Yoga is more than just a physical exercise; it’s a complete system for well-being that can help you relax, de-stress, and rejuvenate both body and mind. From its humble beginnings in India thousands of years ago, yoga has evolved into a hugely popular global phenomenon, with millions of people of all ages and abilities enjoying its benefits.
Though the Western world initially embraced yoga primarily as a form of physical activity, recent years have seen a growing interest in its spiritual and psychological dimensions as well. Yoga is now commonly part of companies’ wellness programs, and many health insurance providers offer coverage for yoga classes and therapies.
What's the Big Deal with Yoga?
Watching people do yoga from the outside, it may not look like much is happening. However, the seemingly simple act of assuming various postures (called asanas) and controlled breathing exercises (known as pranayama) can lead to remarkable improvements in both physical and mental health. Let's take a look at three main benefits of yoga:
Increased muscle strength and tone
Regular yoga practice can lead to increased muscle strength and tone. The asanas in yoga are designed to tone the body, improve flexibility and joint mobility, and support the spine. These can all be considered bodywork solutions designed to fix pain.
Even better, yoga can help to prevent injuries in the first place by increasing your awareness of how your body moves and what it needs.
Calms the mind
When you practice yoga, it takes you out of the fight-or-flight mode that is so common in our busy lives. This can help to lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and promote a state of rest and repair both physically and mentally.
Because we close our eyes and focus on our breath during yoga, we can give our eyes rest from excessive screen time and other forms of visual stimulation. This can help to reduce stress and fatigue, and promote better sleep.
Serious yoga practitioners know all about the benefits of the Ayurvedic diet, which is based on the philosophy of balance. However, even if you're not ready to commit to a complete lifestyle change, yoga can still help you to lose weight.
More than just burning calories through the poses, yoga teaches you mindfulness, which can help you to make better food choices and portion control—resulting in sustained weight loss over time.
5 Tips to Make Your First Time on the Mat a Success
Now that you know a little bit more about yoga and its benefits, you may be ready to give it a try. It's not uncommon for newbies to feel a bit silly or self-conscious at first, but rest assured that everyone was a beginner once! Here are seven tips to help make your first yoga class a success:
1. Do some research
Before diving in, it’s important to do some research and find a type of yoga that is right for you. There are many different types of yoga with varying degrees of difficulty, so it’s important to find one that matches your fitness level and goals.
Once you have an idea of what kind of yoga you would like to try, look for a studio or class that offers that type of yoga.
2. Wear comfortable clothing
You want to be comfortable when you practice yoga, so make sure to wear clothing that is loose and breathable. Avoiding overly tight clothing will help you feel more comfortable in various yoga poses.
As for footwear, most people choose to go barefoot during yoga, but if you feel more comfortable wearing socks, make sure they have grippy bottoms so you don’t slip during standing poses.
3. Bring a mat & towel
You may think springing for a yoga mat is an unnecessary expense for a beginner, but having your own mat can make a big difference in your practice.
Having your own mat will help you feel more comfortable and confident when trying out new poses. Avoid the awkwardness of renting a mat or borrowing one from the studio---you don’t want to be worrying about slipping or sliding during your first class.
4. Arrive early & introduce yourself to the teacher
Being early is always a good idea when you’re a beginner, as it gives you time to acclimate to the studio and get settled in. It also gives the teacher a chance to answer any questions you may have.
When you arrive, introduce yourself to the teacher and let them know it’s your first time. This way, they can keep an eye on you and make sure you’re doing the poses correctly.
5. Don't sweat your pace
Many first-timers fall into the trap of thinking they need to keep up with the rest of the class. However, it’s important to remember that yoga is a practice, not a competition.
You will likely find that your pace will naturally fall into place as you become more familiar with the poses and transitions. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to take breaks or modify the poses to suit your level. Listening to your body is an important part of yoga.
Despite its popularity, yoga still retains a bit of an aura of otherness. First-timers often feel like they need to be a certain type of person—one who is flexible, fit, and Zen—to even walk into a studio. But the truth is that yoga is for everybody. No matter your age, size, or fitness level, you can find a way to make yoga work for you. Everyone has to start somewhere, and these five tips will help make your first yoga class a success!
Written by Katie Pierce, Content Writer | Edited & Published by Mikenze Pearsoll of Yoga With Mikenze