There is so much information you can find online on anything and everything about yoga. So much so that it's too easy to experience information overload especially if you are a newbie and have just started considering going to a yoga for beginners class. To help you find your way through all the tips and yoga pose instructions you find online, allow us to walk you through this 101 that puts together all the truly essential information you will need for your first yoga session and to answer the age old question "what is yoga?"
Yoga in a Nutshell
You probably already know the basic facts such as where the practice of yoga originated (India, for those who don't know) and how it's a holistic form of fitness and well-being (physical, mental, and spiritual). What you may not know is that the many types of yoga being practiced today are all originally based on meditative practices in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Also, you will find that there are so many yogic styles because in addition to the basic types (Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Kundalini, etc.), yogis are also able to create combinations of these AND add their own style to the practice.
As mentioned, yoga involves not just engaging the physical. It also simultaneously teaches students to access their mental abilities to focus, concentrate, and find their inner core, which will then help them achieve calmness and enrich their spirituality. All types of yoga include these elements, but it's important to look into the different types of yoga so you can make sure you choose the one that will best help you achieve the results you want - be it physical, mental, or spiritual.
The Most Popular Types of Yoga
Since we don't want you to get lost in a sea of information to answer "what is yoga?," we will only cover four of the major and most popular types of yoga there is: Hatha, Ashtanga (or popularly known as Power Yoga), Bikram or Hot Yoga, and Vinyasa.
Hatha yoga is best and easily described as a type of yogic practice that involves doing slow-paced stretching movements and simple breathing exercises. Hatha is the type of yoga you will most commonly see being taught in those yoga DVDs because the movements and exercises are simple, and are best suited for those interested in yoga for beginners. Classes on Hatha yoga for beginners will typically involve learning the basic yoga poses, relaxation and breathing techniques, and doing seated meditation.
Ashtanga Yoga is the popular choice for those who want to focus more on physical engagement and exertion. Ashtanga Yoga is done with a specific set of movements that are fast-paced, intense, and physically demanding. An offshoot of Ashtanga is the popular Power Yoga, which involves the same fast-paced flow of movements but not necessarily strictly sticking to the set of movements done in Ashtanga Yoga.
Bikram is an example of a yogic style pioneered by learned yogis - which in this case is someone named Bikram Choudhury. His method simply involves doing a series of 26 specific poses, but Bikram Yoga is now more known for its usage of heat in the practice of yoga. This is why Bikram yoga is now typically known as Hot Yoga, the type that is practiced in a room heated usually in 90-100 degrees. While most Hot Yoga classes still employ the Bikram method, not all stick to the series of 26 poses and merely indicates that the classes are held in a heated room.
Vinyasa Yoga focuses more on coordinating breath and movement. It is also sometimes called as Vinyasa Flow because it places importance on how fluidly you transition from different poses on the inhale or exhale, so much so that the routine is almost a dance that focuses on keeping a steady flow of movements.
The Most Popular Yoga Poses
The Lotus: This seated position is typically used in yoga for beginners classes because it orients the student on how to breathe properly and to "listen" to their patterns of breathing. It involves sitting with your legs crossed, back straight, hands on lap, and keeping mentally calm as you deeply inhale then exhale.
The Tree Pose: One of the basic standing yoga poses where the student stands tall and lifts one leg and rests the foot against the inside of the opposite thigh. An easy way to picture this is to think of your legs in a number 4 position. The hands are usually placed in front of the chest in a prayer pose, or with the arms raised overhead with palms touching.
The Child's Pose: Popularly used as a starting pose to stretch the back and arms, the Child's Pose involves sitting with your legs folded underneath you and extending your arms out in front of you with your forehead and palms on the floor.
Cobra Pose: This pose engages the arm muscles and stretches the back and shoulders. As the name implies, it imitates how the cobra looks in that you lie face down on the floor and lift your torso up the ground. You lift yourself up so that your head is turned up toward ceiling, your weight is on your hands, and your entire upper body up to the abdomen is lifted off the floor.
Downward Facing Dog: This is one of the most popular, and often improperly done, yoga poses of all time. It involves being bent over, hands and feet flat on the floor, while keeping your back and legs straight. A common mistake is to lift the soles of the foot of the ground to have a better reach. Keep your feet flat on the floor and at a comfortable distance from the hands so you can stretch the hamstrings and legs, and improve your reach to lengthen your pose.
The Benefits of Yoga
What is yoga? Will it make me lose weight? What is yoga really useful for? These are just some of the common questions people have when talking about this Indian practice. There are so many benefits of yoga depending on which aspect you are interested in: physical, mental, and spiritual.
On a physical level, yoga is beneficial because it gives you flexibility, strength, toned muscles, and helps improve posture. It also helps correct your breathing, which in turn results in increased lung capacity. Studies are also continually being conducted to look into how yoga can aid in preventing or treating heart, muscle, and respiratory conditions.
As for mental benefits, yoga can help improve focus and concentration because it forces you to stay calm and focus on your breathing. It also helps a lot in stress management because you learn to free your mind of clutter, keep calm, and achieve serenity by being attuned to your body and letting your spirit find its core.