How to Start Yoga
Like learning anything else, beginning your journey in yoga can be pretty intimidating. From choosing the style of yoga you want to try, to selecting a good studio for your skill level and budget, to struggling next to veteran Lululemon-sporting, Hydroflask-toting yoga-goers, to simply not knowing where to start, it can be an uncomfortable experience to say the least.
We hope to demystify the process of starting your personal journey with yoga and encourage you along your path. Know that everyone starts somewhere, and that yoga is made for everybody and every body.
There are many benefits of yoga, so a great place to start is to ask yourself what you’re looking to get out of your practice. Are you looking for a low impact way to exercise? To relieve stress? To improve flexibility, mobility and prevent injury? Every form of yoga is beneficial, but some types of yoga are better catered to certain desired outcomes.
Types of Yoga
Hatha yoga is what most people think of when we say “yoga.” It is the foundational style of yoga that many of the other forms stem from. This form of yoga is posture-based, slow moving, and very much centered on the breath and deep stretching. The slower pace allows us to get better acquainted with the various poses, making this a great place to start for beginners.
Vinyasa is one of the more popular styles of yoga. It is very similar to Hatha yoga, but moves at a much quicker pace. You won’t be sitting in poses very long; more so flowing through them. It is a very athletic, and dynamic style of yoga that could even substitute a cardio workout. These classes are fast paced, and not always the best option for beginners who are still learning the postures.
Ashtanga is very similar to Vinyasa. It is a high paced, dynamic, flowing yoga, but with a more rigid structure. With ashtanga yoga, every class you go to will be exactly the same, as you follow the same set of poses through the duration of the class. These classes are challenging like vinyasa, but the repetition could be helpful for motivated beginners.
Iyengar yoga is most similar to Hatha yoga, as it is highly focused on the breath, and deep, well-aligned stretches. This is the slowest moving yoga we’ve discussed thus far, making it a wonderful option for beginners to best learn the postures and the correct alignment within them. This form of yoga utilizes props like yoga blocks, straps and bolsters to assist students into the best body alignment for each posture. Iyengar is excellent for building strength and working on proper form.
Yin is the slowest, most relaxed form of yoga. This style focuses most on flexibility rather than strength or precision. Yin poses are held longer than any other form, often for minutes at a time. Much like Iyengar, Yin is known for the use of props to aid in proper alignment when relaxing into each pose. This style of yoga is wonderful for stress relief and improved flexibility/mobility.
Yin is extremely accessible for beginners, as it’s fairly easy to jump right in. That being said, the poses used are fairly specific to yin yoga, so this practice likely won’t prepare you for the higher paced forms of yoga and we would still recommend trying a Hatha class before going to Bikram or Vinyasa.
Hot Yoga / Bikram
Hot yoga is simply any form of yoga that is practiced in a heated room. It could be a vinyasa flow class, or a deep stretching Yin class, but if it is practiced in a heated room, it is considered hot yoga. Some of these classes are really challenging, but if you can find a slow paced class for beginners, the heat helps to loosen up muscles and allows for a deeper stretch and we’d highly recommend trying it out.
Bikram is a popular form of hot yoga that follows a highly structured format. The classes are 90 minutes in a room heated to about 40℃ (104℉) where they strictly follow a series of poses. The heat makes this class extremely challenging, even for seasoned yogis, so we don’t recommend this one for beginners.
Thankfully, yoga requires very little in terms of gear and equipment. It requires very little upfront investment unlike pilates or cycling. All you really need to start is a mat and some appropriate clothing.
Your yoga mat will be the foundation for your practice, so it’s important to make the right selection. There are many different kinds, some thicker, some lighter weight, some open-cell, some extra long. For beginners, we recommend something middle-of-the-road and affordable, like the BalanceFrom GoYoga. This yoga mat is thick, lightweight, non-slip, easy to clean and affordable. If you are looking for a yoga mat that is more tailored to your needs, you can check out our top picks for this year.
If you aren’t ready to invest in a mat, many yoga studios offer mat rentals. Check studio websites to see if this is something they offer.
The yoga-wear industry has exploded in the last couple years, leaving us spoilt for choice. It may feel like it’s impossible to make the right choice, but as long as your clothing allows for flexible movement and isn’t too baggy that it gets in your way, you’ll be golden.
To avoid getting overwhelmed by marketing buzzwords and endless reviews, we recommend checking out our yoga pants buying guide.
Other Helpful Gear
Truly all you need is a yoga mat and some comfortable clothing to start, but there’s plenty of equipment out there that can enhance your practice.
We recommend investing in a reusable water bottle that accompanies you to every yoga class. Many studios sell water or provide a drinking fountain, but for the sake of the planet and to keep your flow as uninterrupted as possible, we recommend bringing your own.
A yoga towel is almost a necessity for those looking to practice hot yoga. A yoga towel is a thin, absorbent towel that lays on top of your yoga mat for the duration of your practice. Unless you have an open-cell yoga mat that absorbs moisture, sweat will pool and your mat will become slick and unsafe to use. A yoga towel functions to absorb sweat and keep your practice safe and uninterrupted.
Yoga blocks are used for stability, support, and as a way to deepen a stretch. Blocks make for an excellent prop for beginners because they help to reach shapes that we may not be flexible enough to reach yet.
Since we’ve discussed the different forms of yoga and what you’ll need, it’s time to make an informed decision about which yoga class you’d like to take. Many studios or YouTube channels offer classes tailored to beginners, and we highly recommend starting there.
There are many benefits to taking an in-person yoga class. There is a sense of community, more accountability, and instructors who can coach you in real time. If your alignment is off or you are experiencing discomfort, instructors are able to adjust your form or suggest alternative poses that achieve the same stretch.
In person classes offer a good amount of variation to keep you and your body on your toes, and to keep your practice ever-growing.
Online classes are a great option if you don’t live in a particularly urban environment, and don’t have the luxury of having a yoga studio in your immediate radius. While studios are great for building community and getting hands-on instruction, there are also some wonderful online resources that are more accessible and cost effective while you’re still feeling things out. If you have a computer, a mat and a sturdy wifi connection, you can begin your yoga journey right at home.
We’ve listed a few of our favorite yoga youtube channels here.
Starting a new hobby or passion can be intimidating, but we want to encourage you to push past the discomfort. Yoga has a laundry list of advantages that everyone can benefit from, and it is made for everyone to enjoy.
Frequently asked questions
It is important to listen to your body, and give it the rest it needs in between classes. We recommend starting with 2 or 3 classes a week, and increasing from there as you build more strength and endurance.
Getting into a routine is very helpful to getting you to stick with it and improve. We have some great tips on How to Stay Consistent with Practicing Yoga on YouTube.
Yoga is a relatively low impact activity, but as with anything, there is inherent risk. If you push your body past its limits you can get very seriously injured. There is a clear difference between discomfort and pain – discomfort from stretching is different from sharp shooting pain in our joints. It is vitally important that you are listening to your body during your practice, especially when trying new or challenging postures.