Three or four decades ago, some people still occasionally confused Yoga with yogurt.
Today, Yoga is a household word. The fact that just about everyone has heard the word Yoga, however, doesn’t mean they know exactly what it means. Many misconceptions still exist, even among those who practice Yoga.
Is it stretching? Breathing? Is it sitting in one place for a long time? Is it standing on my head? Some people rule out yoga for themselves, saying, “Oh, I’m not flexible, I can’t do that yoga stuff.” Or, “I can’t just sit still.”
Yoga is a physical practice with physiological, emotional and spiritual benefits. It involves stretching, breathing, building incredible strength in your body and developing equanimity in your mind–and sometimes can involve sitting still and standing on your head!!
Whatever your age, weight, flexibility, or beliefs may be, you can practice and benefit from some version of Yoga. Although Yoga originated in India, it’s for all of humanity.
So what the heck is Yoga?
The word Yoga comes from the ancient Sanskrit language spoken by the traditional religious elite of India, the Brahmins. Yoga means “union” or “integration” and also “discipline,” so the system of Yoga is called a unitive or integrating discipline.
Yoga is a powerful means of psychological integration. It makes you aware that you’re part of a larger whole, not merely an island unto yourself. Humans can’t thrive in isolation. Even the most independent individual is greatly indebted to others. After your mind and body are happily reunited, this union with others comes about naturally. The moral principles of Yoga are all-embracing, encouraging you to seek kinship with everyone and everything.
Yoga seeks unity at various levels. First, it seeks to unite body and mind, which people all too often separate. Yoga also seeks to unite the rational mind and the emotions. People frequently bottle up their emotions and don’t express their real feelings, choosing instead to rationalize these feelings away.
Why on earth do Yoga?
Yoga includes physical exercises that look like gymnastics and have even been incorporated into Western gymnastics. These postural exercises help you become or stay fit and trim, control your weight, and reduce your stress level.
Yoga also offers a whole range of meditation practices, including breathing techniques that exercise your lungs and calm your nervous system or charge your brain and the rest of your body with delicious energy.
You can also use Yoga as an efficient system of health care that has proven its usefulness in both restoring and maintaining health. Yoga continues to gain acceptance within the medical establishment; more and more physicians are recommending Yoga to their patients not only for stress reduction but also as a safe and sane method of exercise and physical therapy (notably, for the back and knees).
But Yoga is more than even a system of preventative or restorative health care. Yoga looks at health from a broad, holistic perspective that’s only now being rediscovered by avant-garde medicine. This perspective appreciates the enormous influence of the mind, your psychological attitudes and your physical health.
How to get started with Yoga
First of all, you should start Yoga with an actual beginner class with an instructor rather than a DVD class or something on YouTube. For a yoga first-timer, a little expert advice will always come in handy. It’s hard to beat face-to-face teaching in a class or gym. Alright, here is what you need:
1. Pick a Yoga Type
A little more research will be required on your part. Many yoga classes are out there, and you may be turned off if you pick one that does not suit your personality and state of physical fitness.
Take a few minutes to read this overview of yoga styles. For most beginners, a hatha or vinyasa class will be most appropriate, depending on whether you want a slow or fast-paced class. These are basic styles, and you can always try something fancier later.
2. Find a Class
Online resources will help you find a yoga class in your area.
Pick a studio that is convenient to your home or work so getting to class will be easy. Make sure you start with a basic level class. Many gyms also offer yoga classes; this is a good place to start if you already belong to a gym. Finding a good teacher will help you stick with it. If you don’t click with the first teacher you go to, keep trying until you find one you like.
3. What to Bring
On the first day, you will not need to bring much except yourself and some comfortable, breathable clothing. Read up on basic yoga equipment you will encounter. Most studios have yoga mats that can be rented or you can easily buy from online shopping sites.
4. Dos and Don’ts
- Have a big meal right before class. Try eating lightly a few hours before class starts.
- Drink water during most classes, but have some before and after.
- Wear shoes or socks during class.
- Review yoga etiquette so you feel very comfortable entering an unfamiliar situation.
- Tell the teacher it’s your first class (you probably won’t be the only one).
- Ask the teacher for help if you need it.
- Familiarize yourself with some beginners’ yoga poses before you take your first class.
- Come back in a few days for your next class!
6. Have fun!
Yoga is fun. Like many forms of physical activity, there is a sense of fun and accomplishment when you complete a new class. With yoga, you don’t have to wait until you reach an advanced level to experience enjoyment. Relax, enjoy the moment!
Do not just take advantage of what Yoga can offer. Yoga encourages you to reflect on yourself and to find your inner peace. It exercises not just your body but your mind as well. With a healthy body and mind, you’re on your way to a more fulfilling life.