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Yoga 101: How to Begin the Practice

Updated on July 15, 2018
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Crystal Concepts is a hub written and managed by a certified yoga and Pilates teacher with a Diploma in Exercises and Sports Science.

Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means, "union." It is a belief system that is divided into eight parts that are all geared towards uniting the body, mind and spirit. Asana, one of the eight limbs of yoga, is the part that involves doing different postures and poses that people, who do not practice the Hindu religion, know as yoga.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The first two limbs, Yama and Niyama, defines a person's way of life. Yama refers to the way a person should treat other people. It contains five guidelines to follow: Ahimasa (nonviolence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (nonstealing), Brahmacharya (nonlust) and Aparigraha (noncovetesness). Niyama, on the other hand, dictates how a person should treat himself. This includes Saucha (cleanliness), Santosa (contentment), Tapas (sustained practice), Svadhyaya (self study) and Isvara pranidhana (Surrender to God).

Asanaand Pranayama are practices that can bring balance and strength to the physical body. Asana is the practice of different poses as a form of exercise. Pranayama, on the other hand, is the practice of proper breathing which is needed to accomplish the different forms of yoga.

The last four limbs are more on the spiritual plane. Pratyahara or abstaction is the ability to take oneself away from the things around you. Dharana or concentration is the act of focusing all our attention to just one point or object. Dhyana or meditation involves doing intense contemplation on a certain object or issue that you are meditating on. Lastly, Samadhi or liberation is the state wherein your consciouness has been joined with the object or issue that you are meditating on.

Yoga Health Benefits

The practice of Asana and Pranayama as an exercise can bring about a lot of health benefits. By doing the different poses in yoga, you can improve your flexibility and strength. Because most of the poses involve stretching parts of your body, the range of motion of your different joints will be increased significantly. Also, since you need to support the weight of your body, your strength will be increased. And, of course, as you grow stronger, your body will become more toned.

Another benefit of taking yoga is the alignment of one's body. Because the bodies of people who practice yoga are aligned properly, they tend to have lesser back pains and postural problems. People who practice yoga also learn how to breathe properly, making them less affected by stress. Yoga, not only improves your physical condition, it also has an impact on your mental state by reducing your stress.

Primary Series Ashtanga Yoga

A Sample of Kino's Class

Some Types of Yoga

  • Hatha. This is a very general type of yoga. So, hatha yoga can be anything. It could have a hint of vinyasa flow. It could be Anusara-inspired or Iyengar-inspired. Hatha yoga is normally a slow practice and includes some breathing exercises.
  • Bikram. This type of yoga is quite popular these days. This means you'll be in a heated room doing twenty-six poses that you'll be doing each time you visit.
  • Hot Yoga. You're still in a heated room but the poses vary depending on the class you are attending. You are not stuck with just a set of poses.
  • Vinyasa. It's slightly quicker and you flow from one pose to another as if you are performing a dance. This has evolved quite a bit over the years, especially now that movements from martial arts, high intensity training, Pilates, barre, and other forms of fitness training have been integrated to the flow.
  • Ashtanga. You are given a series based on your level so each individual will be practicing a different set of poses as a teacher walks around to assist.
  • Iyengar Yoga. A very slow-paced type of yoga where poses are held for a longer period of time. Very specific cues and a variety of props are used for this type of yoga.
  • Anusara Yoga. This is another slow-paced practice with very specific and colorful alignment cues.
  • Yin Yoga. This is an even slower practice wherein poses are held passively for long periods of time. Physically, the practice allows you to build flexibility. However, from a psychological, emotional, and spiritual perspective, it also challenges your ability to stay still in a pose and calm your mind.

What is Iyengar Yoga?

Ready to Know More About Yoga Poses?

30 Essential Yoga Poses: For Beginning Students and Their Teachers
30 Essential Yoga Poses: For Beginning Students and Their Teachers

This is probably one of my favourite yoga books. It gives a very detailed, description of each pose, giving you a good grasp of the correct alignment in order to do each pose properly. It is, however, recommended that you take a few yoga classes before you go through this book. Otherwise, you might find it an overwhelming read.


Choose something slow to start with.

As a beginner, a gentle Hatha, Iyengar, or Anusara-inspired class, would be thebest place to start. In these classes, you have the time to learn more about the pose and deepen you awareness of the sensations you feel with each cue the teacher gives to help you do the pose properly. Another advantage of joining these classes would be the use of props to modify the poses, making them more accessible and easier to understand.Once you have a better knowledge of how to do each pose, transitioning to a flow type of class would become easier and less confusing.

Be true to yourself.

At the beginning of the yoga class, make sure you arrive early to let the teacher know of any injuries or ailments that you might have. If you are female, make sure that she knows if you are menstruating, pregnant, or have just given birth. Despite its gentle nature, yoga poses have counterindications and may require modifications based on your condition. Letting the teacher know will allow him or her to instruct you properly by giving you alternative poses that you can do or some changes that can make the poses safe for you.

Also, a good teacher always gives options. So, always listen for the options and always choose the best one for you, not the most advanced one that will make the class a negative experience for you.

It has to feel good.

A good teacher will also give you very descriptive cues that will allow you to follow the class. He or she will also give you modifications that would make the pose accessible. He or she will also help you feel at ease in a class.

As you listen to the cues and follow them, always keep in mind that you should get into poses slowly, allowing your body to find its limitations and gradually stretch into something that feels good instead of feeling as if your body is being ripped apart.

What to wear. What to bring.

Wear something comfortable that you can move in. Although it is alright to wear loose pants, wearing leggings or shorts would make it easier for the teachers to check your alignment. Hyperextended knees can be hard to spot when the student is wearing loose pants.

Most studios have yoga mats for rent and it would be better for you to use those as you are just checking out if this is a practice that suits you. This is actually one way you will know if you are in a proper yoga studio as this would mean that the mats for rent are cleaned regularly and sprays and rags are available for cleaning the mat after practice.

Now, once you know that you are going to be practicing regularly for a longer period of time, make sure that you get a yoga mat with a lot of grip. And, if you have knee or tailbone issues, try to get a thicker mat. Although thinner mats (around 1 to 3 mm) are great for travel and makes balancing poses easier, they can be hard on the knees and tailbone, so a bit of cushioning (1/4 to 1/8 inches) would be helpful.

Take More Than Just The First Step

The first step is walking into the yoga studio and taking your first class. It is, however, advisable to take more than one step and give it more than one go. First of all, it may take some time for the practice to grow on you. Initially, the sensations of stretching may be an alien and unpleasant experience. As you become more familiar with the sensations and the beneficial changes that the practice does to your body, it starts to feel more pleasurable. Secondly, you may also need to try more than one class to find one that suits you. Remember. Despite having the same affiliations, teachers are individuals and would express themselves differently. Finally, the benefits of yoga cannot be seen in just an hour's practice. So, give it more than just one go.

Which type of yoga do you like?

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© 2007 Shanti Rose


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    • CJamesIII profile image


      8 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      Been practicing yoga for over 11 years. It's a lifesaver! Yoga is not only great for reducing stress, it helps to keep your mind and energy in the right place.

    • Crystal Concepts profile imageAUTHOR

      Shanti Rose 

      12 years ago from Spain

      Yoga can help relieve stress because it teaches proper breathing which can help in relaxing a person. A form of yoga that has a section devoted for stress relief is Hatha Yoga.

    • Rudra profile image


      12 years ago

      Is there a yoga for stress.


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