Finding out about yoga for beginners doesn't need to be an overwhelming endeavour. It's one thing getting to know the different types of yoga, but what type is best for beginners, and how often should you practice?
Well, we've put all the expert information you need to know (including the best type of yoga for beginners) in one place.
So, if you're ready to discern your asanas from ashtangas (and everything in between) keep reading and learn the myriad benefits of yoga for beginners.
What are the benefits of beginner's yoga?
Let's kick off with why you should start practising yoga before diving into which type is most suitable and how often to practice.
It can help with stress
Most likely you'll have heard of the 'fight or flight' response. It refers to the state of being when we're faced with stress. Historically it helped our ancestors decide when to face the stressor (usually a predator) or when to run for the hills. When this happened our sympathetic nervous systems would kick in (also known as our fight or flight response), elevating our heart rate to pump more blood to the muscles we might need to fight or flee.
Nowadays, we're faced with lower-grade but constant stressors. Think work, life, travel, a global pandemic and everything in between. Understanding how to bring ourselves back to a place of balance is a major part of yoga.
"Yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the "rest and digest" response to life) through breath work and postures like child’s pose and savasana," shares yoga instructor and founder of The Human Method, Nahid de Belgeonne.
"When you are stressed out, your body pumps out the hormone cortisol. This hormone is what helps you keep going in a crisis (it’s the key to the "fight or flight" response). Unfortunately, when it comes to stress levels, your body can’t distinguish between a lion giving chase and your boss sending a snarky email, which means many of us are flooded with cortisol on a daily basis. This leads to an overworked nervous system, fatigue and ill health."
Leaning into yoga (alongside your normal workout routine) can work to keep everything in equilibrium.
What does this look like in a yoga class?
If you were to do a fast-paced class – keeping up with the movements and flowing between each one would elevate your heart rate to help you keep going. This activates the sympathetic nervous system. Then, at the end of the class, when you lay down for Savasana (also known as corpse pose) you're encouraged to allow everything to settle and rest, employing breathing techniques that help you activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
It alleviates anxiety
Ever felt the flutters of anxiety coming on? You're not alone. Yoga can work to improve our awareness of when we're feeling anxious and how to deal with it when it does happen.
"In addition to the effects on the nervous system, and how we learn to engage our 'rest & digest' (parasympathetic nervous system) mode at will, slowing the breath and being more mindful of your body," can help to assuage some of the stronger symptoms of anxiety, explains Chatty Dobson, yoga teacher and owner of FLEX Chelsea.
It can help you get stronger and more fit
Next, getting stronger. Yoga, a bodyweight discipline can sculpt muscle and build strength, all from the comfort (or discomfort) of your yoga mat. Dobson breaks down how:
"Yoga’s brilliant for building strength. An immense amount of control is needed in all yoga asanas (poses), even sitting and standing ones, and we’re working with our own body weight, which is a lot more than your average kettlebell or dumbbell," she says. Unlike strength training which tends to isolate areas to work on, yoga builds muscle fairly equally across the entire body.
What type of yoga is best for beginners?
Whilst it largely depends on individual preference, lifestyle and fitness levels, the best type of yoga for beginners is the one that you want to keep doing. For most, this is Hatha Yoga – a style of yoga characterised by holding poses and working to incorporate the breath.
"Hatha or Iyengar yoga are both ideal styles of yoga for beginners because the pace is steady," advises yoga teacher Felicity Wood. "The steady pace gives the teacher time to guide you in and out of the pose with detailed instructions, allowing you to find the position and settle into the pose without being rushed."
Alternatively, if you're looking for a really calming experience, Yin yoga can be a good entry point, as well.
"A yin practice is also a nice, simple and slow practice to begin with. Unlike quicker styles, it’s not a sweeping, flowing sequence, but you will hold a series of poses often supported by bolsters, cushions, blankets for a minimum of 3 minutes to help the body relax and open up," explains Alana Murrin, yoga teacher at London fitness studio, Psycle.
How often should a beginner do yoga?
It depends on your commitments and lifestyle as to how often you'll be able to practice yoga. Saying that, to get better at anything you do need to commit some time to it. Anywhere between two and three times a week is a good place to start.
"As you begin to build your understanding of yoga you’ll find that it’s not just a practice that’s bound to a singular class. Yoga may begin to seep into your life through moments of stillness, breathing, gentle stretches or mindful walks. It is possible (as with all modes of movement and fitness) to overdo the physical side of yoga. So, I’d always say build up slowly and practice as often as feels manageable and enjoyable."
How do I start doing yoga at home?
Most teachers recommend starting with in-person classes but understand that isn't possible for everyone, for a number of reasons. Fortunately, a lot of studios and teachers now offer virtual and streamable classes, instead.
"Nowadays, a lot of yoga teachers are teaching virtually and many teachers are teaching beginner-friendly yoga sessions," advises yoga teacher Deepa Sapra. And she's not wrong – YouTube yoga is a great way to get started if you're just dipping a toe.
"Start by finding a teacher who offers classes that are suitable for beginners. Many teachers offer live-streamed and on-demand yoga for beginners courses, as well as on-demand classes that are suitable for beginners," says Wood.
"Make sure that you have a yoga mat, and also yoga props such as bricks, blocks and belts can come in handy to help you to be comfortable in a pose. If you don't have this equipment, then you can always improvise with things from around your home."
"Plus, doing yoga at home is ideal because you can do short sessions multiple times per week. This is a great way to learn, and your body will respond more quickly with frequent practice."
Can you lose weight doing beginner yoga?
Learning how to lose weight well (e.g. safely, sustainably, for the long term), comes down to a number of things. Namely, good nutrition, being in a calorie deficit, adequate movement (both exercise and general activity), quality sleep and stress management. Getting these aligned can help you hit your healthy weight loss goals.
Yoga, as a form of movement, can help with weight loss. In fact, yoga for weight loss is a real thing. The most surprising thing of all is how restorative yoga (e.g. slower, calming sequences) can be one of the most effective ways to lose weight.
"While restorative yoga isn’t an especially physical type of yoga, it still helps with weight loss," says yoga and meditation instructor, Caroline Lucas.
And the science backs it up. Cortisol (the stress hormone) can inhibit weight and fat loss, something restorative styles of yoga can help to counter. According to research published in the American Journal of Managed Care, a 2016 study of overweight women showed that restorative sessions, or Yin yoga, can produce the same weight loss results over 12-weeks as other forms of yoga.
"High cortisol levels are a known contributor to weight gain, particularly in the abdomen, and yoga, in general, reduces cortisol levels. So, it may not matter so much what style of yoga you are doing, so long as you are reducing stress by breathing mindfully in and out through the nose," says Lucas.
"Yoga can also help you be more connected with your body and your mind. In turn, elevating a sense of mindfulness and hopefully leading you to a more harmonious lifestyle which is exactly what sustainable weight loss is about – finding a healthy balance."
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