Alright, so you’ve probably heard of yoga—it’s an ancient practice that has been around for thousands of years after all—but you may not have tried it before. And that’s understandable, with slightly odd names for the poses, such as downward-facing dog, warrior, and mountain, and Insta images of skilled yogis flexed into pretzel-like contortions, it’s easy to be a bit overwhelmed. Not to mention the fact that there are lots of different types of yoga, and finding the best one for you, as well as a teacher you click with, can seem like just way too much effort.
But yoga as a discipline is actually far from exclusive. It’s not about expensive gear or a state-of-the-art studio, nice as those things are; rather, it's loved by those who practice precisely because it’s a chance to forget about all that material stuff, switch off your stresses and get back to the body.
If you’re a yoga beginner and considering signing up to your first class, that’s great. But don’t do anything until you’ve read our guide to everything you need to know about yoga but were too embarrassed to ask. We called on Pandora Paloma, a London-based yoga teacher, as well as Jessica Skye, founder of Fat Buddha Yoga, to share their expert insights too. Keep scrolling for our definitive guide to yoga for beginners.
YouTube videos are great for demystifying the art of yoga, but hands down the best way to get into yoga is to go along to a class, whether it's for a group or one-to-one lesson. Before you sign up, you'll need to think about which style of yoga is going to be right for you.
That’s a question that might not be so simple to answer. Consider what you want from a class: Do you want to leave feeling energised or completely relaxed? Or are you hoping to lose weight or simply improve your flexibility? And think about how active and mobile you are already, as this will greatly impact what style suits you best.
There are approximately 14 styles of yoga, but there's only a handful that you need to be aware of as a beginner.
This practice follows a set sequence of poses, which are worked through at a fast pace and always in the same order. If you’re a fan of routine and like to exert yourself, then this may be the form for you as it’s characterised by a continuous flow of movement. Instructors usually get involved with correcting poses and helping you go deeper into a stretch or position.
The infamous hot yoga, a Bikram class is usually 90 minutes long and will run through a routine set of 26 postures. The heat of the room allows the muscles to stretch and soften further but can also mean it’s easy to overdo it. If you’re prone to injury, you need to listen to your body and stop when it tells you to. Making sure you’re well hydrated before and after class is very important, and if you’re under the weather it’s best to give Bikram a wide berth.
This is something of a generic term, but it is usually used to signify that this is a gentle class focused on the relaxation of mind and body rather than anything more energetic.
If you’re impatient, Iyengar is not the class for you. You’ll work through a very small number of postures, instead focussing on achieving the correct alignment in each one. This often means incorporating all sorts of tools—from blocks to straps to bolsters to chairs—and using the wall for support too.
Want to be connected with your mind and soul as well as your body? Jivamukti might be the practice for you. It’s a very holistic approach, and classes usually start with scripture being read or chanted by the instructor. If you’re a cynic, it’s probably not for you. But if you’re open to new things, why not give it a go?
Often called dynamic or flow yoga, Vinyasa is a very fast moving and fluid style of practice that takes much from Ashtanga. If you’re looking for something that will energise but not overwhelm you, Vinyasa may be the form for you.
1. Which type of yoga is right for me?
Pandora Paloma, yoga teacher, health and food coach and founder of Rooted London says, “The best way to determine what yoga style suits you is to quite simply get on the mat. I always advise clients to try a style three times. Generally even the same style may be taught differently by different teachers, and inevitably if you connect with a teacher, your practice will be deeper and more enjoyable. Whilst I understand being a complete beginner going into class can feel daunting, trying to gauge a yoga style preference via online videos does mean there may be more opportunity for injuries. This is where private yoga comes in, where a teacher can give you private sessions to get you in check before you hit the studio.”
2. What should I wear?
According to Pandora, “Anything goes as long as it’s fairly tight and easy to move in. Leggings and sports tops win every time. I find T-shirts fall down on my face too much and the less I’m faffing with my outfit, the more I’m in the yoga zone. Don’t think too much about it, though. It’s not London Fashion Week.”
3. What is downward dog?
Jessica Skye, founder of Fat Buddha Yoga and a yoga trainer for Nike, says, “A downward-facing dog is a resting pose… although it won’t feel like it for the first few months you do yoga. It’s an isometric posture used in Ashtanga-based Vinyasa classes to punctuate the flow sequences of a class; the idea is to use it as an opportunity to catch your breath and rest between the dynamic aspects of a class. The benefits—lower the heart rate with the breath, and you create space and strength in the arms and shoulders, as well as create length in the spine, calves and hamstrings.”
4. What is a chakra?
“In yogic thoughts and beliefs, the chakras are seven centres of spiritual power within the human body," says Pandora. “The Sanskrit word ‘chakra’ literally translates to ‘wheel’ or ‘disk.’ In yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda, this term refers to wheels of energy throughout the body. Each chakra represents areas and emotions within the body and is known to have its own vibrational frequency and colour. Each chakra regulates specific functions that help make you human, and blocked chakras are known to make you ill, whether that’s emotionally or physically. You don’t have to believe in the yogic philosophy to do yoga—the chakras are a deeper level of understanding of the practice, so don't let this deter you from getting on the mat. Ninety-nine percent of yoga is making it to class. The magic happens in the 1%."
5. Will I be forced to meditate?
According to Jessica, “It’s important to take responsibility for your body (and your mind) during your yoga practise (and any other physical activity for that matter). Most classes will involve some form of meditation… It really depends on the teacher. Classes might open with breathing exercises, some might get super deep and hippie. It’s really up to you how much you take on board, just be mindful not to spoil it for others if the omming and chanting isn’t for you. At Fat Buddha Yoga, I’ll open a class with some super-simple meditation techniques, breath work, learning to quiet the mind and forget about work and everything else outside of the yoga class for just that one hour you are on the mat.
“Meditation doesn’t have to be full on, hippie or take you to the mountains. There are huge mental and physical benefits from learning to stop thinking at 100 mph and instead channelling your focus to a single point… and breath.”
6. Will I be able to do a handstand after one lesson?
In a word, “no,” says Pandora. “We talk a lot in yoga about the ego taking over, and if anyone is coming to yoga merely to do a handstand, I welcome you to leave your ego at the door. Handstands take incredible strength psychically and mentally, so it’s best to take your time with building this strength. I welcome clients to detach themselves from postures. If you praise yourself for getting into an advanced posture, it naturally allows the opposite: You torture yourself the next day if you can't do it again. Stay unattached; each and every day our bodies will be different and need different movements, foods and thoughts. The kinder you can be, with the least amount of ‘ego’ driving your practice, the more benefits you will reap from yoga.”
7.Will I break wind?
Jessica says, “Let’s hope not. But it’s good to know a yoga class is a safe place with no judgement, so if you fart and fall asleep in class, no one will say anything.”
8. What should I do in the hours before and after my first class?
Pandora recommends not eating “a heavy meal prior to practicing, and afterwards, make sure you drink lots of water. Don’t make too many rules with your practice, just listen to your body. Work to calm your mind, and enjoy it.”
9. How will my body feel afterwards? Will it hurt?
“This really depends on what kind of class you do and also depends on the individual,” shares Jessica. "Any session that encourages you to use muscles you don’t usually engage will give you delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs ). This can be a satisfying dull ache signalling a good workout, or can make you walk like a duck. You should leave a class having rested your mind and forgotten about the perils of modern life, released tension, had a good sweat, stretched, breathed deeply and released a fat dose of endorphins and dopamine. In other words, you’ll leave a yoga class feeling euphoric."
Thankfully, yoga classes are no longer just found in the big cities. And as venues range from church halls to fancy fitness studios there are plenty of options for every budget. If you're a member of a gym or health club like Fitness First or Virgin Active, then be sure to check their timetables, as yoga is usually offered to members making it a cost-effective way to hit the mat.