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I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible. (And other myths that prevent people from starting a yoga practice.)
Instagram is brimming with staged photos of people standing on their heads, twisted up in a Cirque du Soleil-like fashion.
While it’s fun to look at these photos, I also think it sends the wrong message and makes yoga appear less approachable for the average person.
This article will help you with the basics of how to start a yoga practice – no experience necessary!
What is yoga?
First of all, what is yoga?
Yoga has historical roots dating back thousands of years in India. The word yoga is Sanskrit, meaning “to join together” or union.
Yoga is a practice that uses asanas (poses), breathing techniques (pranayama), meditation, and several other steps to integrate the mind, body, and spirit.
To learn more about history, yoga philosophy, and the eight limbs of yoga, start with The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The best part about yoga is that it can meet you where ever you are. No matter what your age, body type, or fitness level, there’s a way for you to personalize a yoga practice.
You don’t have to look a certain way or buy certain clothes to practice yoga.
Benefits of yoga
The primary physical benefits of yoga include flexibility, balance, strength, and relaxation.
Yoga has also been incorporated to help manage other health conditions including migraines, stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and insomnia just to name a few.
Styles of yoga
Something that might seem confusing to beginners is why are there so many different types of yoga? And, which is right for me?
There are many different styles of yoga geared toward different ages, ability levels, goals, and interests.
Choosing the right style of yoga class that resonates with you is essential.
Here’s a crash course in the difference between some common yoga offerings.
Hatha yoga comes to mind when thinking about yoga in general.
It’s a good style of yoga for beginners and typically moves at a slower pace. Poses and classes will vary by instructor.
Vinyasa flow style classes use many of the same poses as Hatha yoga however the class is structured so that elements flow together.
The pace and structure of the class will vary by instructor. Vinyasa classes also have a flow element in between sets of poses that is similar to a basic sun salutation.
Slow flow classes are good for beginners, however a faster paced class may not be ideal for absolute beginners.
Ashtanga yoga is highly structured and moves through the same sequence of poses (called a series) every time.
Students must master all of the poses in one series before moving on to the next level.
Ashtanga classes can be longer and physically demanding. They may not be the best choice for absolute beginners.
Restorative yoga is a more meditative practice aimed at slowing the mind and body down for relaxation.
Poses are held for 5-20 minutes, using props such as blankets, bolsters, and blocks to support the pose and allow you to relax.
Slower paced classes are ideal to turn off our busy minds and enjoy the health benefits of relaxation.
Yin yoga is another slow, meditative type yoga practice.
Yin yoga targets the deeper connective tissues like fascia and ligaments. Yin has roots in Chinese philosophy of energy blockages and flow.
Yin poses are held longer, approximately 5 minutes per pose with the help of props for support.
There’s hot yoga and there’s Bikram Yoga.
Bikram yoga is performed in extremely hot and humid 105-degree F conditions and consists of the same sequence of poses in each class.
Hot yoga is a general term for (usually a vinyasa class) in a heated environment, usually heated to (80-100 degrees F)
Because of the heat, hot yoga can be demanding both mentally and physically. There’s also an increased risk for injury due to the perception of being able to stretch further.
There is some scrutiny over the safety of workouts in such a heated environment. (Hewitt, et. al., 2015) Cautions should be applied if pursuing this type of yoga.
How to start a yoga practice
Yoga is very accessible no matter what your price point or location.
Here are some ways you can start a yoga routine.
Home yoga practice
You can access tons of free yoga classes on YouTube. Some crowd favorites with lots of beginner yoga options are Yoga with Kassandra and Yoga with Adrienne.
It’s possible to have enough variety at home with just free YouTube classes.
If you’re looking for a little more structure, check out Yoga Download.
They offer over 1500 classes including yoga and Pilates. You can also watch yoga pose videos and download pose guides.
A home yoga practice can be a good way to add extra yoga into a busy schedule. It’s also a great way to save money on those pricey classes!
Yoga classes at your gym
Be sure to read class descriptions as yoga classes may be disguised as stretch, flow, or fusion classes.
The description will also tell you what level the class is intended for. If you’re a beginner look for the words gentle yoga, level 1 yoga, beginner yoga, or all levels welcome.
Community or donation-based classes
Libraries or other community centers may be locations for these classes. (Sometimes local Lululemon or Athleta stores feature free classes!)
Donation-based classes may be offered at a yoga studio and are a great way to check out a studio without committing to buying a package.
Private yoga studios
Studios offer many yoga classes several times/days per week and can provide that zen experience.
Average prices range from $10-25 per class, depending on the studio and location. Sales and new client packages are a great way to score deals.
Some studios do come with an attitude that’s off putting to some. If you’ve had a bad experience and felt unwelcome, give another studio a shot. Not all yoga studios are the same. Find your people.
Tips to prepare for your first yoga class
Familiarize yourself with basic yoga poses
The internet makes it so easy to learn many things, and yoga poses is one of them. Take some time to watch a few YouTube videos before your first yoga class to familiarize yourself with the basics.
You can also grab your free guide full of modifications and variations below this video.
Tell the yoga instructor you’re new
In any welcoming yoga space, the yoga teacher will make an effort to greet everyone individually. It’s ok to say hi and let them know you’re new.
Inform them of any injuries or conditions that may affect your ability to perform various poses.
Some common conditions include osteoporosis, pregnancy, arthritis, joint replacements, recent or chronic injuries, etc. If you’re not sure, ask.
Before the class starts
Choose a spot for your yoga mat where you can see and hear the instructor clearly.
Take advantage of mirrors, they will help with form.
Be mindful of personal space when setting up. It’s considered disrespectful to walk on someone else’s mat.
Observe the tone in the room.
Before a yoga class, many people like to sit or stretch quietly. This isn’t purposefully anti-social, just a common way people center themselves and prep for a class. Be respectful of others and keep conversation to a minimum.
Make sure your phone is silenced, nothing ruins a Savasana like an unexpected call!
Yoga props are your friends
Yoga props may be available if you’re at a yoga studio. They are not always available or may be limited at some gyms or community classes. You can also buy your own to use at home or in classes.
Props such as blocks, blankets, straps, and bolsters can help tailor your practice to you. The Clever Yoga starter kit is an affordable option for beginners.
These props exist to make you more comfortable and to enhance your practice. There is no shame in using them. I use all of the above whenever I get a chance.
Gather a few props to keep near your mat during the class. You’ll be more likely to use that yoga block if it’s right there. You can seamlessly grab a prop and get right back to it.
Wear comfortable clothing
Wear something that does not restrict your movement. Bring a long sleeve top or sweater as studio temperatures are notoriously unpredictable, especially for slower-paced classes.
Despite what social media may make you think, you do not need to be dressed to the nines in the latest yoga wear.
Wear what makes you feel good.
Take modifications & variations
The wonderful thing about yoga is that it can meet your where ever you are. There’s a way to modify or support every type of yoga pose.
Listen for alignment cues. Easy cues like “stack your knee over your ankle” in warrior 2 can help your form and prevent injuries.
Get in tune with sensation vs pain
Always remember – listen to your body no matter what the instructor is telling you. No matter what the person next to you is doing.
Everyone is different and has their own injuries, comfort levels, and challenges. It’s not a competition.
As you move through poses, there will be different sensations such as stretching, pulling, resistance.
Pain should never be one of them.
Listen for modifications to help protect you. And if all else fails, take a child’s pose.
Honor what you can do today
Balance can be off, you can feel tight, mind distracted. Remember, yoga is practice. Just keep coming back.
Do what you can do today. Manage your expectations and don’t be too hard on yourself.
Try multiple instructors
The reality is not everybody loves everybody. It’s cool.
If you don’t care for a class or teaching strategy, etc., just try another instructor. You’ll find someone that resonates with you, but don’t be discouraged and give up forever.
Ready to get on the mat?
Including yoga is a wonderful way to integrate the mind and body.
Even one time per week or smaller 20 min sessions at home to fit your schedule will have a positive impact on your overall wellness.
Don’t be afraid to start your yoga journey today.
You might also like:
- Knee Support For Yoga – Props & Tips For Happy Joints
- How to Protect Your Hamstrings During Yoga
- Outstanding Yoga Mats For Sweaty Hands To Transform Your Practice
Hewett ZL, Cheema BS, Pumpa KL, Smith CA. The Effects of Bikram Yoga on Health: Critical Review and Clinical Trial Recommendations. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:428427. doi:10.1155/2015/428427