental positions to try out before hitting your first class.

      SukhasanaEasy pose

      This is a good one to start with and is what it says on the tin – an easy pose!

      TadasanaMountain pose

      Simple yet effective. Particularly in a world where people stand awkwardly shifting their weight unevenly. This pose helps balance and create a solid foundation for all standing asana.

      Adho Mukha SvanasanaDown Facing Dog

      A very famous asana and something you will end up doing many times during a class.

      Runner’s Lunge

      A good starter posture to open up the hips and stretch your hamstrings.

      Balasana – Child’s pose

      A very restorative posture and something you can come back to at any point during your practice.

      Phalakasana – Plank pose

      This asana is included in a Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) or Vinyasa sequence so a great one to master.

      Ardha Bhujangasana - Baby Cobra

      A great starter posture that will be included in any beginners’ Surya Namaskar or Vinyasa sequence.

      Savasana – Corpse pose

      THE most important asana in yoga. You will do this, at least, as a final asana in any class to help the body’s rest and digest process. Sometimes it is also included as an opener to the class.

      When you first start out, don’t worry about creating the perfect posture, listen to your body and the postures will grow.

      Yoga Sequences for Specific Results

      Another beauty of yoga is that different asana and pranayama hold different benefits. Therefore, following a specific sequence can obtain specific results.

      Check out the videos below for some great sequences for weight loss, calming, to cultivate self-love or compassion and flexibility.

      Yoga for Weight Loss

      Classes to attend for similar results: Ashtanga, Vinyasa or Power Flow.

      Yoga for Calming

      Classes to attend for similar results: Yin or Restorative Hatha Yoga.

      Yoga for Compassion and Self-Love

      Classes to attend for similar results: Hatha yoga or Vinyasa Flow class focused on how you move.

      Yoga for Flexibility

      Classes to attend for similar results: Yin yoga or Ashtanga if practiced frequently.

      Pranayama and Breathing

      Pranayama is number four of Patanjali’s eight stages. Translated from Sanskrit, prana means energy, life force and yama means control, so pranayama is known to be the conscious awareness and control of breath.

      Ultimately, breath is the most essential element of life - we would not be here without it!

      According to Swami Rama (2004; Path of Fire and Light) “Control of breath leads to health, an increase in strength and energy, good complexion, increased vitality, the growth of knowledge and the extension of the life span…”

      Pranayama

      Practically, practicing pranayama holds many benefits including reducing stress and anxiety, increasing oxygen supply to the blood, balancing energy and stabilising mood.

      Even more reason to practice yoga.

      You will focus on your breath alongside the physical practice of asana, often holding postures for specific breath counts and transitioning between them on an inhale or exhale.

      Pranayama techniques may also be included as an additional part of any yoga class and some studios often offer it as a standalone practice.

      Many pranayama techniques can be practiced safely at home too, like the Nadi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing technique.

      How to keep a consistent routine

      You’ll see the benefits of yoga if you do it regularly.

      We all start with best endeavours but sometimes ‘life’ gets in the way, so here are some tips to help keep a consistent routine.

      If you want to practice at home, schedule specific time into your week dedicated to yoga. Start small and keep it manageable, perhaps just once per week or for ten minutes each time.

      Make it part of a normal routine. You could integrate it by practicing after a run or another form of exercise. Or even as soon as you wake up in the morning or the last thing you do just before bed - obviously selecting your sequence according to the time of day. You don’t want to be going to bed hyped up on adrenaline from an intense Ashtanga practice!

      Find a nice place to practice in that, ideally, you can keep your yoga mat rolled out in. As you keep practicing, the energy you cultivate on your mat will be enticing.

      Final Thoughts

      Whatever type or however you decide to begin yoga we are sure your journey will be a positive one.

      We hope this beginners’ guide to yoga has been helpful in getting you started on your yoga journey. If you have any comments we'd love to hear from you in the comment section below. And if you know someone else who would benefit from it, please use the buttons below to share it with them via email or social media. Sharing is caring :-)


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