Beginners Guide to Yoga

Beginners Guide to Yoga
7th January 2019 Caroline Mason

I think it’s fantastic that lots of you are starting your Yoga journey as we come into this new year. Like starting anything new, it can be quite daunting. So in this blog, I’m hoping to answer any questions or help any worries that you might have about starting Yoga. I’ve tried to answer questions that I get asked a lot, but please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

First things first. Yoga is a practice. And that’s exactly what anyone does – teachers, experienced yogi’s or newbies – you’re practicing. It’s not about being perfect on the mat – it’s about showing up for the practice. And when we are practicing something, we are constantly learning and growing. 

I know it’s easier said than done, but try not to worry about what anyone else is doing. You’re there to focus on yourself, and so is everyone else. It’s a personal and safe space so try not to let your thoughts about your neighbour distract you – they’re probably thinking or worrying about exactly the same thing!

WHAT TO TAKE WITH YOGA

– MAT

Most places will provide you with a mat/block/straps. If you come along to my classes, I provide all the equipment needed for the classes. It’s up to you to bring along your own mat to a class, to me, a mat is a personal space – and you’ll be getting up, close and personal with it – so I prefer to have a mat that only I’ve been on.

– CLOTHING

Wear clothes that you feel comfortable in and that you’re able to move in. The classes are practiced barefoot to allow us find stability and contact with the floor and to help us be more aware of alignment in yoga poses and exercises. If you live in England or anywhere cold, you can by Yoga socks that help your grip whilst keeping your tootsies warm! 

– DRINK

Take a drink with you – preferably water (sorry, no gin!) It’s important to stay hydrated throughout your practice. 

BLANKET

At the end of the class, you will come into Savasana (the relaxing sleepy bit at the end!) – our body temperature goes down so its sometimes nice to have a blanket near by to help keep you snug as a bug!

SANSKRIT

You might hear your teacher saying a posture name/description in a different language – this will be in Sanskrit – a very old language that is used in Yoga. Some teachers use it alot, others not at all! Then you have teachers like me, who say a few things in Sanskrit but then can’t remember a lot of it! And after-all, it’s much easier to say ‘pigeon’ instead of ‘Eka Pada Rajakapotasana’. Don’t get too bogged down on what they mean or learning them – you’ll soon get used to the different terminology. 

PRANAYAMA

So what actually is pranayama? Part of it is something you do all the time without thinking about it – breathing. The word ‘prana’ means life force or energy (which is our breath), and the word ‘yama’ means control. So the two together mean to ‘control the breath/energy/life force’. It is something that can be practiced on its own, or in a Yoga practice, or during meditation. Your teacher will guide you through this. Don’t panic if you can’t inhale for as long as they tell you to – work with your own body and breath. 

POSTURES

In Yoga, we hold postures, which are known as Asanas. This is the physical part of the practice, which people are mostly familiar with. Don’t worry if you don’t know your updog from your downdog – that’s what the teacher is there to help you with. Try not to let your ego take over in your practice – if you’re a beginner, maybe stick and explore the easier variation they offer without going to the more energising variation – there is nothing easy about doing some of the ‘easier looking’ postures. Yoga is a healing practice but if you go to the harder variations you could cause yourself injury. Again, don’t look to what your neighbour is doing – the teacher isn’t going round giving out prizes for anyone who can do the hardest variation of a pose.

YOGA WORDS/PHRASES

I’ve already spoken about the use of Sanskrit, but here are some words/phrases that you might hear in the class.

NAMASTE – this is said at the end of the class – it’s an greeting exchanged between the Yoga teacher and student, and translates to ‘I honour the love and light in you’. It is said with hands together at the heart centre, with a slight bow of the head. 

BANDHA – bandhas play an important role on both the physical and spiritual level. Nothing to worry about to much if you’re new to the practice but here is what they are…

They’re energy locks in the body and engaging bandhas during yoga practice offers support during movement within and between individual postures. Accessing them can be as simple as pulling your chin in towards the neck to activate the jalandara bandha, or pulling your belly button up and in to support the lower back and engage the uddiyana bandha; and mule bandha which is a pelvic floor lock.

SAVASNA – everybody’s favourite part of the class – the sleepy pose at the end! You’ll stay in savasana for about 5-10 minutes, depending on the length of the class. You’ll lay in a comfortable position (usually on your back) with your eyes closed. Please don’t worry if you fall asleep – it’s a sign that your body needs the rest – your teacher will gently wake you. 

OTHER RANDOM THINGS THAT MIGHT POP IN YOUR HEAD

Can I go to the toilet in the class?

Personally – it doesn’t bother me, there is nothing worse than laying on your belly trying to do a pose and think you’re going to pee your pants – I’d prefer my students to feel comfortable – however, some teachers/studios might be a little more strict. 

I can’t touch my toes – can I still come to a class?

Yes, of course – Yoga helps with flexibility and that is a reason to start coming to Yoga. It’s like sending a child to school who can’t read – that’s the whole idea of learning and going to school! 

But, what if I fart?!

I’m not going to lie. It happens. I’ll admit, it’s happened to me and to students in my class. We’re all adults. We all fart. It’s a natural thing – and in Yoga it happens because we’re doing lots of movements that massage the digestive system. So, y’know – it’s all good.

Is it okay to take a rest in a class?

I always say for my students to take a child’s pose or a rest whenever they need to. It is your practice, and you give your body and mind what it needs to. If you need to spend the whole time in savasana then that’s absolutely fine – in-fact, I applaud you – not many people have the courage to admit that they just need to be, we can be too busy worrying about what people think of us instead of what we actually need. 

And, finally. If you go to a class and don’t enjoy it – don’t give up. Go and find other teachers. Go and explore other types of Yoga classes (see my other blog about types of Yoga). I didn’t fall in love with Yoga straightaway, and now I can’t imagine my life without it. So give it time, and be kind and gentle with yourself. Be proud of yourself that you’re willing to learn something new.