A few weeks back, I wrote a post about how yoga is great for cyclists. Thanks to those of you who contacted me to say that you too find yoga really beneficial, not only for cycling but for your general fitness and wellbeing. Some of you contacted me saying; ‘Yeah, great idea, but I’m so inflexible, I daren’t go to a class because I’m sure I won’t be able to do it!’. So, this post is for those of you who think yoga isn’t for you. It aims to put those concerns at rest and give you some words of reassurance on which yoga for beginners you should opt for!
Firstly, I came to yoga out of necessity, although I am so grateful I was enthusiastically steered towards it. It is something I now adore. So many of us have back problems, and mine, which I’ve mentioned in various posts, has really benefited from regular yoga practice. With regular yoga practice I can avoid medication and I find it really helps to strengthen my core and the paraspinal muscles, as well as just generally loosening everything and opening it all up.
We talk about yoga practice. And yoga is just that! A practice! No one expects you to take to the mat for the first time and to be a flexible yoga pro. Our bodies and their individual capabilities and traits are all unique and we should embrace that! The wonderful thing about yoga is that it caters for each and every one of you and your amazing bodies!
Yoga for beginners
I know instagram is full of yogi pictures in all sorts of unimaginable poses. Check out the #yogaeverydamnday to see some incredible yoga! But don’t let these put you off. These people will have been practicing for years (or be ex dancers or gymnasts!). In yoga, you only do what your body allows. So, stop panicking about whether you will be able to do the moves and the balances. All of the postures are adaptable for all levels of yogi, from beginner to advanced, and the other people in the class will be focusing so much on their own practice, that I promise you, they won’t be bothered one iota whether you can touch your toes, balance on one leg or flex your foot up to the back of your head! Honestly!
Which Style of Yoga for Beginners?
There are so many different kinds of yoga and the truth is, there is a class for you. Advanced yoga poses take time. A lot of time! So don’t expect great shakes from your body. There are eighty year old women at my yoga class with greater flexibility than me! I have metal rods in my back and incredibly tight hamstrings from my sporty youth and my cycling. I don’t give it a second thought. Accept what your body can do, not what it can’t! Go with it, do what it allows, but don’t overly push it or be embarrassed by it. I can’t stress enough. Yoga is for everyone! And it’s benefits are amazing!
You will come out of any yoga class feeling lighter. The sense of walking on air and feeling like I have grown an inch or two after leaving my yoga classes is something I savour. The most important thing, I think, is to find a class and a teacher where you feel comfortable. I go to four classes of yoga a week taught by three different teachers and they each have their own very different and individual styles of teaching. I personally think variety is important and I enjoy the different ways the classes are taught, but you might find the one teacher who you can really relate to and who inspires you. Whether you do one class a week or seven, any yoga is better than none!
Is yoga for me?
Yes! Check out your local gym and see what they have to offer, or google your local yoga centre, and try a couple of different classes aimed at beginners to see where your yoga mojo lies! Some classes will be marketed at ‘all levels’ – don’t let that put you off. Go along and give it a try because the poses (asanas, as they’re called) will be adapted in difficulty for all abilities. You’ll learn a lot about how yoga can help you progress and develop.
If you have any health issues, make sure you inform the teacher when you first arrive and I promise you, they will adapt the class and the postures so that they are suitable for you. And I can virtually guarantee you won’t be the only one in the room, with a dodgy knee, an arthritic elbow or disc problems in your back. Yoga really is for everyone, no matter what your shape of size or your temperament or your body issues.
Here’s a guide to some of the most common types of yoga you’ll see advertised in your local gym, village hall or leisure centre. There’s one here with your name on it!
Iyengar yoga is all about correct alignment and this is where I first started my yoga journey. With its focus on the subtleties of correct alignment, iyengar yoga is great for those of you who have existing injuries that need nurturing. There’s often the use of props to aid your alignment and to offer additional support.
Ashtanga yoga is a little more vigorous in style. Poses tend to be held for longer and energy levels are ramped up a little with the inclusion of some sun salutation elements.
VINYASA FLOW YOGA
Vinyasa will offer you a decent, sweaty workout if that’s your preference. Poses are combined to flow and to offer a good all round workout. It derives from Ashtanga yoga but you may see it termed as ‘flow yoga’. If you’re brand new to yoga, I think I’d suggest opting for something slightly slower to begin with so that you’d don’t feel a little lost and overwhelmed with the asanas initially.
Otherwise known as hot yoga, Bikram yoga is done in a heated room to rid the body of toxins and to help strengthen the muscles and compress the body’s organs. The class involves a sequence of 26 poses developed by Bikram Choudhary in the early 1970’s. And wherever in the world you are when you do your bikram yoga class, the same sequence of these 26 poses will be included!
Hatha yoga is a very general term and tends to refer to the practice of asanas (yoga poses) instead of meditation and chanting. It generally flows less than vinyasa and bikram yoga and is often a gentle class, which is a good option for beginners.
There are, of course, many other types of yoga – from restorative to jivamukti – but as a beginner, the ones above are the styles of yoga you’ll see most commonly available in your local area.
A good yoga teacher, will walk around the room and adjust and correct your stance as necessary to help you get the most from each asana. Don’t be alarmed – this is very gentle readjustment and you can, of course, ask for this not to happen as the teacher approaches you.
Arriving at the yoga class
One you’ve chosen your class, my advice would be to go along a few minutes early. Grab yourself a space and have a quick chat with the teacher, then lie down, take some slow deep breaths through the nose and relax ready for the class to begin. If you’re feeling really self conscious, there is no shame in practicing the class with your eyes closed and imagining there is no one else in the room but you. One of my teachers actually asks us to do just this and I think it’s a wonderful idea. Yoga is not about comparing yourself to the person next to you or wondering if you’re doing it right by looking at what everyone else is doing. Trust your body, trust the teacher and you’ll be just fine!
Finding a class
For local qualified teachers, check out the British Wheel of Yoga (BWY) qualified teachers section here or for Yoga Alliance (YA) qualified teachers have a look here. Either qualification means teachers are fully trained in anatomy and physiology and approved to teach. When searching out a teacher, make sure they have the RYS 200 (or above) qualification, which means they have been trained with a registered yoga school (BWY or YA) and will know what they are doing.
If you really can’t face a class just yet, You Tube has some fantastic teachers sharing their classes online so you can practice in the comfort on your own home. One of my favourites at the moment is Yoga With Adriene.
Let me know how your first yoga class goes!