Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that is practised all over the world! Known for its mental and physical benefits, it is now a part of most gym timetables and is even taught in schools and hospitals. But what is yoga, and why has it become one of the most popular forms of exercises today? We outline the basics.
Yoga For Beginners
Yoga focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to improve our health and wellbeing. There is also a spiritual element – many people practise yoga to become enlightened and feel at one with the universe. There are many forms of yoga, but the general concept focuses on a series of poses and breathing techniques.
Benefits of Yoga
Many people think that yoga's calm nature means it doesn’t count as exercise, but yoga has many physical benefits for people of all ages. And you can really break a sweat! Yoga can:
- Improve strength, balance, mobility, flexibility, and posture
- Increase overall fitness levels
- Help manage weight
- Improve the quality of sleep
- Increase energy
- Ease mental health problems, like stress and anxiety
- Promote better self-care
Who Can Practice Yoga?
Anyone can practice yoga in some form – your age doesn’t matter, and neither does your current fitness or flexibility level.
Yoga is what you make it. If you want to incorporate the spiritual elements, then you can. Otherwise, you can focus on the physical and mental benefits. Yoga is very inclusive; beginners are always welcome.
Where to Start?
Going to yoga classes are a great way to step onto the mat for the first time. You can meet new people, and the instructor will be on hand to help with any tricky poses.
If attending a class isn’t possible, there are loads of resources online. YouTube has millions of videos for beginners that you can follow from the comfort of your own home.
3 Yoga Poses to Start With
Still slightly unsure of what yoga is all about? Here are three common poses that you’re likely to find in a yoga class.
Downward Facing Dog
Benefits: Creates length throughout the entire body, increases strength in the wrists, shoulders and back muscles, relieves stiffness, and offers an amazing stretch!
How to do it:
- Start on all fours
- Align your wrists under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips
- Spread your fingers and face them forwards
- Curl under your toes and push back through your hands to lift your knees off the floor
- Let your head hang and push your shoulders away from your ears, moving them towards your hips
- Sink your heels towards the floor (it's normal if they don’t reach the floor!)
Benefits: Improves posture and balance, stretches the hips, abdomen and back, calms the mind
How to do it:
- Kneel on the floor
- Put your toes together and keep your knees hip-width apart
- Breathe in, and on the exhale, lower your body, so it rests between your knees
- Extend your arms to the top of your mat, with your palms facing down
- Relax your shoulders towards the ground
Benefits: Opens your hips while stretching your thighs, groin and back.
How to do it:
- Start in a downward dog position
- Bend your right knee and bring it forward as If going into a lunge
- Bring your knee to the floor, as close to your right hand as possible
- Bring your left knee down to the mat, and then stretch your whole leg, so it is flat to the floor. Your right knee should now be in front of you while your left leg is stretched out behind.
- Square your hips towards the front of your mat.
- As a beginner, you may want to stop here and enjoy the stretch. If you'd like to go another step further, bend your torso towards the floor and over your right leg.
- A third option would be, and this is reserved for those who have been practising a while, is to stay upright and reach back and lift your left foot from the floor towards your back. This stretch will feel good!