Yoga Lessons for Beginners: What to Know to Start Getting Your Zen On.
Calling all curious soon-to-be yogis!
Ever thought about attending a yoga class but the idea of trying to get your head to your knee seemed too overwhelming and scary? Especially in front of a bunch of yogis who could stand on their heads?
I know because I’ve been there. But I hope I can convince you that yoga is so much more than trying to relax, staying a pose with screaming legs and burning arms, and attempting to not hold your breath all at the same time.
So... What is yoga?
Yoga means union; the interconnectedness of your mind, body and spirit to improve aspects of health. Yoga is more than just making shapes with the body, contrary to popular belief. The physical postures of yoga are called asanas, and are just one limb of the eight limbs or components of yoga. Asana prepares you for meditation and for entering into a state of concentration and bliss.
The eight limbs also consists of ethical principles for how to live a purposeful life (the niyamas and yamas), while acknowledging the health, mindfulness, wellbeing and spiritual aspects of oneself. Sometimes, in order to truly understand the major themes of yoga’s teachings, we need to practice asana with the intention of drawing inward and looking at what our minds and bodies are telling us about our souls.
But sometimes we aren’t given this information when we attend a yoga class, and maybe we have different intentions for starting our practice. For most, it’s to relieve stress, or to get some exercise in, but as we continue to practice and engage in an everyday yoga routine, we can begin to focus on the spiritual side of yoga.
So ... How do you do yoga?
Yoga begins by showing up. Engaging your whole self and slowing down to the speed of our rapid and quickly changing, crazy lives. Yoga is for all bodies, shapes and sizes. No comparisons need to be made as it is a practice of going within - not looking outward at others.
Yoga is for you, your development, and your growth so that ultimately, you can better serve others. The asana or poses, are vehicles for you to reach your greatest potential and to allow you to better love yourself and others with a humble and grateful heart.
So... Feeling inspired yet? What if I told you about my yoga journey?
I have been exposed to yoga since I was a child as my aunt was a yoga teacher. I would watch the yoga for kids video and hang out in my cat and cow poses, while actually making the animal noises … it was a fun way for me to move and release all my energy.
I attended hot yoga classes with her, and she led me through yoga flows at her house. But as I went into high school, my poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and academic focus shifted away from my health and my yoga practice.
As my mom started exploring health and fitness in her own life, I began to eat better and become conscious of how movement was changing my negative mindset. I began following home workout videos, and jumping on my rebounder to move my body and uplift my mind.
Fast forward to university, when I decided that majoring in business was not my calling and that kinesiology was much more in line with my values and lifestyle. I began having a regular yoga practice at different local studios, mostly vinyasa and hot yoga to initially relieve my stress from the university life. I enjoyed moving, and started to see how yoga was being translated into my life and improving my health on all levels ... physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Yoga allowed me to dive deeper into my true essence, everyday.
As I decided to go to Hawaii for two months on a yoga internship for school, I was immersed into the authentic yoga world ... one that didn’t commercialize or advertise yoga as getting your exercise in for one quick hour. I was doing vinyasa, yin and kundalini yoga for 1.5-5 hours a day and loving every minute of it.
I felt like I was on a yoga high … and I still feel that way coming out of classes and moving through my own yoga practice.
Now throughout my travels, I have completed my 200-hour yoga teacher training and experienced many different types of yoga classes around the world. I have dived deeper into inversions, breath work, mantras, kirtan, and meditation.
Yoga has given me clarity, healed my relationship with food, and improved my relationships with others as I am more present, engaged and sensitive in conversations. Yoga has gradually helped me in healing my hormonal and digestive health and has allowed me to connect deeper with my true essence and higher purpose.
So... Are you Feeling ready to reap the benefits of yoga but don’t know where to start?
Here are my top 10 yoga lessons on how to get started on your yoga journey to discover your highest Self!
1. Get a mat.
If you are planning on taking a yoga class, the first step you can do is buy yourself a yoga mat that suits your needs and your style! There are some for as low as $20 with cool designs, as well as grabbing a block and strap package for your home practice is helpful for injuries, tight muscles or when first practicing new poses. I finally upgraded to a heavy-duty yoga mat that is extra long for my extra long limbs and that is holding up to my daily practice.
2. Find some inspiration.
See how others are moving and get inspired! Maybe check out some Instagram accounts of yoga teachers and their favourite flows and poses, and read about the eight limbs of yoga through resources like the Yoga Sutras.
3. Figure out which type of yoga works for you.
If you can’t stand being hot when you are moving, hot yoga would probably not be the best choice for you. Listen to your body and try out some different yoga classes around town. Hatha and vinyasa yoga are the most common types of yoga that we practice in North America.
When you want to be mellow and stretch it out in static poses, go for some yin yoga. If you have lots of energy and don’t like to hold poses for a long time, try some vinyasa power yoga. If you want to challenge your mind and engage in more repetitious breathing and meditation practices, try some kundalini yoga. And if you like routine and want to progress through set sequences, try some Ashtanga yoga.
Vinyasa yoga is my go to … usually a yoga class that holds poses but also where I can push myself and hang in a headstand for a while; however, I do switch it up depending on my needs of the week.
4. Do your research and shop around (closer is better).
Find a studio that has a variety of different classes that you think you would enjoy, as well as one that is near to your house or work. Check class schedules weekly and find ways to fit them into your schedule (set reminders, put it on your calendar or write it in your planner!!). Make time for you. If you make your personal growth and health a priority, you will reap the benefits in all areas of your life.
5. Try different classes that involve water, sun or animals.
There are some special exceptions to traditional yoga classes that you might want to try out if you’re feeling adventurous. SUP yoga is always a fun way to challenge your balance and connect to the sea (or lake…). When the seasons change, there are usually 108 sun salutation challenges that salute to the new season and connect with other yogis in your community.
Also, there are some classes that are by donation to animal rescue charities, and include goats, cats and dogs wandering around and chilling on your mats as you move through your downward dogs with them. This is the usual at my house … minus the goats.
6. Bring a friend or go with someone who is all Zened out.
It always helps when you know someone who is into yoga and goes to a local studio or is interested in starting a practice. You can hold each other accountable as well as share ideas and thoughts about classes and how yoga is influencing your lives together. Also, your friend might give you the encouragement as well as inspiration you need to get to your butt in your first class.
7. Be consistent.
To have a daily practice would be ideal, but when starting out, try to go to yoga at least 2-3 times a week to really experience the benefits – mind, body and soul! You will feel yourself becoming more mindful. As you slow down, you will realize that what you learn on the mat then will project into your daily life – but this only happens when you are committed and consistent!
8. Listen to your body (and know your limits).
Don’t ever compare yourself to the other yogis in the room. Focus on your breath and listen to your body as you flow through different poses. Stay in the asanas that are uncomfortable, but not the ones that hurt. Know your limits but also know when to push yourself to your edge. Get adventurous and try out new poses without fear or judgment of yourself or what others will think. Come to class with a curious mind and an open heart.
9. Find a yoga instructor (mentor) that gets you.
Trying different studios and going to different yoga events in the local community can help you find a teacher that speaks to your soul and cares about your growth. Once you find a yoga teacher that you can relate to, and that understands you and knows your limits, it can make your yoga experience even that much better. Having a mentor can teach you new things about yourself, about the practice itself, and can be the support and guidance you need to reach your highest Self.
10. Be patient.
Being kind to your body also means that getting to more advanced yoga poses takes time, effort, focus and patience. Be patient with your progress, and know that there is a lot of hard work on all accounts – mentally, emotionally, physically and spirituality. Contemplation, reflection, listening, and letting go are all parts of the journey. Trust in your yoga journey and the development of your connection to your spirit.
I encourage you to get your zen on in order to improve your health and your interactions with yourself, others and the world off the mat.
Jill is a health enthusiast passionate about holistic living through being conscious of the mind, body and spirit connection. She is a free-spirited veggie-loving yoga teacher that loves any kind of adventure that comes her way, whether that is rock climbing, paddle boarding, waterfall rappelling, cliff jumping or learning a new inversion. She finds balance and inspiration in her happy place of being in nature and swimming in the ocean. She ensures that everything she does is in alignment with her truth – to have a grateful and vulnerable heart in order to live in a positive and light filled way.
Follow her yoga journey on Instagram: @theveggievillager.