Yoga for Beginners

Yoga has many physical, spiritual and mental benefits, and virtually no barriers to entry. Celebrated instructor Eoin Finn shares his advice on yoga for beginners, including how to prepare for your first class

Yoga for Beginners

Yoga for beginners: Why anyone can try yoga

With the popularity of yoga these days, most people know you don’t have to twist your body into pretzel-shapes to enjoy yoga’s many physical and psychological benefits. You can achieve a better body and a calmer mind with anything from gentle yoga stretching to a vigorous, sweat-inducing practice. Still, beginners to yoga have common questions about how and when to begin a yoga practice.

For one thing, some people feel as if they’re not flexible enough to even give yoga a try, according to Eoin Finn, a B.C.-based yoga instructor and creator of a new DVD called Pure and Simple: Yoga for Stiffies. But that’s precisely the reason to start yoga. ‘Saying you’re too inflexible to do yoga is like saying you’re too dirty to have a shower!’ says Finn.

Benfits of yoga: Mental and physical

The physical benefits of yoga extend far beyond flexibility: In addition to stretching your muscles, regular yoga can make you more toned, improve balance, strengthen your abs, boost energy, and increase cardio fitness (depending on the yoga style you do).

With that many benefits, you might wonder if you must master the yoga poses quickly to feel the results. Not at all, says Finn. Follow what he calls the ‘feel good principle’ of yoga.

‘Lower the bar of expectation so you don’t feel as if the extreme gymnastics of yoga is the goal,’ he says. ‘Instead, set a simple goal of leaving the class feeling better than when you arrived.’

How to do yoga breathing

As a first step to feeling better, focus on the breathing style used in yoga. Getting that simple technique down helps you improve in all areas of your practice, whether you’re after more toned muscles, less physical tension or a calmer mindset.  ‘The breath is the barometer for your mood, your health and your attitude toward life,’ says Finn.

To try yoga breathing’which Finn describes as long, slow and deep’keep your mouth closed, inhaling and exhaling just through your nose.  ‘Feel for a slight swirling sensation in the back of your throat,’ says Finn. ‘And make sure the breath isn’t just in the front and upper lungs,’ he adds. ‘There should be movement in the lower back and sides of the ribs, as well.’

Avoiding injury in yoga

Pay close attention to your breathing in each pose’if it’s strained, short or choppy, you’re likely pushing yourself too far. To stay safe, avoid injury and see the benefits of yoga, you’ve got to do it correctly’with deep, even breathing and proper alignment during every pose.

How to prepare for your first yoga class

Start a new yoga practice with a class, where you can make contact with the instructor and let him or her know about any limitations or injuries. Just choose your yoga class wisely. ‘Most classes draw from a similar set of poses, but the pace and intensity can vary,’ says Finn. ‘Be sure you’re ready for what you signed up for.’  

It’s also nice to be informed about the general rhythm of the class so you know what to expect from start to finish, says Finn. Most classes involve time to inwardly centre yourself, vigorous poses to warm up the body, deeper stretches, a wind-down period and at least a few minutes of final relaxation, where you lie quietly on your yoga mat.

How to do yoga at home

Even if you’d rather do yoga at home, consider taking at least a few classes first. ‘It’s best to learn the fundamentals in a class, then practice at home because there are so many refinements for making the poses safer, more therapeutic and more fun,’ says Finn.

After that, follow a yoga book or DVD from a qualified yoga instructor who can guide you through a safe, effective routine with cues for making the most of each yoga pose.

Whether you end up practicing yoga at home or in a class, get started now for a calmer mind and stronger, more flexible body.

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