Yoga is fantastic for both mind and body, and more and more people are discovering the benefits of including yoga sessions as part of their regular training regime.
There are many different disciplines so you can be sure to find one that works for you. Plus new hybrid classes are springing up all the time – some are tailored specifically to a sport such as skiing, running or cycling, to perfectly complement your existing fitness routine.
Here Sally Lovett’s beginners guide tells you what you need to know to strike that first pose.
What’s it all about?
There are hundreds of definitions describing yoga, but traditionally it’s the union of body, mind and spirit. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means to yoke or join.
On the surface, yoga is a series of physical postures (asanas), pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation – and this is what a typical class will entail. It’s a deeply relaxing, yet invigorating practice which will benefit your wellbeing inside and out.
On a deeper level, yoga is something which makes us feel great. By practicing and reinforcing the connection between our bodies, minds and hearts, we feel more in tune with ourselves, others and the world around us.
What are the benefits?
Many people come to yoga for the physical benefits – strength, flexibility and tone. While this is all a welcome reward of a regular yoga practice, there are other, often unexpected benefits too.
Yoga makes us feel more balanced and mentally and emotionally more stable. A regular practice brings an inner peace, calm and clarity which will help you concentrate more and make better decisions.
Is it difficult?
Some forms of practice can be strenuous, however yoga teaches us to be non-competitive and respect and honor our bodies. So you work within your own capabilities of that day and accept where you are, rather than pushing yourself.
A teacher will often offer different levels of a pose to those who wish to take things slower or push themselves slightly further.
Don’t let a lack of flexibility put you off going to yoga – many other beginners in the class will be echoing the same concerns. Yoga will address tightness within your body, lengthening out your muscles and improving flexibility and strength.
What do I need to get started?
Although studios and gyms will provide mats, it’s advisable to have your own so you can establish a regular home practice. Yogamatters.com stock an extensive range of yoga mats and their sticky mat (£18) is a great value choice.
Once you progress your practice, you may wish to invest in some props. A belt will help with challenging stretches – extending reach without sacrificing good posture.
A bolster will help you relax comfortably into seated or reclined poses – to enable you to delve deeper into the posture. Sit on a block to raise your hips and sit up straighter and use the extra height of a brick if your fingers can’t touch the floor in forward bends.
What should I wear?
It’s important to choose clothes that allow you a full range of movement as you don’t want to be restricted in your poses. A form fitting vest that is long enough to cover your stomach and stays put even when you’re upside down is a good idea, anything too loose will just get in your way and be a distraction when you hold dynamic poses. Layer this with a long sleeve, looser top for before and after the class.
Leggings, or fitted trousers, are best for your bottom half, either full length or cropped is fine. Some styles come with a fold over waistband to help keep your midriff covered. During hot yoga, like Bikram, you may prefer to wear shorts.
Many yoga vests come with an in-built bra support and for small busts this may be enough, but you may prefer to wear a sports bra as well. You can opt for a low to medium support bra for yoga, many brands offer yoga specific bras.
Always choose soft, natural fabrics which feel good against the skin. Bamboo is increasingly popular thanks to its natural anti bacterial properties and eco credentials. Some of our favourite yoga wear can be found at Sweaty Betty, Wellicious, Yogamatters and Asquith.
Classes and courses
Yoga classes explained
Hatha yoga is the general term used for yoga in the west and is a great place to start if you’ve never done any yoga before. Most hatha classes will slowly flow through the classical poses, alongside pranayama (breath work) and a short meditation to end the class.
Vinyasa yoga (also know as flow or dynamic) is a more vigorous style than hatha. Meaning ‘breath synchronized movement’, vinyasa yoga flows through a series of postures, linking the breath with all movement.
Iyengar yoga is based on the teachings of BKS Iyengar and places an emphasis on body alignment. Iyengar practice encourages the use of props, such as blocks, blankets and belts, in order to bring the body into alignment.
Ashtanga yoga is faster paced, more intense, ideal for those who have mastered the basics of yoga and seek a more physically demanding practice. A series of sequenced postures synchronized with the breath move you from one posture to the next. Ashtanga also forms the basis for Power Yoga classes.
Bikram/hot yoga is a series of 26 postures performed in a room heated to 95 degrees – allowing for the loosening of tight muscles and cleansing sweating. Much like Ashtanga, it’s best to begin with an understanding of the basic postures.
Find your nearest class: www.yoganearby.com.
Stretching the City offer London-based 6 week beginners courses, drop-in vinyasa classes, private tuition and corporate classes: www.stretchingthecity.com.
To read more about yoga, Yoga Journal have a great range of free articles: www.yogajournal.com.
Sally Lovett, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine
Sally Lovett, is a London-based yoga teacher and founder of Stretching the City (www.stretchingthecity.com) and make better decisions.