Yoga: A Beginner's Guide

The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit term meaning “union”. While yoga originated in India more than 5,000 years ago, its popularity has risen exponentially over the past decade. There are many forms of yoga; however, most yoga types focus on breathing techniques (pranayama), postures (asanas), flexibility and meditation (dhyana).

With yoga studios sprouting up everywhere, how does one know things like which type of yoga to practice or yoga studio to choose? How do those new to yoga keep from feeling overwhelmed? How do beginners prepare themselves for adding a yoga practice into one’s lifestyle? Here are a few things to know…

What does Namaste mean?

Namaste is a Sanskrit word and is pronounced nah-mah-stay. In its simplest definition, it means the light in me honors and respects the light in you. New yogis should not be wary of this term or feel that by saying it in class it has a religious implication. The practice of saying Namaste just means that one is honoring other yogis and the connection between human beings.

What does Om mean?

Om is usually pronounced ow-ooh-um or a-um and it is depicted as a symbol that resembles a backwards 3 with a slash and dot on top. This symbol shows up everywhere- tattoos, yoga mats, jewelry. The concept of Om is thought to embody all things and signify that we are all one. As with Namaste, participating in the calling of Om (particularly at the beginning or end of a class) need not have religious connotations. Instead, think of Om as a universal sentiment to unite everyone.

Let yourself be a beginner.

It takes time to cultivate a yoga practice. Ten classes will barely break one in. That’s okay. Some yogis practice for years and still cannot perform all poses and postures. Sometimes the length of practice doesn’t even matter- sometimes people can’t do certain poses because the pose doesn’t work for their body type. It is easy to feel badly if one cannot master a given position, but avoid doing so and just let oneself be.

Along those lines, sometimes poses will be uncomfortable and can even cause discomfort. Take time to learn what the muscles feel like under various conditions- are they just tired or are they stretching or are they being harmed. Learn to listen to one’s body, as it will let one know when to stop.

Breathe to one’s own drum.

One might find that the instructor cues inhalation or exhalation at times that don’t feel right for the individual. Don’t feel less than if the class breath pattern is different from one’s own. Breathe in a way that feels comfortable- even if it is a customized pace.

What does one do during Savasana?

Savasana or resting pose is the last pose of every yoga class. Savasana is a Sanskrit word that means corpse pose. While that may sound grim, think of it instead, as the end of the yoga practice. In Savasana the mind is free, as the daily nuisances and past have been left behind. Being present in the moment is what Savasana is all about. However, it will take practice to calm one’s mind and be still. If thoughts enter the mind, try and be a passive observer and shift the focus to the breath. If at first Savasana feels odd, be patient- it will become addicting!

Some other yoga dos…

Arrive early. It is perfectly acceptable to tell the instructor ahead of time that this is the first class. Ask for help when needed. Try some beginner poses before the first class.

Some yoga don’ts…

Avoid a big meal before class. Instead, eat a light meal several hours before class. Bring water to stay hydrated. Leave the shoes off.

Now that the beginner’s lesson is done- try a yoga class! While yoga is an excellent workout, it is also so much more! Yoga connects the body and mind and can guide one towards greater overall health. Yoga can give back in ways one didn’t even know were possible.

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