Yoga can be used to calm the mind and strengthen the body with joyful practice. No matter your age, race, fitness level, or size - yoga can be used as a tool to learn to stay present, both on and off your mat.
Yoga allows me to be the best version of myself, and it’s my intention that you are able to find the same beauty in yoga. Don’t be intimidated by the foreign words or advanced poses you see being done online. Yoga is simply about being aware.
In this post, I will be covering what yoga is, the different styles of yoga and a breakdown of simple yoga poses. Whether you’re wanting to practice at home, or are looking to join a studio, this post will give you a basic understanding of this ancient practice.
What Is Yoga?
I often joke that yoga is just not being a shit person - as simple as that. There are many yoga quotes that sum up this incredible practice in a beautiful and poetic way.
However, I often use the definition of yoga given by Georg Feuerstein, “Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word “Yuj” which means to “harness, yoke, prepare, equip, fasten”. He goes on to say, “Yoga is the current of spirituality that has developed on the Indian peninsula over a period of some five thousand years.”.
On a practical level, yoga is the balancing of the mind, body, and emotions. This is done by practicing asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, shatkarma, and meditation.
Types Of Yoga
There are more styles of yoga now more than ever. Modern yoga classes have something for everyone. Nowadays, you can do wine yoga, yoga with goats, and yoga while drawing. While yoga continually evolves and changes to suit the modern person it is all based on various ancient practices.
I have broken down some of the main styles of yoga so you can understand the differences and choose the perfect class for you.
Vinyasa, often called “flow yoga”, is characterized by moving from one asana, or posture, into the next seamlessly. The focus is on connecting breath to movement.
Ashtanga, created by Sri Pattabhi Jois, is a structured vinyasa-style class. It is made up of five Ashtanga asana series. Students must master every posture of the first series before continuing to the next series and so on.
Iyengar Yoga was developed by B.K.S. Iyenger. This style of yoga has a large emphasis on alignment and precision. Students use a wide range of props during their yoga practice like straps, blocks, and bolsters. Iyengar Yoga is highly detail-orientated and slow-paced often making it the first choice for those beginning their yoga journey.
Jivamukti is a holistic style of yoga created by Sharon Gannon and David Life. Jivamukti is a strong physical, ethical, and spiritual practice. While the style of yoga is vinyasa-based, classes will include teachings, chanting, and meditation.
Jivamukti has five central tenets which include: bhakti (devotional practice), ahimsā (non-violence), nāda(deep listening), shastra (teachings of ancient text), and dhyana (meditation).
Yin Yoga holds a single asana for a much longer period of time than other yoga styles. It is a slow-paced style of yoga that can often be restorative and incorporate meditation.
The purpose of Hatha Yoga is to focus on your breathing and channel your energy. The pace of your movement is slower than vinyasa and is used to calm the mind, body, and spirit.
Kundalini Yoga incorporates mantras and breathing exercises with physical Hatha asanas/poses. This style of yoga focuses on moving dormant energy from the base of the spine through the top of the head. Practitioners often wear all white, including white headdresses.
Bikram Yoga, developed by Bikram Choudhury, is a set sequence of 26 asanas practiced in a heated room. It shouldn’t be confused with ‘hot yoga’ which is generally a vinyasa class taught in a heated room.
Yoga Poses For Beginner Yoga
Surya Namaskar, also known as Sun Salutation, is a sequence of 12 asanas. It is a powerful balanced flow that incorporates a standing pose, forward fold, backward bend, and inversion.
The sequence dates back to the 9th century and traditionally was practiced first thing in the morning to welcome the new day. Today Surya Namaskar is in almost every vinyasa class, whether it be audio-classes or advanced yoga classes at a studio. It is the perfect beginner yoga routine.
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Child’s pose is technically not a part of Surya Namaskar but it’s an important asana to know for beginners yoga. Child’s pose is often done before a class starts to stretch the spine. It is also used as a recovery pose. Students will often move into child’s pose during a class if they need a break or to re-center the mind.
Benefits: It gently stretches your ankles, knees, thighs, hips, and lower back and relaxes your spine, shoulders, and neck.
Focus: Relax the muscles of your spine and lower back as you breathe.
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Tadasana is a standing yoga pose. Begin Surya Namaskar by standing at the front of your mat drawing focus to your breath.
Benefits: Mountain pose assists in correcting your posture. It also makes your spine more agile and in turn, improves your balance.
Focus: Concentrate on even weight distribution on your feet, engaging your quadriceps and core and slightly tucking your tailbone.
Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)
On an inhale, and still standing, bring your palms together and raise your prayer above your head towards the sky/ceiling. For those who have tighter shoulders, keep your arms parallel to each other at shoulder-width apart.
Benefits: Lifting your prayer stretches the sides of the body, spine, shoulders, and stomach
Focus: Remember to keep your shoulders melting away from your ears while engaging your core.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
As you exhale, move into a standing forward fold, bringing your hands down to either side of your feet. Slightly bend your knees to allow your hands to connect with the floor if your hamstrings are tight.
Benefits: Uttanasana Stretches the hips, hamstrings, and calves.
Focus: Keep your core engaged and shoulders away from the ears as you feel a deep stretch at the back of your legs.
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
The low lunge in Surya Namaskar is a transitional pose. You will be moving through the lunge into plank to move down through chaturanga dandasana. Aim to use one exhale breath to move steadily and joyfully through all three poses.
Benefits: This pose scratches out the hips while strengthening the quads, calves, and hamstrings as well as the arms and shoulders.
Focus: Keep your legs and arms strong and engaged.
The plank can be considered as a transitional asana in Surya Namaskar. You move fairly swiftly through it as you exhale into chaturanga.
Benefits: Planks tone the core muscles of the body and strengthen the arms, wrists, and shoulders.
Focus: Remember to engage your core and keep your arms and legs engaged.
Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)
Continue to exhale into chaturanga dandasana. This pose is a push-up variation and has similar benefits to the plank pose.
Benefits: Chaturanga strengthens the arms and wrists.
Focus: Keep your elbows alongside you and don’t lower more than 90 degrees.
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose)
Inhale into an upward-facing dog, the backbend asana of the sequence. Press into the palms of your hands and tops of your feet, keeping your legs and hips off the floor.
Benefits: Urdhva mukha svanasana stretches the chest and strengthens the back
Focus: Try to keep an even weight distribution on your palms and the tops of your feet while stretching the chest and shoulders open. Keep your navel drawing up and away from the floor.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Exhale into adho mukha svanasana and hold for five breaths. Downward facing dog is an inversion as your head is lower than your heart.
It can relieve back pain and helps to neutralize the spine. Keep your fingers spread out wide with your pinkies touching the edge of your mat. Your feet should be hip-width distance apart.
Benefits: Adho Mukha Svanasana stretches the hamstrings, calves, and arches of your feet while strengthening the arms, shoulders, and back while
Focus: Try and keep your spine straight and legs engaged. Breathe into the stretch at the back of the legs while distributing the weight evenly through your palms. Be aware of keeping your shoulders away from your ears and lifting your hips up and back.
Final Thoughts on Yoga Exercises For Beginners
Like anything in life, the first step is always the hardest. If you have been playing with the idea of starting yoga, getting onto the mat for the time is the biggest challenge. However, once you have made that first step, the fear melts away, and the magic begins.
Starting yoga means starting a journey to self. It puts you on a path that you look back on and think, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m here now!”. Sometimes it leads to doing teacher training, other times it leads to your life taking a surprise turn, but it always leads to knowing yourself and the world better.