6 essential yoga tips for beginners
Taking the first step towards anything unknown can be scary.
Chances are, you’ve found your way here because you have an inkling that yoga might be just what your body and mind need, but you’re not sure where to start. Just like we might get stuck in the supermarket trying to decide between 50 different brands of toothpaste, looking for advice on yoga for beginners can feel overwhelming.
The yoga many of us practice today comes in many styles, all of which evolved from the ancient Indian spiritual practice that started it all. The yoga I teach on Centr is called dynamic yoga, otherwise known as ‘flow yoga,’ ‘dynamic yoga’ or ‘Vinyasa flow.’ You can get access to all of my classes on the app – as well as the Pilates and yoga program Centr Align – when you unlock your free trial.
One of the reasons we call it ‘dynamic’ is that it really gets you moving, delivering an intense workout that strengthens your muscles, burns fat and improves your flexibility. It’s also a ‘dynamic’ in the sense that it does great things for your body and mind, helping you to achieve a feeling of connection between both parts of yourself.
As a lifelong devotee and teacher at my studio in Byron Bay, Australia as well as on Chris Hemsworth’s fitness app Centr, you might think I'm a little biased when it comes to the benefits of yoga. But there is truly no need to take my word for it! Yoga has well-documented benefits in improving physical and mental wellbeing.
So what exactly should someone who wants to try yoga for beginners know before hitting play on their first session or showing up to class? Let’s take a look.
1. Find an experienced teacher (that you actually like)
Finding an experienced yoga teacher to guide you through the practice is very important when you are getting started. Plenty of people think of yoga as ‘easy’ or ‘just stretching’, but that’s simply not true! Yoga (particularly the kind that I love to teach) is a combination of strength training, flexibility work, mindfulness and even cardio. A good teacher will be able to introduce you to this complex practice by giving you physical and mental cues and guiding your breathing.
I loved guiding Bobby Holland Hanton and Luke Zocchi as a part of the 4-week yoga and Pilates program for beginners, Centr Align.
As a beginner, it is particularly important that you find a teacher who has experience in guiding people of all levels – not just someone who looks great while they do the poses. I’d recommend someone who has completed a minimum of 200 hours of teacher training and is certified with the leading yoga organizations in your country.
Beyond just their practical experience or training, it’s important to find a yoga teacher who you enjoy practicing with. It’s a little bit like finding the right therapist – don’t be afraid to look for someone who has a teaching style that you connect with.
You can get a feel for the style of dynamic yoga I teach on Centr in this free yoga routine for stress relief.
2. Let go of expectations
I’ve been teaching yoga for many years. When I meet new people and tell them what I do, it’s really common for them to say something like: “Oh I can’t do yoga, I’m just not flexible enough.”
I sometimes wonder if they would say the same thing about lifting weights: “Oh I can’t do strength training, I’m not strong enough!” Sounds funny, doesn’t it?
Just as you wouldn’t expect to walk into the gym and lift the heaviest weights you can find on your first day, you can’t expect to nail every pose during your first yoga class. Yes, it can be daunting to try your first class – or even first pose. No doubt you’ll find that your body doesn’t move in the way that you expected it to. Like I said earlier, yoga isn’t just stretching – it involves a combination of strength, flexibility and endurance. In other words, it’s a challenge!
Feeling some frustration arise is totally normal. Instead of feeding that feeling, try to bring your focus to your breath (more on that below) and simply feel the pose without judging your body. I promise that if you continue to show up for your practice, you will be amazed at how your body begins to open up and grow stronger.
3. Focus on how the shapes feel, not how they look
This is where having a good teacher is crucial. Listen out for cues and instruction from your teacher on form adjustment and where you should be feeling the movement or shape. It’s often the poses that challenge us the most that give us the greatest physical and mental rewards.
Yoga is a challenging practice, but it should also make you feel good!
Everyone’s body is different. I’ll often offer alternatives or modifications in my classes because what feels good for one person could be painful for someone else. Take the pose downward facing dog, for example. There are so many different ways to achieve the benefits of this shape – so play around with it! Some people find it more comfortable with bent knees, while others will do yoga for years and find their heels are still off the ground.
This advice applies to any pose. Remember, yoga is about coming to know and work with your body, not fighting against it. If you feel any acute pain in your joints or muscles during a pose, don’t be afraid to stop and adjust.
4. Don’t hold your breath
If you’re a busy person, one of yoga’s greatest gifts is the time it gives you to slow down and focus on your breathing. The asanas (poses) in dynamic yoga are coordinated with your breath, which encourages harmony between the mind and body.
Connecting with and understanding your breathing is one of yoga’s many benefits.
You might be surprised by how challenging timing your breath to your movement can be, but don’t neglect this part of your practice. Focusing on your breath will allow you to hold poses for longer than your body might think possible.
Over time, this understanding and awareness of your breath can have an incredibly restorative impact on your mind. To be able to bring your attention to your breath and calm your nervous system, even when things are difficult or stressful, is one of my favorite parts of yoga.
5. Don’t skip savasana
Ah, savasana! For those who don’t know, this is the pose that comes at the end of some classes that involves lying on the ground and resting (it’s sometimes called corpse pose). For some people, this is their favorite part of a yoga class. For others, it can be the most challenging!
Physically, savasana is a simple pose. You lie down and extend your arms and legs so that they are resting comfortably on the ground. Then you stay still and bring your attention to your breath, allowing your body to grow heavier and relax further with each exhale.
It might look easy (it’s just laying on the ground, right?) but savasana isn’t a passive pose – truthfully, it’s more like a state of active relaxation. Because savasana requires you to stay still and focus on your breath, it allows your body to recover from the physical demands of your practice, returning your breathing and heart rate to normal. It’s also an important opportunity to reflect on and appreciate your physical efforts during the class. That’s why I sometimes call it ‘downloading the practice’.
Savasana requires practice, just like the other poses that you might find more physically demanding. Beginners are often tempted to skip this pose and get on with their day at the end of class, prompted by racing thoughts or the uncontrollable desire to fidget and wriggle. But stick with it and the rewards can include a sense of calm that lasts long after class ends and a more rewarding yoga practice overall.
6. Set a schedule
Now for some super practical advice. Set yourself a schedule for practice and try to follow it. The real benefits of yoga come from setting the intention to practice regularly and then showing up to your mat.
As a beginner, you certainly don’t need to practice everyday, but I’d recommend setting aside a few days a week to dedicate to learning to move in this way.
As with any habit, the more often you show up, the more you will get out of it. Doing a daily practice of this free 5-minute stretching session will be more beneficial than doing an hour-long class every six months.
YOGA • MEDITATION
For classic yoga with a modern twist, Elsa Pataky turns to one woman: Tahl Rinsky. Born in New York and raised in Israel, Tahl is a Yoga Alliance ERYT200 and RYT500 certified instructor, and co-owner of Creature Yoga in Byron Bay. Her dynamic Vinyasa style of yoga balances flexibility and sweat, flow and strength, focus and stillness to better connect body, breath and mind.
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