How To Start Your Yoga Practice, at home or at the studio

As a Christian, the entire concept of practicing yoga may be foreign to you. Here is a post to help you ease into a yoga practice!

*This post was originally published on LIFEAPPS authored by myself and my amazing, wonderful, talented friend Paige Jarreau. Her social media handle is @fromthelabbench.*

Yoga studios, online yoga practice videos and yoga mobile apps have exploded in the last decade. More than two billion people around the world practice yoga, according to United Nations News. That includes one in three Americans who have tried yoga at least once.

But yoga is not familiar to everyone. Stepping onto a yoga mat for the first time can be daunting. Read on to learn how to get started and enjoy yoga’s health benefits!

Yoga as a physical and mental practice has a plethora of benefits. Through interventional studies and controlled trials, researchers have shown that yoga improves physical mobility, balance and flexibility, pain related to musculoskeletal conditions, sleep quality, subjective well-being, heart health, regulation of the sympathetic nervous, inflammation, stress levels, depression and anxiety. It is an ancient practice that combines movement (asanas or physical postures) with breathing (pranayama) and meditation (bringing full awareness to a single thing, such as breath). Especially when combined with breathing techniques and meditation, yoga can reduce blood pressure and protect against hypertension.

Many yoga practices are also designed to promote mindfulness, insight into our own reactivities and better regulation of our emotions. Yoga also helps us develop the ability to stay with sensations that we might otherwise avoid, by moving us into a place of less judgement toward ourselves and these sensations.

“People who do yoga are 20% more likely to have a positive image of their own physical and mental health, including a stronger sense of mental clarity, physical fitness, flexibility, and strength.” – Harvard Health Blog

What can I expect from a yoga class?

Any standard yoga sequence has an arc structure, based on the “arc of a class.” Most yoga classes begin with a warm-up to prepare the body for movement and to focus awareness on the breath. The middle of the class includes the highest energy of the practice. Sometimes it will include a “peak” pose, the most difficult pose of the class that the previous poses have opened the student up for. The end of class is a cool-down meant to ready the mind for complete relaxation and mindful awareness, or a mini yoga nap, in savasana aka “corpse pose.” While not every class is sequenced like this, a student can find remnants of this in any given postural-based class.

As yoga expands in reach and popularity, it is important to point out that traditional yoga practices are about much more than physical exercise. Many of the benefits of yoga come from its traditional emphasis on breath regulation, mindfulness, emotion regulation, non-judgemental monitoring of thoughts and sensations, and maintenance of postures through many cycles of breath. The latter can promote greater patience, resilience, awareness and focus. In other words, yoga is “a multimodal activity that improves aspects of fitness like strength, balance and flexibility, as well as mental wellbeing.

The postural yoga mentioned in this blog post is based on the Western adaptations of yoga as a health and wellness practice. Yoga in its most authentic and ancient form is philosophically based, not physically based. While the purpose of this post is to highlight the physical and mental benefits of yoga practice, appreciating and respecting yogic philosophies and traditions is important.

Find what works for your body

Which yoga class is right for you? See the flowchart below to find out!

Yoga flowchart. Created by LifeOmic designers.

“I can’t do yoga. I’m not flexible.” “I don’t like yoga. It’s too slow.”

Starting a new yoga practice, whether by joining your first class in a studio or following an online yoga instructor, can be daunting. It’s natural to find excuses – yoga is only for women, yoga is for people who are flexible, I don’t have a yoga mat, yoga isn’t for me. But yoga is truly for everyone.

You don’t have to have flexibility or prior experience to start a yoga practice. Yoga doesn’t even need to cost you anything. There are thousands of excellent and free yoga practices available online. I recommend Yoga with Adriene, Yoga with Kassandra, Yoga with Tim, Cat Meffan and Alo Yoga series on Youtube. You don’t really need anything to get started other than maybe a phone, computer or another device to watch these videos on. If you do start your yoga practice online, go slow, don’t push beyond pain and try practicing with a friend so that you don’t get hurt.

Many studios and online video series have strayed from using traditional yoga class names to describe their practices, in order to invite beginners. But often somewhere in the description of the class or practice, the traditional and most likely Sanskrit name of the practice will still be there. Examples include Hatha (force or sun & moon) yoga, Nidra (sleep) yoga and Vinyasa (to place in a special way) or breath-synchronized yoga.

Every yoga class involves breath, movement and mindfulness, usually in that order.

Pranayama, or breath work, is central in entering a meditative state whether in movement or stillness. Practicing breathwork at least once a day can increase the flow of oxygen to the blood.

The asanas, or poses, are intended to prepare the body physically and mentally for mindfulness. The asanas vary in complexity of position and rate per class depending on the class type. For example, yin, restorative and most hatha classes include basic stretching and minimal poses. Ashtanga, Bikram, power and Vinyasa classes function at a higher intensity with more poses and deeper stretches. The yoga postures usually come to mind at the mention of yoga, but the postures and breath only lead to physical benefits.