Yoga – the basics
If you’ve never practised yoga before but find yourself somewhat intrigued (yogacurious?!), you’ve probably got a few unanswered questions holding you back from giving it a go.
Like: What’s a yogi? (Anyone who practices yoga) Will I have to do a headstand? (Not if you don’t want to!) Is it a cult?! (No, but it can be a bit addictive! Keep reading to find out why)
I don’t profess to be an expert at all. I remember feeling a little intimidated when I first started out at yoga, so I wanted to write a beginner’s guide to briefly explain some of the types of yoga (read a more in-depth explanation here) and how yoga can benefit you in more ways than you might think.
For the purpose of this guide, I’m going to divide the yoga styles into two groups: meditation-focused and physical-focused. Of course, all types of yoga have a mix of both physical and meditational aspects, but some lean further one way or the other, so it’s a handy way to differentiate between them as a beginner.
Meditative yoga styles
Kundalini and Yin are two popular styles of meditation-focused yoga. We can visualise Kundalini as a powerful feminine energy located at the base of the spine. Kundalini yoga practice focuses on awakening this energy, using techniques like singing and chanting, breathwork, and repeated poses to engage your senses. The gentle movements and stillness help ground you, encouraging you to be more present during your practice and in life.
Yin concentrates on the connections within your body: the ligaments, bones, and joints, and how they work to keep your body moving and fluid. It is a slower practice than some more physical styles and postures are held for some time, helping you connect deeply with your body in the present moment.
Physical yoga styles
Some yoga styles feel a lot more physical and emphasise movements and positions more than the meditative, spiritual side of yoga (although all yoga practice really incorporates the two to varying degrees). Two of these more physical yoga styles are Hatha and Vinyasa.
Hatha is primarily taught in the West as an introduction to yoga. It encourages the body to find balance and strength by holding basic poses, or ‘asanas’. It’s a good place to start for beginners who are not yet familiar with the different movements and positions of yoga. Hatha yoga is considered a relatively slow, peaceful style of yoga that releases tension and calms the body and mind. But don’t be fooled; if you’re a complete novice, you might find it surprisingly challenging using muscles you never knew you had.
Vinyasa is known to be a motion-concentrated practice involving series of movements called yoga flows. The intensive focus on the synchronised breathwork and movement maintains a balance between physical and spiritual. The result is a really powerful practice that feels cleansing for the mind and body. Vinyasa yoga can be pretty challenging and is probably best for someone who already has a basic grasp of the asanas and flows commonly used in yoga practice.
Yoga is not just a form of exercise
At its heart, yoga is an emotional and spiritual practice that can have such a profound impact that some people proclaim to have found themselves on their mat. The benefits go far beyond fitness (although strength and suppleness do come with regular practice). For many people, yoga has been a way to relieve stress, reconnect with their intuition, or even aid recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.
We know that all types of exercise reduce stress hormones and elevate mood, but yoga somehow goes beyond this to create a deep connection between the mind and body. And the science agrees. Several studies have shown that practising yoga can positively impact both physical and mental health, prompt healthier lifestyle habits, and improve mindset.
Yoga as part of a self care routine
Yoga can be a really powerful addition to a self care routine. There are very few activities that allow you the time and space to connect with yourself on a deep level. The odd bubble bath might feel like a treat, but it just doesn’t cut it when it comes to self care (find out why here). Good self care actually consists of healthy boundaries, prioritising your wellbeing, and honouring the commitments you make to yourself. Regular yoga practice encourages you to ringfence the time to spend focusing on your physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. It gives you the opportunity to put yourself first.
Yoga for clarity
I believe that yoga is one of the very best ways to connect to your intuition. The quiet focus of practice creates the perfect environment to tune in to your thoughts and feelings.
If you have a big decision to make or are facing change in your life, yoga can help you hear that inner voice that just knows what to do. Although it can be unsettling and stressful, change is a natural and inevitable part of life for every one of us. But it doesn’t hurt to get some help through the process, right?! Read more about the stages of change here.
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