How to Start Yoga | A Beginner's Guide to an Ancient Art

Written by
Laura Kleist @ 8fit
how to start yoga
Written by
Laura Kleist @ 8fit
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Have you ever seen a blissed-out yogi and thought, “How on earth can I get on that level?” Perhaps you’ve heard reports of the numerous health benefits of yoga, and you’re looking to get in on the action?

Whatever has turned your attention to the practice of yoga, we’re glad you’re here! At 8fit, our goal is to help you improve your long-term health and well-being, and yoga is a great way to do it.

If you’re thinking of beginning a personal yoga practice, we’d love to help you get started. Let’s dive in and discuss how to start yoga from a newbie’s perspective.

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How to start yoga: wait a minute—what is yoga?

Before we get into how to start yoga, it’s helpful to know what exactly you’re getting into. So what is yoga? Is it just a bunch of stretches and deep breathing exercises? Well, not really.

In a sense, yoga is stretching and deep breathing; however, the underlying premise behind this ancient practice goes far deeper than that. Here’s the Western dictionary definition of the Sanskrit word:

“A system of physical postures, breathing techniques, and sometimes meditation derived from Yoga but often practiced independently, especially in Western cultures to promote physical and emotional well-being.”

The Hindu definition, on the other hand, goes far deeper than the generally accepted Western interpretation of the ancient practice. According to Eastern philosophy, yoga is “a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation.”

At its core, yoga is an ancient discipline that allows practitioners to experience a more profound sense of awareness, balance, and connection with self. The practice began in India over 5,000 years ago and, in more recent decades, has exploded in popularity in the Western world.

Whether you’re looking to boost your fitness level or become more self-aware, practicing yoga can help you do it!

Health benefits of yoga

The health benefits of yoga go way beyond the physical. Knowing how to start yoga and committing to a regular yoga practice can certainly improve your fitness level, but it can also help you improve all aspects of your well-being, including your mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Here are just a handful of benefits you can look forward to when you begin a regular yoga practice:

Improved mobility

Yoga is a great low-impact addition to your regular 8fit HIIT workouts because it helps to balance your body and promote recovery. Various yoga postures stretch and lengthen your muscle fibers, allowing you increased flexibility and more efficient movement during your more intense workouts.

Strength improvements

A well-designed yoga practice strengthens the entire body through various poses that encourage activation and control of a wide variety of muscle groups. Yoga poses like warrior postures, chair pose, bridge pose, and crescent lunge are fantastic for strengthening the lower body. Sun salutations—the series of a plank, chaturanga, upward-facing dog, and downward-facing dog—prompt significant improvements in upper body strength.

Stress reduction

Yoga breathing techniques, also known as pranayama, are a foundational component of this ancient practice. According to researchers, practicing controlled breathing techniques can have a profoundly positive impact on anxiety, stress, depression, and even certain emotional disorders.

Better sleep

Yoga incorporates breathing, relaxation, and meditation elements that work wonders to calm the mind and body before bed. Researchers have found that when practiced regularly, yoga can help improve sleep quality and length even in people who suffer from chronic insomnia.

Other health benefits of yoga include better posture, weight loss, improved circulation, daily energy improvements, injury protection, athletic performance improvements, and the list goes on and on. This low-impact form of exercise is a fantastic option for individuals with joint issues or mobility problems because it’s gentle on the body while encouraging significant and lasting health improvements.

How to start yoga: at a studio or at home?

You know the benefits, you’re impressed, and now, you’re ready to begin your own yoga practice. But where do you start?

When it comes to yoga, you have a variety of options for beginning your practice. You can join a dedicated yoga studio, take classes at your local gym, or practice yoga in the comfort of your own home (we have a plethora of home-based yoga classes inside the 8fit app!)

Many yoga practitioners love the community and camaraderie of studio- or gym-based classes, but for those just starting out, a home-based practice can be an attractive option.

If you’re a beginner, at-home yoga allows you to get a feel for the movements and develop a deep connection with your body sans studio or gym distractions. Because the premise of yoga rests on mindfulness of movement and breathing, even minute distractions can shift your focus away from connecting with your body.

Here’s how to start yoga at home:

  • Clear a dedicated space in a quiet, distraction-free room in your home.

  • If you have a yoga mat, great! Position it on the floor in an area where you’ll have enough free space to move around. If you don’t have a yoga mat, no worries! You don’t have to use one, but it can help you maintain proper positioning during certain poses.

  • If you’re just starting out, aim for a realistic time frame for your yoga practice. Try for 10-20 minutes at first, and as you learn the movements and become more familiar with the practice, you can increase from there.

  • Begin your yoga practice with basic yoga sequences to learn the foundational movements of the practice.

  • Once you become familiar with foundational poses, you can progress to more advanced yoga sequences.

It’s important to note that there are a wide variety of yoga formats and paces, which may or may not be appropriate for your physical, mental, and emotional state on any given day. Listen to your body when you practice yoga: If you’re feeling fatigued, practice restorative sequences.

If you’re feeling more energetic, try practicing more fast-paced and flowing sequences. There’s a style of yoga to suit any physical or emotional state, so experiment until you find what works best for your unique body.

Different styles of yoga

Speaking of styles of yoga, they are virtually endless. In more recent years, new styles of yoga have been popping up all over the place as practitioners get increasingly creative with their approaches to the discipline.

However, to learn the basics, tried-and-true yoga styles are probably your best bet. Once you get the foundational yoga poses under your belt, to find the style that works best for you, you should start by asking yourself what your goal for each session is:

  • Do you want a full-body, sweaty workout?

  • Are you looking for a gentle, relaxed stretching routine?

  • Do you want to practice holding poses for extended periods?

  • Are you trying to meditate and connect with yourself on a deeper level?

  • Are you looking to destress with controlled breathing techniques?

Because there’s so much variability in yoga, it’s important to define your goals for your practice. You probably won’t want to be sweating buckets when your aim is to destress, nor will you want to meditate if your goal is to get a solid workout. Here’s a quick rundown of the most popular tried-and-true yoga styles to help you decide which type is best suited to your unique goals:

Hatha yoga

Hatha yoga classes are perfect for beginners because they tend to follow a slower pace than other yoga styles. If a class is labeled as Hatha, it typically means you’ll get an easy-to-follow introduction to the most fundamental yoga postures. You’ll likely finish the session feeling more relaxed and looser than when you started.

Yin yoga

Another great yoga style for beginners, yin yoga moves at a slow pace and focuses on holding specific postures for extended lengths of time. This yoga style allows you to get a fantastic stretch because you’ll allow gravity to gradually deepen each pose that you perform. Expect to feel extremely relaxed and lengthened after a yin yoga session.

Restorative yoga

Restorative yoga is a phenomenal way to wind down after a stressful, hectic day or week. In a restorative class, you’ll use various yoga props to ease yourself into passive, deep stretching poses that encourage significant relaxation. Typically, restorative yoga also places emphasis on controlled breathing techniques and meditation to promote deep restoration and tension relief.

Try this 20-minute restorative yoga practice.

Vinyasa yoga

Vinyasa yoga is well known for its fluid, near-constant movement. If you’re looking for a solid workout, this yoga style brings enough intensity to help you work up a decent sweat and challenge your muscles.

During a Vinyasa class, you’ll move through a series of poses that are designed to flow seamlessly into one another. You’ll also incorporate breath work as you transition from pose to pose. If you love to shake things up, here’s the best part: No two Vinyasa classes are alike.

Bikram yoga

If you really love a good sweat, Bikram yoga should be right up your alley. Named after its controversial founder, classes take place in an artificially heated room that’s generally around 105°F and 40% humidity.

Each Bikram class follows the same 90-minute sequence of poses, so you’ll always know what to expect during your class. Practicing yoga in a heated room warms your body very quickly, so you’ll be capable of deepening your postures and moving with intention and power within minutes of beginning each session.

Ashtanga yoga

Ashtanga yoga is a challenging practice based on the foundational principles of ancient yoga teachings. It’s similar to Vinyasa yoga in that it follows a sequence of postures designed to transition seamlessly into one another. However, Ashtanga differs from Vinyasa in that the sequence of movements is always the same, regardless of the class you attend.

Yoga is a fantastic practice for anyone looking to improve their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. From strength and sleep improvements to anxiety and stress reduction, this powerful practice has stood the test of time for a reason: It works.

HIIT Yoga

HIIT Yoga combines traditional yoga poses with quick bursts of classic HIIT moves in between. It's the answer for those days when you're not sure what kind of workout you want to do. Do you want to do yoga or really accelerate your heart rate and work up a good sweat?

Why not both?

Try our 15-minute HIIT Yoga routine featuring a mix of yoga poses, like downward dog and cat/cow mixed with high-energy, HIIT moves like mountain climbers and bicycle crunches that'll challenge your core.

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