In the West, yoga is fast becoming a popular form of exercise. With an endless number of poses and techniques available, it can be tough to know where to start. Additionally, attending a new class can be daunting – especially if you don’t know the lingo. Thankfully, we’re here to help! In this article, we explore the basics of yoga so you’re ready to start your journey. To make sure you’re prepared, pick up some high-waisted leggings and a matching sports bra before your first session.
Asanas are an integral part of yoga practice. Designed to increase strength and endurance, they are best described as static postures that benefit the physical body. As well as strengthening the muscles, the poses can improve circulation, cleanse the organs, and even improve digestion. While many people practice for these benefits alone, they were not the original purpose of asanas. Traditionally, each pose was designed to release stress, tension, and disease to create a healthy body and mind. Practitioners were then able to cleanse the mind and connect with their inner-self – the ultimate goal of the practice.
Today, various different yoga styles use asanas; however, they originated from Hatha Yoga, a practice that has been around for almost 10,000 years. In this style, students are encouraged to bring expectations and goals into the postures with the aim of moving deeper into the reality of disillusion. Today, many people in the West purely use asanas to better their physical body. When incorporated into a workout routine, it’s easy to forget the holistic connection and, instead, focus on the physical body. While this is perfectly acceptable, it’s important to remember the traditional purpose of asanas. When used correctly, the static poses can help you to focus and reflect on the world around you and ultimately reach an existence of wholeness.
Another important part of yoga is pranayama. Designed to clear the body of physical and emotional obstacles, pranayamas are best described as breathing exercises. When used correctly, the exercises free the breath and the flow of life energy, or ‘prana’ as it’s known as in Sanskrit. Over time, stress and illness can create energetic obstacles in the body. When this happens, our breathing becomes more shallow and restricts the flow of prana. If left untreated, this can lead to unpleasant symptoms later including fatigue, headaches, and depression.
Thankfully, the energetic blockages can be cleared with pranayama. Through the breathing exercises, students can regulate their breathing and allow prana to flow smoothly once more. As well as rebalancing breath and life energy, this process can relax the body and promote healing.
The final key aspect of yoga is meditation. Designed to achieve a clear and calm emotional state, meditation can be used alongside other parts of yoga or individually.
The ancient art has been practised since antiquity in many religious traditions and beliefs; however, it wasn’t widely practised in private and business life until the 19th century. Today, meditation is used by people of all sorts with the intention of reducing stress and increasing inner peace. Additionally, the practice is used to relieve pain, discomfort, and even mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Many workplaces now encourage mindfulness sessions, where employees can use meditation to reduce the risk of burnout.
When thinking of yoga, one of the first poses to come to mind is Downward Facing Dog. Widely talked about in the West, the asana is popular for a reason. Many yogis believe that the pose benefits the entire body when practised regularly. Strengthening a number of muscle groups throughout the body, the posture is ideal for those looking to build muscle. Additionally, the asana can combat back pain and headaches; stretching the spine, the position can relieve tension from the lower, middle, and upper back.
To practice the asana, start by standing tall on your mat. Next, slowly hinge at the waist and lower your torso towards the ground. Rest your palms on the mat so that your body forms a triangle. To maintain balance, keep your fingers spread wide and your spine straight. You are in Downward Facing Dog. Hold the posture for around 30 seconds before returning to an upright position.
One of the most popular pranayamas is Ujjayi breathing. Often practised in Ashtanga Vinyasa classes, the exercise is designed to create heat and stability within the body. However, the technique can be used with any style to help us take our time with each asana. Ujjayi breathing reminds us that our breathing is more important than the idealised shape of the posture. The breathing technique can also be practised after a strenuous workout session to lower the heart rate; with this in mind, the exercise is especially helpful in Vinyasa flow classes.
To practice Ujjayi breathing, seal your lips and breathe through your nose. When you inhale, take a deeper breath than normal and exhale slowly through your nose while constricting the muscles in your throat. You are using Ujjayi breathing. Practice the exercise until you start to feel calmer.
One of the most popular meditation styles is mindfulness meditation. Concentrating on the sensations within the body, this technique teaches you to focus on the present.
To practice mindfulness meditation, begin by focussing on your breathing. After a few seconds, take note of the other sensations within your body. For instance, observe any tension, tingling, or numbness in the muscles. When using this technique, try not to analyse the sensations; instead, allow them to pass freely through your mind without getting hung up on them.
If you’re new to yoga, practice the techniques above to get started. To improve your skills, it’s important not to rush into complex asanas. Pushing yourself too far, too soon could result in injury, so get to grips with the basics before challenging yourself. When you are ready to try something new, be sure to practice on a good-quality yoga mat to reduce the pressure on your joints.