I started doing yoga while I was pregnant with my first child. I had been running, swimming, and doing pilates, but as I got into my 5th and 6th month of pregnancy, these forms of exercise became uncomfortable or unsafe. In the past, I had found yoga to be boring, but since I had fewer exercise options, I purchased a prenatal yoga DVD (by Shiva Rea) on Amazon and started practicing.
I fell in love. Yoga made me feel strong, flexible, and – best of all – fully present in the moment. I’ve been practicing yoga 2-3 times a week since then, and I often get questions about how to get into yoga.
Find the Right Style
There are dozens of different branches of yoga styles, but many of them fit into some umbrella categories. These are the most common yoga styles practiced here in the US.
- Dates back to the 15th century
- Uses basic poses
- Focused on breath and meditation
- Great for beginners
- Similar to Hatha
- Merges flowing movement with breath awareness
- Heavily uses the Sun Salutation, a 12-pose series
- Builds strength and flexibility
- Great for yogis of any level
- Ashtanga means “eightfold path” (eight guidelines for living a purposeful life)
- Fast-paced, athletic, and intense
- Places more emphasis on spirituality
- Builds strength and stamina
- Great for yogis at a higher fitness level
- Embraces the eightfold path
- Heavy focus on proper alignment in poses
- Heavy use of props
- Poses typically held for longer periods of time
- Improves balance, speeds up recovery, builds strength
- Great for learning proper alignment and those with medical issues
- A 26-pose series practiced in a 95-100 degree room
- Helps loosen tight muscles, flush out toxins through sweat
- Speeds recovery, improves flexibility
- Great for yogis of all levels, especially those with injuries
Find the Right Gear
Yoga gear and clothing is a multi-million dollar business, but there’s a lot of stuff out there that you don’t really need, at least not as a beginner. Here are the essentials:
- Comfortable, Well-Fitting Clothing- Pants shouldn’t be too long, or they’ll get stuck under your feet in downward dog. Your top should be fitted well, but not so loose that it flops over your head during an inversion and shows everyone your stretch marks.
- Yoga Mat- You really need your own mat. Even if you just practice at a gym or studio, you don’t want to use the smelly, who-knows-when-this-thing-was-cleaned community mats. There are mats out there that retail for $50-$100, a great investment if you are a serious yogi who needs a high-end mat to last a lifetime. For the average yogi, a $20 mat from Target will do just fine. Make sure to pick a mat that’s pretty sticky and has a good thickness.
- Yoga Strap- This is a heavy piece of woven fabric, ideally with rings on one end so that the other end can be threaded through. A strap is used to assist in stretches and help you attain poses you might not be quite flexible enough for- yet!
- Yoga Block- Blocks are great for raising the level of the ground in standing poses, easing sitting positions for those of us with tight hips, and as support in longer-held poses. A second block can be really helpful but you can get by just fine with only 1.
- Yoga Bag or Sling- If you go back and forth between home and a studio, it’s helpful to have something to carry your gear in. A sling is a great simple option, while a larger bag can hold all your other stuff (block, strap, water bottle, etc) as well.
Find the Right Teacher
There are as many different teaching styles as there are teachers. Every instructor brings his or her own personality to the room, and since you’re spending an hour being taught by this person, it’s important that they don’t drive you crazy!
If possible, take classes with several different teachers. Some are more hands on, helping you find the right alignment by physically positioning you, while others use strictly verbal cues. Some teachers walk around the room, while others stay on their own mat. Some focus on the physical, the spiritual, or both. The right teacher can make all the difference.
Maybe you’re beginning a home practice, so your instructor is your DVD. See if your library has any Yoga DVDs before you buy one, or try out the free videos on yogajournal.com.
Find the Right Etiquette
There are unwritten rules in every yoga class. Basically, this is how to not piss off your classmates.
- Arrive on time, or early, and settle yourself quietly
- Practice good hygiene
- Avoid perfume and scented lotion
- Turn off your phone
- Don’t chit-chat during class
- Don’t leave during Savasana (the final relaxation pose) –if you need to leave early, go before savasana
Find the Right Attitude
I always say that you get from yoga what you bring to yoga. So what should you bring?
- Acceptance. Yoga isn’t about perfection, and much freedom comes from simply accepting where you are in the process. Don’t compare yourself to others in the room, or even yourself, last week. Don’t judge. Simply be.
- Positivity. Practicing in a small studio with 15 other people is an intimate experience, and you are responsible for the energy you share with the room.
- Humility. Just because you’ve done Warrior II a hundred times doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know about the pose. Be teachable, and you’ll find that you learn something new every time you hit your mat.
- Intention. I always find that I enjoy class more when I come in with a purpose, whether it’s to push my edge, quiet my mind, or stretch my tight hammies. Intention gives your practice meaning.