Yoga is a popular exercise that combines breathing, movement, and meditation. Imported to the United States from India over a century ago, yoga has long been praised for its physical and spiritual benefits.
Research shows yoga can help manage stress, ease depression and anxiety, improve mood, and enhance the quality of sleep.4 In addition, yoga has been shown to increase flexibility, improve balance and coordination, reduce pain, and increase strength.
Taking your first yoga class may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating if you know what to expect. A typical yoga class is 45 minutes to 90 minutes and begins with breathing exercises as a warm-up, moves onto poses for the bulk of the class, and ends with mediation as a cool down.
The best way to learn yoga is by doing it, but if you’re nervous about attending a class, don’t shy away from doing a little studying before you attend. Consider the following.
Types of Yoga
Classes come in a variety of yoga styles, so it is a good idea to read the class descriptions at your local yoga studios to find a class that is right for you. Common types include:
- Hatha yoga classes tend to be good for beginners because they’re slower-moving.
- Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and power yoga classes can be more challenging, depending on the level of instruction.
- Iyengar has a strong focus on proper alignment, and often uses props to help students perfect their form.
- Hot yoga is yoga practiced in a hot environment—many studios reach 104 degrees F. Many people enjoy doing yoga in the heat, but people who are sensitive to heat or have certain medical conditions may find hot yoga uncomfortable.
- Kundalini yoga is often used as a healing type of yoga and classes may incorporate meditation, chanting, and spiritual elements.
Yoga places a strong focus on breathing, which research shows can really pay off when it comes to your health.
“Yoga is about the breath,” says Jenay Rose.
Depending on the studio and instructor, pose names might be referenced in Sanskrit or English, or a combination thereof. This can be confusing the first few times you attend class.
Review some of the most common poses to familiarize yourself with English and Hindi names, as well as their basic form.
Favorites like child’s pose (balasana) and downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana) are incorporated into just about every yoga class. Other common poses and sequences include the warrior poses and sun salutations.
Most studios encourage students to bring their own yoga mats to class, but if you don’t have a mat of your own, they’re often available to rent for a small fee. Check with your local studio to see what their protocol is. Otherwise, you’re unlikely to need much of anything.
Studios and gyms typically provide all the equipment and props you’ll need, including bolsters, blocks, and blankets.
If you plan to try yoga at home, you may want to buy a few basics or find substitutes around your house before you start. For instance, you can use a belt or scarf in place of a yoga strap and throw pillows or a sturdy hard-cover book for yoga blocks.
What To Wear
Choose comfortable, stretchy pants or shorts and a close-fitting top that won’t fly up over your head every time you perform an inversion.
You won’t need special shoes because yoga is done barefoot. You can also wear a pair of yoga socks with grips on the bottom to keep your feet from sliding around on your mat.
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