Start Practicing Yoga!
by Barbara Hall Palar
Practicing yoga helps a body by increasing strength, flexibility, and inner and outer balance. Yoga also aids anxiety, arthritis, digestion and sleep, and may even prevent disease. You don’t need fancy clothes or equipment to do yoga — just a quiet place. Check with your doctor first and then get started.
Step 1 Figure out where and when
Many beginners find that taking a class is most helpful, but it’s not necessary. If you’re shy or crunched for time, or have no class nearby, an instructional DVD or online class is more than sufficient. You can get a good start with the few poses we share below. A few tips before you begin:
- Pick a comfortable, quiet place where the lights are low and the temperature is moderate to warm.
- If you have a yoga mat, great. If not, make sure the floor is not too slick.
- Yoga is best done barefoot, but if your feet are cold, start by wearing socks. You can remove the socks as you warm up. Keep your socks nearby to put back on toward the end of your practice when your body cools.
- Wear comfortable clothes that don’t constrict your movement.
- Yoga practice is best on an empty stomach. Try to wait at least two hours after eating a full meal, or an hour after a snack.
- Keep distractions to a minimum. Turn off the TV, radio and phone. If you have small children, wait until they are napping.
- Play soft, soothing music.
Step 2 Practice good breathing
One of the most basic tenets of yoga practice is breathing correctly. When you become mindful of your breathing during yoga, you pay more attention to how you breathe throughout your day. You soon find that you are able to calm yourself quickly and reduce stress just by changing how you breathe:
- Sit comfortably on the floor or on your mat. Cross your legs in front of you, if you can. Close your eyes.
- Pay attention to how you breathe normally. You will probably notice that your abdomen rises as you inhale, and falls when you exhale.
- Now, still paying attention to the rising and falling of your abdomen, take longer to inhale (try for a count of 10), hold it for a few seconds (try for a count of 5), and take as long to exhale as you did to inhale (again, try for a count of 10). Your chest should not move as you breathe; only your abdomen.
- While inhaling and exhaling, make sure that you allow the abdomen to rise and fall as far as it can.
- Continue this for 20 breaths before moving on to basic yoga poses.
Step 3 Basic pose 1: Cat cow stretch
This simple move can strengthen your abdominal muscles and help ease back pain:
- Get on your hands and knees on the floor or on your mat, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips.
- Think of your spine as a flat board stretching between your shoulders and hips. Visualize the board extending through the crown of your head and toward your tailbone.
- As you inhale, drop your belly toward the floor, arch your back and look up toward the ceiling.
- As you exhale, look down toward the floor gazing at your navel, round your back and drop your hips.
- Repeat 10 times, with the breath.
Step 4 Basic pose 2: Child’s pose
This relaxing pose helps stretch the hips and thighs. Child’s pose can be used as a resting pose when you tire during a yoga workout:
On all fours on the floor or on your mat, spread your knees out as wide as they will go. Your bottom should be slightly raised off the floor or mat.
- Place your forehead on the floor, and bring your belly and chest low, resting your chest on the floor or mat if possible.
- Bring your arms straight out in front of you on the floor or mat, with your head resting between them, OR:
- Bring your arms back along your sides, with your head resting on the mat, turned either to the left or right.
- Rest here as long as you are comfortable, and then resume your workout.
Step 5 Basic pose 3: Downward-facing dog
This pose stretches and strengthens many core areas of your body. Child’s pose (above) is a good way to relax your muscles after doing this pose:
- Start on your hands and knees with your wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- Push back and up, raising your hips and straightening your legs. Your body should slightly resemble an inverted V.
Spread your fingers and exert energy down into your fingertips.
Let your head hang loosely, as relaxed as possible, so you don’t strain your neck.
- Sink your heels into the floor to stretch, alternating back and forth between feet if needed.
- Hold the pose as long as possible, feeling the stretch in the backs of your legs.
Step 6 Basic pose 4: Corpse pose
This relaxing pose is used at the end of nearly every yoga session:
- Lie on your back.
- If you have lower back issues, bend your knees and point them up toward the ceiling, with the feet resting flat on the floor.
- If you don’t have lower back issues, relax your legs flat on the floor, allowing your feet to “flop” out to either side.
- Bring the arms along the sides of your torso, but not touching, palms facing up.
- Focus on relaxing every muscle of your body, and be mindful of your breathing.
- Hold the pose as long as you need for total relaxation. Come out of it slowly by turning to your right side and rolling up gently to a seated position.