Yoga for Beginners

Yoga balances, harmonizes, purifies and strengthens the body, mind and soul of the practitioner. It shows the way to perfect health, perfect mind control and perfect peace with one’s self, the world, nature and God.

~Swami Vishnu-devananda

Firs things first: The best way to learn Yoga is by doing it.

The problem is not everyone has a Yoga studio nearby. 

Second best option is to use Youtube videos by certain experienced teachers. These days there are apps too, which can help you practice simple sequence in the comfort of your home. 

Learning Asana & Pranayama practice via video is good only upto simple, easy stretches. For proper practice, guidance of a teacher is highly recommended.  

Despite this understanding, beginning to learn Yoga is daunting task for an absolute beginner. Despite so much literature being published on Yoga in last decade, certain basic queries are left unanswered or answers are not clear. This makes the new student confused, even more than he/she was before researching that question. 

I have been teaching close to a decade now. Every new student has his or her own doubt and sometimes misunderstanding about Yoga. Overall.

Personally, In beginner’s course and later too, I encourage questions to be asked. And so do many other teachers I know. It is good to be doubtful and ask questions. Else how will a teacher help you in sorting out the proper understanding.

It is more important now than ever before. With more awareness about Yoga growing, starting with right understanding helps you a lot.

A complete beginner guide to Yoga: questions answered

What I have seen is that there are certain concepts or points about Yoga practice are just assumed. Most of time, they based on perceptions or pre conceived notions.

For example, one of the most frequent question asked is should you be flexible to practice Yoga? 

Well, No, not at all.  Flexibility is by product of proper practice of yoga. Over time. And that too is not same for everyone.

You are supposed to practice the class with proper understanding of postures. No need to be super flexible people you see in the class.

 

The second most common point is when you are looking at Yoga as solution to some ailment of the body. I will explain this point in a bit, but here is my take on it:

A properly designed class taught by competent teacher is good enough to give you all the health benefits that you have read about. 

Why is it recommended to practice a complete sequence/class ?

a yoga class photo from unsplash - beginners post

This question mostly troubles when you are looking at Asana & Pranayama practice to find solution of specific issues troubling you.

You are not alone. In my experience as teacher, people who come to learn and practice Yoga because they love it or are passionate about it, are a minority.

Most of the beginners have one physical issue or the other, which brings them to the class.  Or they have been recommended by someone who has previously benefited through Yogic practices.

In this scenario, it is natural to look for specific Asanas which can directly provide relief. 

This is where how Yoga is different from all other forms of health programs. Unlike other ‘routines’ Yoga focus on body and even mind as single unit. They need to be worked on together with singular approach.

From Yogic perspective, there is no difference between different body parts. Though physical health is measured by health of the spine,  it also works on other systems of the body, like blood circulation, digestive system, nervous system and others. 

And a class or a sequence is designed to work on body in they way that it is most impactful.

Different asana work on different body parts. How are they singular in their objective then?

Yes, when you are practicing any asana posture certain body part is stretched or compressed more than other body parts. 

Still, in totality, the asana will work best as a part of a properly structure class.

There are two reasons for that:

The first reason being, all our body systems are interconnected & interdependent on each other. Your breathing works best when your muscular & bone structure allows a good posture. Similarly, a body with supple muscular structure allows better blood circulation. Good blood circulation allows nourished body organs, nervous system and vice versa.

Thus, even if an asana is working on one body part more than others, that body part alone won’t be able to get the benefits. Unless, you work on the surrounding, leading upto complete body.

The second reason is inversely related to the first reason. Different asanas focussing on stretch and compression of specific area is to bring focus in our practice.

It is quite difficult in the beginning to focus on the posture, breathing, holding, proper direction of stretch etc.

But, it is easier, when you are asked to hold a posture gently, and to focus on breathing comfortably. Slowly that leads to awareness about other things.

By practising different asanas in sequence, your awareness starts to develop sequentially. And it is with awareness that you practice improves. And with improvement is practice, you get health.

How does Yoga help in dealing with chronic pains/hormonal issues?

As mentioned above, your body didn’t get the issue overnight. It started slow, and then slowly it manifested into something that required proper treatment.

Be it shoulder pain, back pain, Sciatica, hormonal issue(like PCOS), Weight issues and other issues.

Right now, let’s say, there is issue of back pain. Now, unless it was caused by injury (For injury related healing, you should read about Yoga as restorative solution in this article) the back pain took its own time to develop.

Same goes for hormonal issues, there is high probability, that the gland is not malfunctioning due to something that has happened directly to it. It is usually result of something overall wrong with body. 

When your body goes through a lot of stress(mental or physical) or even minor stress levels for prolonged duration, it starts to effect the body.

When the stress, physical or mental is too much for body to handle, the weakest part of the human body gives away.

Which means, when stress is too high for the body to handle, it can start to impact nearby area. That’s why same stressful life can lead to heart problems, hormonal problems as well as things as simple as back pain, shoulder pain, acidity too.

Yoga helps in such issues by working on health principles on core level.

How does Yoga help in stress related issues?

an air force personnel practicing yogic breathing

image courtsey: https://www.afcent.af.mil/News/Features/Display/Article/501219/yoga-a-quiet-escape-for-healthcare-professionals/

In one sentence it can be summarised as:

By sequentially stretching, relaxing the tense muscles and activating parasympathetic responses of the body via deep breathing, Yoga practice creates an environment of relaxation and well-being.

Moreover, now there is enough research material to show how Yogic practices helps in combatting stress effectively. You can read about them in details from following links:

There are many more links to more studies. But, reading alone doesn’t help. Practice does. Yoga is practical approach to health.

Yoga helps in dealing with stress related issues by working on it. This effect is more visible in a beginners class. By teaching the student how to relax properly, in something as simple as Savasana, the parasympathetic nervous system of body starts to repair the body.

Yoga means Asana and Pranayama, right?

Actually, no. Asana & pranayama are part of Yoga, but they are not complete Yoga.

In the yogic text the practices are defined as part of Ashtanga – Eight limbs of Yoga. They work on physical & breathing aspects of our body. Preparing it for higher practices of Meditation & spiritual aspects. 

But from a beginners perspective, Asana and Pranayama based class in complete practice in itself. Only when you are ready and willing, you need to explore what Yoga has to offer.

 

That’s why, Yoga is not about making you fit for some particular activity but rather to make you healthy physically and mentally.

 

How much time it takes to see benefits of Yoga classes?

This is also one of most frequently asked question 🙂

The answer:

The benefits start from the class 1 itself but for you to be physically able to see something that require a minimum of around 90 days of regular practice. Yes, around 90 classes.

Let’s calculate why is it so.

When you are absolute beginner to the yoga class, it will take you at least 10 to 15 classes to be able to practice the class in a proper way.

This includes getting comfortable with different stretches like taking the leg backward and bringing it forward in Suryanamaskar, or Half Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyandra Asana).

Even relaxing properly in Savasana requires couple of classes.

Once your posture starts to get right, the focus will shift on holding the asana comfortably and stable. This takes time. This happens in parallel to your breathing getting deeper and longer. This takes around 20-25 classes minimum.

Once the base work of beginners practice to Yoga is over, then your practice starts to flow. And when you practice like that, simultaneously, your body’s different system and mind start to align themselves better. And the benefits start to manifest in your body.

By the end of 90 class cycle, noticeable changes are there in every practitioner. Changes which make others ask, “What are you doing?” “How did you get rid of that pain of yours?” 🙂

Q: I have pain in my back on my shoulders can I practice yoga

Yes, you can practice yoga. In fact, you should practice yoga it is one of the best way of healing your body.

When you practice yoga you bring mobility in your state joints and you allow your blood circulation to improve strengthening the weak muscles which leads to healing of the pain body part.

What you need to be careful about is being cautious about being aggressive about your practice. Yoga doesn’t work on principle of ‘No pain, no gain’ here.

Tell you teacher about your pain. Practice gently. Listen to your body. Slow progression, especially in the beginning is the key.

 

Q: I like gym/running/pilates/ etc. do you i need to leave them to practice Yoga?

A: No, you don’t. Yoga is not a fitness routine. Yoga is way of healthy living. Asana and pranayama are just part of it.

The best way to look at it, in the beginning is an approach to agile body, proper breathing habits & relaxed nervous system. Attributes which can help you in your other endeavours.

The more serious aspect is suitable for those who develop the liking for it. Over time. This is not required in the beginning.

By all means, keep doing what you enjoy and just inculcate your Yoga class in your routine. Breathing and relaxation approach of Yogic practices will help you to enjoy your other fitness routine much better.

Q: I am not flexible, can I practice Yoga?

a girl doing standing yoga pose that requires flexibility

Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash

A: Absolutely. Flexibility is not a condition to practice Yoga. Not at all. It doesn’t matter that you can touch your toes or not.

When we say proper way to doing an asana, it refers to proper alignment of the body ( to avoid stress on soft joints) and the right direction of the stretch.

Once you are in good enough posture, the focus in on using your breath to make your body comfortable in that asana.

 

Q: Is it OK to do Yoga everyday? Or How often should I practice in a week?

Yes, definitely.

You can practice Yoga everyday. There is nothing called ‘over yoga’. 

A well structured class is designed to leave you calm, peaceful & energised at the end of the class.

Rather, I would say, when you are just starting out, practice everyday. At least for first 3 months.

This is allow the practice to settle in your body. It is not about asana practice alone, when you practice everyday, the habits of being more aware about your posture, breathing percolate down to your daily life.

And this is the main intent. To make healthy living effortless.

 

Q: Can I lose weight by Yoga?

Yes, you can. But not the way similar to other form of exercises. Yoga is definitely not calorie counting way of losing weight.

In most cases, excess weight is due to lack of proper movements, stress, improper breathing, low energy(leading to excess eating) and related issues.

Yoga helps in improving digestion, improving blood circulation & gentle but proper stretches of stiff & tight muscles.

These effects along with improvement in breathing leads to healthier weight over time. Of course, if you want to do it more rigorously, then you need to adjust your practice accordingly. But it is strongly advised to make any such adjustment under the guidance of a competent teacher only.

 

Q: What is the best type of Yoga for beginners?

You must be referring to Yoga types mentioned either by the guru’s name like Iyengar yoga, sivananda Yoga, mysore style (ashtanga Yoga) etc.

You can start with any of these practices. All of them have beginner’s course and subsequent advanced levels of practice in their system.

As an analogy, for a moment assume that field of Yoga is like a hall, with varied in depth topics and understanding. You can enter the hall from any door. All the matters is what you do, once you have entered. The introduction and subsequent growth is taken care by your teacher.

You don’t need to have in depth knowledge of any of the concept to begin your practice. You can very well keep practicing the open class and stay healthy. Or, when inclined you can think about doing a teacher’s training course and move further.

For health purpose, just  be regular, consistent in your practice and learning. With time you will know what suits you and then you can follow that style/path.

 

Q: Does yoga makes your stronger?

Yoga increases strength

Photo by Form on Unsplash

Don’t let the image imitate you. Scorpion (Vrischikasana) is not a beginner’s level pose.

Yes, Yoga does make you stronger.

From inside and outside.

It makes your immune system more resilient, increases bone density, improves digestion, better joints and higher levels of energy.

When you start holding basic asanas, your strength and stamina increases. Slowly when your practice improved to start practicing and then improving advanced asanas, you will see a tremendous growth in your overall strength and stamina. 

Even if you use your body weight to hold asana, the very principles of holding an asana properly, leads to total improvement in your endurance, toning, breathing patterns, metabolism & bone density.

 

Q:  Is Yoga better than gym?

A: To tell you the truth, this question is not asking the right comparison at all.

A gym is designed for physical health only. It is not designed for mental health. In fact, rather going to gym daily in itself is considered as sign of mental health & will power.

Whereas in Yoga the approach is mind and body together. Not as separate unit.

Though, if you compare difficult asana practice with weight lifting, then also you are comparing body weight based practice to lifting weight in general. In gym, you can increase the resistance of your practice, whereas it is limited in Asana practice.

So, what is the proper answer to this question?

  • Yoga is way of life. To be healthy, energetic and happy.
  • Yoga doesn’t require you to leave your Gym if you like it. It actually helps you in better weight lifting by providing strong joints, better breathing and better postures.
  • Yoga has equal important for mental health along with physical health. Thus, doing it for this factor alone can help a lot in your gymming efforts.

Additionally, what I have seen is that, Yoga increases is your functional strength. By improving your joints, coordination, balance and breathing, you are able to use your strength more effectively. Thus making you strong in practical sense.

Q: Should I be vegetarian to practice Yoga?

A: Though it is advised to be vegetarian as that is suitable food for human body. That is not a precondition to start your practice today.  Just let that happen on it own. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t.

Don’t leave your practice for that.

The reason being vegetarian is associated with Yoga is because it is included in principles of Proper eating. And the reason is mentioned too. Vegetarian, freshly cooked food is easy to digest for our body.

In fact in ashram, and residential teacher’s training courses, the food is lacto-vegetarian. This food is best suitable make the body light for deeper practices.

But from a general practitioner’s perspective, there are few basic things about food:

  • Don’t eat heavy meal at least two hours before the class.
  • Have plenty of lukewarm water (it helps in digestion).
  • Eat freshly cooked food.
  • Don’t overeat. Eat in moderation.

Not too harsh, isn’t it? As a beginner to Yoga practice, this is all you need to know about food habits.

 

Conclusion

Yoga is a way of life. Healthy and peaceful life. It takes time to let it grow on you. There is no need to hurry.

As a beginner in Yoga, you just need to keep your presence in the class regular. Rest everything will happen on its own. As part of process.

When you work on your body and mind with something that was developed by in depth observation of human nature, physiology & psychology, the benefits and results are bound to follow.

 


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