It’s no secret that for many, yoga helps improve mind, body and soul. Aside from obvious perks like building strength and increasing flexibility, yoga also encourages continuous deep breathing, which calms the body and gives you a nice jump-start to the day. With our busy and stressful lives, we could all benefit from mixing a little Zen with our bend.
First-time yogis shouldn’t worry too much about the many yoga styles out there to choose from. Most beginner-level classes will be in Hatha or Vinyasa — two styles that focus on coordinating movement with breath. Fitness buffs may like Vinyasa, which is typically faster-paced and more intense in terms of stretching, leg-lifting and inversions. Other popular styles include Iyengar, Ashtanga and Bikram (which is a sequence of 26 poses done in a room heated to more than 100°).
Before you pick a class, here are seven pointers to keep in mind:
1. Find a studio that works for you.
Many local businesses offer new-student specials. So bounce around until you find a space and instructors that feel like a good fit for you. In Seattle, unroll your mat at The Yoga Tree or The Grinning Yogi, a heated power flow studio. In Portland, try The People’s Yoga Northeast or YoYo Yogi.
2. Start each session by “checking in” with yourself.
Devote a few moments to tuning into your body-mind-emotional state, knowing that every day will be different. Let this guide your decisions on which poses to take or how much physical energy to expend.
3. During your first few classes, simply get used to moving and breathing.
Rather than worrying about achieving the “perfect” pose, focus on keeping your body safe. Listen to your body, taking breaks when necessary. Ultimately, your breathing should lead your movement.
4. Build your foundation.
The Sanskrit term “asana” is often translated to mean “connection to the earth.” Remember that every pose begins from the ground up, so focus first on the parts of your body that are connected to the floor.
5. Balance the physical workout with relaxation or meditation.
A combination of asana practice and mental centering can bring about a sense of well-being.
6. Don’t do more than you have to.
While getting into poses or doing relaxation exercises, it’s tempting to feel as though you should be doing something more. Fight those thoughts! Trying too hard can be an obstacle to a good yoga practice.
7. Drop all expectations.
Try not to compare yourself to others in the class, or to judge yourself for what you may perceive to be physical limitations. Go with the flow.