Trying anything for the first time is daunting, but yoga can feel especially intimidating. You’ll normally start in front of other, more practised, people in a class and the movements are likely to be quite alien to what you’ll have seen or tried before – far more so than with something like running or lifting weights.
However, as in most other sports and hobbies, no-one is going to look down on you for taking a bit of time to get to grips with yoga when you start out. And it really is worth starting, because yoga is great for body and soul in all sorts of ways.
To help introduce you to yoga, we enlisted Annie Clarke, Lululemon (opens in new tab) yoga ambassador and creator of yoga, recipe and lifestyle website Mind Body Bowl (opens in new tab), to discuss the benefits and provide some tips on where to begin, including guides to some of the most common poses you’re likely to try in your first few lessons.
What are the benefits of yoga?
“The physical practice, known as asana, can build strength and flexibility, aiding the body in our day-to-day activities and helping to reduce the likelihood of certain injuries,” says Clarke. “While your first yoga class may actually leave you feeling stiff as new movement patterns test muscles that you might not normally use, you will feel the positive impact of the practice fairly quickly. The same goes for your mind. While it can be frustratingly hard to switch off at first, the eventual calming of the mind can be pretty powerful, and this gets easier to achieve.”
Are there any common mistakes beginners make?
“Getting frustrated at being ‘bad’,” says Clarke. “There really is no such thing as bad. We all arrive to yoga with different backgrounds. The person on your right might be a gymnast or martial artist, and the person in front might have undergone hip surgery. The bottom line is that everyone's bodies are going to move in different ways. This doesn't make any of it right or wrong, or good or bad. If you find yoga difficult to begin with, understand that this is perfectly normal and, over time, you will start to feel more comfortable with it.
“Also, there are many different teachers and styles of practising yoga. If a class really isn't for you, don't give up completely. Keep looking around, try different classes and teachers, and over time you might find something you love.”
What clothes and equipment are useful to have as a beginner?
“The only thing that really matters is that you are comfortable in your class,” says Clarke. “Wearing clothes which provide as few distractions as possible will help you to stay focused without worrying about your top riding up or bottoms falling down. For guys I recommend something breathable which allows a wide range of motion.
“Don't be shy when using props. Blocks and straps are really beneficial when it comes to helping the pose fit your body, rather than forcing your body into a pose.”
Do you have advice for people who might be nervous about turning up at a class as a complete beginner?
“Everyone was a beginner once,” says Clarke. “It doesn't matter if you can't do it all, or you get confused halfway through. Just try your best to remain open-minded and listen to your body – never push yourself to injury just to keep up with the class. No-one is looking at you, and if they are, it’s probably because they’ve got no clue what is going on either!”
Six Yoga Poses For Beginners
Clarke is featured in a free five-part series of videos for beginners which is available on the Lululemon YouTube channel. The first video “Learning The Basics” covers some of the poses you’re most likely to encounter during a yoga session, so you can try them by yourself if you’d like to turn up to a class with more of an idea of what to expect. Often these poses are combined into a similar sequence – for example a sun salutation or a vinyasa – which are demonstrated in the video.
Mountain pose/standing pose
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart (or, alternatively, with your feet together and toes touching). Spread your weight equally over both feet. Try to lengthen your spine, as if something is pulling you up through the top of your head. Bring your arms up over your head, lengthening all the way up to the fingers.
From a mountain pose, sink your hips back as if you are sitting in an invisible chair, lengthening through your navel, lifting your chest and raising your arms diagonally.
Supporting yourself on your hands and toes, form a straight line from the top of your head to the heels, keeping your core engaged. Place your knees on the floor if that’s more comfortable. Push the floor away with your hands so you round the upper back.
Cobra or upward-facing dog
From a plank position bring your elbows in to your waist and sink down to the floor, dropping your knees first or lowering in one long line. To move into the cobra position, keep your legs on the floor, lift your chest and head up. Or, to adopt upward-facing dog, lift your thighs and your knees off the floor, straighten your arms and lift your chest higher. For both poses, your shoulders should draw down the back of the body and your core should be supporting your weight.
From a plank position, raise your hips and push them back so you form an inverted V shape with your body. Set your feet a little wider than hip-width apart and adjust your hands so you’re comfortable. This pose isn’t about getting your heels on the ground, but rather about lengthening the spine.
From downward-facing dog, step one of your feet forwards between your palms. Your hips should be square and facing forwards. Raise your arms over your head alongside your ears, and put your back heel on the ground. This last part can feel uncomfortable on the backs of your legs, so it’s OK to lift your heel away from the ground or place a block or something else below your back foot if it helps you to stabilise. The toes on your front foot should be facing forwards. Think about drawing your lower ribs in towards each other so you’re not collapsing into your lower back.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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