If you’re curious about yoga and what it’s all about, you’re in the right place! This yoga for beginners guide will give you a bit of background on yoga’s many component parts, as well as outline a number of different yoga styles that you can try.
Please keep in mind that yoga is meant to be experienced. So don’t get too bogged down in the details; if a style sounds interesting, give it a try!
Now let’s dive in!
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice that originated in India over 5,000 years ago. While most people think of yoga as a form of exercise, it’s really more of a life philosophy. One that focuses on harmonizing body, breath, mind, and spirit.
One of the most important texts on yoga is The Yoga Sutra, which organizes the practice of yoga into eight parts, or “limbs.”
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
The Eight Limbs of Yoga are eight principles that make up the practice of yoga. The first two are broken down into 5 sub-principles:
Yamas: Ethical and moral standards.
- Ahimsa: Non-harming. Don’t hurt others – with actions, words, or thoughts.
- Satya: Truthfulness. Don’t tell lies – to others or to yourself.
- Asteya: Non-stealing & respect. Don’t take stuff that isn’t yours, including other people’s time or energy.
- Brahmacharya: Moderation, self-control, or the right use of energy. This applies to all things – food, exercise, pleasure, you name it. Use your energy wisely.
- Aparigraha: Non-attachment. This also applies to all things – postures, things, people, experiences…pretty much anything you can think of.
Niyamas: Standards of individual conduct, or internal observances.
- Saucha: Purity, or inner and outer cleanliness. So shower on the reg, but also watch what you consume – what you eat, what you listen to, what you read, what you watch.
- Santosha: Contentment in the now. Being content with what we have and where we are in each present moment.
- Tapas: Self-discipline, or inner fire. Utilizing our energy in a disciplined way in order to facilitate transformation.
- Svadhyaya: Self-study. This applies mainly off the mat in the form of reading and studying yogic texts. It can also be applied on the mat – being curious about yourself, both in physical postures and in meditation.
- Ishvara Pranidhana: Surrender the results of your actions, or trust in the universe.
Asana: Physical postures.
The Sanskrit word asana literally translates to ‘seat’, since the OG yoga pose was simply a meditative seat. Today, asana is translated as “pose” or “posture.” This is why the Sanskrit names of poses end in “asana”. Warrior pose = virabhadrasana; locust pose = shalabhasana.
The purpose of all yoga poses is to increase hip flexibility so we can find ease while sitting in meditation. They also assist with opening the mind to a meditative state. The term asana invites us to think of each pose as a place to find the meditative “seat”, or a meditative state of mind.
Pranayama: Breath control.
Breathing practices are an integral part of a yoga practice, as the breath links the body and mind. There are many different breathing exercises you can try; if you’d like to learn more about pranayama, check out this Pranayama Guide.
Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses.
This is the first step towards a meditation practice. It is the conscious detachment from our senses in order to take our attention inward. We begin by closing the eyes, detaching from our sense of sight, then gradually detaching from our other senses as we take our attention further inward.
Dharana: Focus and concentration.
This is the second step towards a meditation practice. It is the principle of controlling the “monkey mind”; of not allowing our thoughts to run rampant and control us. An “anchor” is often used for this – the breath, or a mantra – something that we focus our attention on.
Dhyana: Meditation, or contemplation.
This is uninterrupted focus and concentration. In Dharana, our concentration is often interrupted by wandering thoughts (which is totally ok!), but in Dhyana, our focus is unbroken.
Samadhi: Bliss; oneness with the Universe.
This is enlightenment and it can be thought of as the ultimate “goal” of yoga. It’s a tricky one to describe, but basically, if you practice the preceding seven principles (and I mean really practice them), you will eventually reach a state where your individual awareness dissolves and you realize that you and the entire Universe are one. Yeah, babe…you and the entire Universe!
So that’s a (very) brief overview of the eight limbs of yoga, to show you that yoga is so much more than the physical postures. With that in mind, if you’re ready to dive into a physical practice, there are a number of styles that you can try.
Styles of Yoga
There are many different styles of yoga, and it’s important to find what suits you best. The following are some of the most popular styles, starting with the best styles of yoga for beginners, and moving into more challenging styles.
When a class is described as hatha, it generally means that you will get a slower introduction to the most basic yoga postures. You probably won’t work up much of a sweat in a hatha class, but you should leave feeling longer, looser, and more relaxed.
Hatha is a great style of yoga for beginners to start off with!
Restorative + Yin
Restorative and Yin are similar styles, as they are practiced entirely on the mat and they are passive.
Restorative yoga helps to restore both body and mind with passive poses that are held for up to 10 minutes at a time. Many props are used to support the body, allowing you to experience the benefits of a pose without exerting any effort.
Yin is a meditative practice designed to target your deeper connective tissues and fascia, restoring length and elasticity. Poses are held for several (3-5) minutes at a time. Some props are used to support the body, but not as many as in a restorative practice.
Both restorative and yin are wonderful complements to an active lifestyle, and both are great styles of yoga for beginners!
Iyengar (pronounced “eye-yen-gar”)
In Iyengar classes, meticulous attention is paid to finding the proper alignment in each pose. Many props are used to help each student find that proper alignment for their body. Blocks, blankets, straps, chairs, and bolsters are all common.
You won’t get your heart rate up in an Iyengar class, but this is another awesome style of yoga for beginners — finding proper postural alignment for your body is invaluable!
Also known as “flow” classes, these are typically fluid and movement-intensive. Vinyasa classes are sequenced to smoothly transition from pose to pose, and there’s often music to keep things lively.
No two vinyasa classes are the same, and they tend to vary in intensity. Some studios will level their vinyasa classes, where Level 1 is the least intense and Level 3 is the most intense. An “all levels” class offers modifications and variations for all practitioners.
Vinyasa can be a beautiful style of yoga for beginners, as long as you don’t dive into a Level 2 or 3 class. Start with All Levels, Level 1, or a beginners class.
Power yoga is similar to vinyasa, but may include more challenging poses and less rest between poses. I definitely would not recommend starting with power yoga if you’re a beginner; work up to this one.
Ashtanga is a physically demanding practice that synchronizes breath and movement. There are five ashtanga series; each one made up of a set sequence of poses. Students must master every pose in a series before moving onto the next series.
The practice is identical from day to day, and it takes most people years to move up a level. It’s not for the faint of heart, and perhaps not the best style of yoga for beginners.
There are a couple of different types of hot yoga:
- Bikram: This style consists of a standardized set of 26 poses practiced in a room heated to 104 degrees for 90 minutes. You hold each pose for about a minute before getting in to the next pose.
- Hot Hatha/Vinyasa/Flow: These classes are like your standard hatha or vinyasa classes, so the sequences are free-form, but they are practiced in a heated room (anywhere from 80 – 100 degrees).
I would not necessarily recommend hot yoga for beginners. It’s best to have a physical yoga practice foundation before adding heat to the mix.
Your First Class
If you’re brand new to yoga and don’t know where to begin, start with a hatha class or a beginners vinyasa class. Even better, see if a studio near you has a yoga for beginners class or series of classes!
If you feel ready to venture into your first class, there are a few things to know:
- Wear comfortable clothes (things that won’t fall over your head or get in the way)
- There should be mats and props there for you to borrow or rent
- Avoid eating right beforehand until you know how your body responds to the practice. I recommend not eating for at least 2 hours before a class, or practicing on an empty stomach if it’s the first thing in the morning.
- Let the teacher know that you’re a beginner and/or if you have any injuries or conditions that need special attention. This allows the teacher to guide you appropriately so you have the best possible experience. Don’t be shy about this. Teachers are there to serve you, and the only way they can do that is if you give them all the info.
If you don’t feel quite ready for a studio class, but you do want to dip your toe into the yoga waters, come join me in YouTube land and try out a class from the comfort of home!
So much light and yoga love,
About the Author: Natalie Perez is a beach-loving, globe-roaming vinyasa junkie. She is originally from NYC and has spent the last three years living around the world. Natalie is the creator of the Roaming Yogi blog and YouTube channel, which are dedicated to helping people around the world start and sustain a yoga practice from the comfort of home. Join the Roaming Yogi community for free weekly yoga videos, guided meditations, and actionable tools for making yoga a part of your life!