Its time to roll out your yoga mat and discover the combination of physical and mental exercises that for thousands of years have hooked yoga practitioners around the globe. The beauty of yoga is that you dont have to be a yogi or yogini to reap the benefits. Whether you are young or old, overweight or fit, yoga has the power to calm the mind and strengthen the body. Dont be intimidated by yoga terminology, fancy yoga studios and complicated poses. Yoga is for everyone.
These 10 poses are a complete yoga workout. Move slowly through each pose, remembering to breathe as you move. Pause after any pose you find challenging, especially if you are short of breath, and start again when your breathing returns to normal. The idea is to hold each pose for a few, slow breaths before moving on to the next one.
This calming pose is a good default pause position. You can use childs pose to rest and refocus before continuing to your next pose. It gently stretches your lower back, hips, thighs, knees and ankles and relaxes your spine, shoulders and neck.
Do it: When you want to get a nice gentle stretch through your neck spine and hips.
Skip it: If you have knee injuries or ankle problems. Avoid also if you have high blood pressure or are pregnant.
Modify: You can rest your head on a cushion or block. You can place a rolled towel under your ankles if they are uncomfortable.
Be mindful: Focus on relaxing the muscles of the spine and lower back as you breathe.
Downward-facing dog strengthens the arms, shoulders and back while stretching the hamstrings, calves and arches of your feet. It can also help relieve back pain.
Do it: To help relieve back pain.
Skip it: This pose is not recommended if you have carpal tunnel syndrome or other wrist problems, have high blood pressure or are in the late stages of pregnancy.
Modify: You can do the pose with your elbows on the ground, which takes the weight off your wrists. You can also use blocks under your hands, which may feel more comfortable.
Be mindful: Focus on distributing the weight evenly through your palms and lifting your hips up and back, away from your shoulders.
A commonly seen exercise, plank helps build strength in the core, shoulders, arms and legs.
Do it: Plank pose is good if you are looking to tone your abs and build strength in your upper body.
Skip it: Avoid plank pose if you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. It can be hard on your wrists. You might also skip it or modify if you have low back pain.
Modify: You can modify it by placing your knees on the floor.
Be mindful: As you do a plank, imagine the back of your neck and spine lengthening.
Four-Limbed Staff Pose
This push-up variation follows plank pose in a common yoga sequence known as the sun salutation. It is a good pose to learn if you want to eventually work on more advanced poses, such as arm balances or inversions.
Do it: Like plank, this pose strengthens arms and wrists and tones the abdomen.
Skip it: If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, lower back pain, a shoulder injury or are pregnant.
Modify: Its a good idea for beginners to modify the pose by keeping your knees on the floor.
Be mindful: Press your palms evenly into the floor and lift your shoulders away from the floor as you hold this pose.
This back-bending pose can help strengthen the back muscles, increase spinal flexibility and stretches the chest, shoulders and abdomen.
Do it: This post is great for strengthening the back.
Skip it: If you have arthritis in your spine or neck, a low-back injury or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Modify: Just lift up a few inches, and dont try to straighten your arms.
Be mindful: Try to keep your navel drawing up away from the floor as you hold this pose.
Beyond helping improve your balance, it can also strengthen your core, ankles, calves, thighs and spine.
Do it: Great for working on your balance and posture.
Skip it: You many want to skip this pose if you have low blood pressure or any medical conditions that affect your balance.
Modify: Place one of your hands on a wall for support.
Be mindful: Focus on your breath in and out as you hold this pose.
Triangle, which is a part of many yoga sequences helps build strength in the legs and stretches the hips, spine, chest, shoulders, groins, hamstrings and calves. It can also help increase mobility in the hips and neck.
Do it: This pose is great for building strength and endurance.
Skip it: Avoid this pose if you have a headache or low blood pressure.
Modify: If you have high blood pressure, turn your head to gaze downward in the final pose. If you have neck problems, dont turn your head to look upward; look straight ahead and keep both sides of the neck long.
Be mindful: Keep lifting your raised arm toward the ceiling. It helps keep the pose buoyant.
Seated Half-Spinal Twist Pose
This twisting pose can increase the flexibility in your back, while stretching the shoulders, hips and chest. It can also help relieve tension in the middle of your back.
Do it: To release tight muscles around the shoulders and upper and lower back.
Skip it: If you have a back injury.
Modify: If bending your right knee is uncomfortable, keep it straight out in front of you.
Be mindful: Lift your torso with each inhale, and twist as you exhale.
This is a back-bending pose that stretches the muscles of the chest, back and neck. It also builds strength in the back and hamstring muscles.
Do it: If you sit most of the day, this pose will help you open your upper chest.
Skip it: Avoid this pose if you have a neck injury.
Modify: Place a block between your thighs to help keep the legs and feet in proper alignment. Or you can place a block under your pelvis if your lower back is bothering you.
Be mindful: While holding this pose, try to keep your chest lifted and your sternum toward your chin.
Like life, yoga classes typically end with this pose. It allows for a moment of relaxation, but some people find it difficult to stay still in this pose. However, the more you try this pose, the easier it is to sink into a relaxing, meditative state.
Do it: Always!
Skip it: If you dont want to have a moments peace.
Modify: Place a blanket under your head, if that feels more comfortable. You can also roll up a blanket and place that under your knees, if your lower back is sensitive or bothering you.
Be mindful: Feel the weight of your body sinking into your mat one part at a time.
Creating a Habit
The most important thing to remember when starting a yoga practice (or any new health habit) is that the key to success is doing it routinely. Start small and manageable, says Dr. McCall. Ten or 15 minutes a day of yoga may be more valuable than going to one class a week. I would rather have a student succeed at doing a one-minute-a-day practice, than fail at doing a five-minute-a-day practice, says Dr. McCall.
Hopefully, as you begin to see the benefits of your daily practice, however short, chances are you will be convinced to do more.
Find a Class
Yoga can be done at home, but especially for the beginner it is important to try a class or two that is taught by a seasoned instructor, in a private or group setting, to be sure you are doing the yoga exercises safely.
Look for an experienced yoga instructor who has at least a 200-hour teaching certificate from a teacher-training program accredited with the Yoga Alliance. Those programs include training on injury prevention. If you have any specific medical concerns, check with a doctor before beginning to see what types of yoga might be best for you.
Look for yoga studios or gyms that provide good slip-resistant mats (if you are planning on renting a mat) and sturdy, clean blocks for support. If you do rent a mat, make sure there is antibacterial spray or cloths available for you to wipe down your mat before and after use.
What Class is Right for Me?
There are many styles of yoga classes taught today. Some are very physically challenging and will leave you sweating; others are gentle and restorative. Some teachers play music in class; others dont. Some classes include references to yoga philosophy and spirituality; others dont.
Here are a few types of classes your yoga studio or gym may offer:
Hatha: Most yoga styles being taught in America today are a form of hatha yoga, which is a general term that refers to the physical part of yoga, rather than yoga philosophy or meditation. A Hatha yoga class is likely to be a combination of poses and breathing exercises, but its hard to know whether it will be challenging or gentle. Check with the school or the teacher to find more about the level of classes that are described only as Hatha yoga.
Ashtanga Yoga: This is a challenging style of yoga that is centered around a progressive series of yoga sequences that, traditionally, students practice on their own under the guidance of a teacher. If you think that yoga is not a workout, you havent tried an Ashtanga class. Classes include advanced poses such as arm balances and inversions including headstands and shoulder stands. Beginner students are strongly advised to study with an experienced teacher. Ashtanga classes will also often include teachings in yoga philosophy.
Power Yoga: As its name suggests, power yoga is a challenging style of yoga aimed at strength-building. These classes will include advanced poses and inversions like headstands and handstands that require a lot of strength.
Vinyasa or Flow: These classes usually consist of a fairly energetic flowing sequence of yoga poses that will include depending on the level advanced poses, such as arm balances, headstands, shoulder stands and handstands. Many vinyasa classes have musical accompaniment of the teachers choosing.
Iyengar: Love learning about how your muscles and joints work together? This is the yoga for you. Iyengar yoga focuses on the precision of your yoga poses. Iyengar classes are known for their use of props, including blankets, blocks, straps and bolsters, to help students do poses that they wouldnt be able to do otherwise. Classes can also include ropes that are anchored to the walls to do inversions and other poses. They also tend to include breathing exercises and references to yoga philosophy.
Bikram or Hot Yoga: Like the heat? Bikram yoga is a set series of 26 poses performed in a room heated to 105 degrees, which is said to allow for deeper stretching and provide for a better cardiovascular workout. Unlike most yoga classes, Bikram classes are always done in rooms with mirrors. Hot yoga refers to any yoga class that is done in a heated room generally from 80 to 100 degrees.
Restorative Yoga: If you are looking for a little more relaxation from your yoga class, restorative yoga is for you. This yoga style usually involves a few restful poses that are held for long periods of time. Restorative poses include light twists, seated forward folds and gentle back-bends, usually done with the assistance of many props, including blankets, blocks and bolsters.
Yin Yoga: Looking for a new kind of stretching experience? Yin yoga is aimed at stretching the connective tissue around the pelvis, sacrum, spine and knees to promote flexibility. Poses are held for a longer amount of time in yin yoga classes, generally from three to five minutes. It is a quiet style of yoga, and will quickly show you how good you are at sitting still.
Note: Its a good idea to try several yoga classes. How much you enjoy any class will come down to how much you like the teacher, not how its labeled.
Yoga students are expected to be on time to class and respectful of one another. Crowded classes can mean that students will be aligned mat-to-mat, so dont assume that you will have a lot of room around you for personal belongings. Most yoga classrooms have shelves for your valuables, drinks and other personal items. Remember to turn your cellphone off before class.
For Bikram or hot yoga classes, bring a towel. You are going to sweat, and it will help prevent slipping.
Classes usually begin with a brief introduction by the teacher that may include a focus or theme for the day, such as backbends or particular poses, and then the teacher often will instruct the class to chant the word Om together. (Om is a Sanskrit term that connotes the connectivity of all things in the universe.)
To Om or not to Om? There is no obligation to chant, but you should at least remain quiet during that time.
Some breathing techniques taught in yoga classes are meant to be loud and others are not. Students should take cues from the teacher.
If you have to leave early, try to tell the teacher ahead of time, and, if you can, position yourself near the back of the room and leave before the relaxation period at the end of class.
A note to the over-achiever: Trying too hard often leads to injury. Being aware of your physical limitations and when you need to modify a pose will be more beneficial to your body than reaching to be the most flexible or strongest in the class.