The ancient practice of yoga has many known benefits. In addition to being a great form of strength training, it is often regarded as the most relaxing form of physical exercise, claiming benefits for both body and mind.
Yoga originated in India over 5000 years ago as a means of keeping the body strong and healthy. Today, it is a form of exercise which has swept the globe as many seek to use it as a means of strengthening as well as a source of healing.
Yoga is known to promote a good posture, which prevents back pain, as well as improving joint flexibility. For these reasons, among many others, yoga is as popular among athletes as it is with the less sporty among us.
Do you like the idea of bringing balance to your body and mind? We have put together plenty of tips on starting your yoga routine as a complete beginner.
There are several branches of yoga which differ from one another in various ways, from their primary focus to the intensity of stretching.
Take a look at the most popular varieties of yoga and decide which one best suits your wellness goals:
The term ‘Hatha yoga’ refers to yoga in a general sense, however, in the West, it is used to describe the basic stretches that are most often taught in yoga classes.
Take a Hatha class to ease into yoga ¦ source: Pixabay – HannahWells
The aim of Hatha yoga is to gently stretch, loosen and relax the body in a way that is not physically exerting. In Hatha classes, yoga poses are often slow and held for a few breaths before moving on.
Ashtanga yoga is perfect for yogis who love following a set workout routine. Although the movements are smooth and there is a focus on breathing, you’ll certainly work up a sweat by repeating the same sequence of movements!
Vinyasa is similar to Ashtanga in its intensity and the way that it focuses on the smoothness of the transitions between poses, however, there is no fixed routine – perfect for those who enjoy a bit of variety! Vinyasa classes are often lively, too, as teachers play upbeat music to accompany the class.
At the opposite end of the spectrum to Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga, Yin yoga is focused on the meditative aspects of yoga and each gentle pose is held for minutes at a time. If you need to find your zen, his variety of yoga is the one for you.
Iyengar yoga classes challenge you to pay close attention to the alignment of your body. Like in Yin yoga, poses are held, and you’ll use several pieces of yoga equipment to help you get the most out of each pose.
The restorative and strengthening properties of yoga make it a popular form of exercise for people who suffer from all kinds of back pain.
Not only can regular yoga practice release tension from your muscles and joints, but it can also contribute to an improved posture and prevent further back complaints.
So, what are the most effective poses when doing yoga for back pain?
If you’re a complete newbie to yoga, this is likely one of the first poses you will learn.
Make a V-shape with your body, keeping your hands and feet planted and your heels down. Relax, take several deep breaths while you hold the pose and feel the stretch in your upper and lower back.
Downward dog is a fundamental yoga pose ¦ source: Pixabay – AndiP
This pose is great for elongating the spine and strengthening the lower back muscles.
The seated spinal twist is good for people looking for relief for back stiffness.
Sitting on the floor with your legs straight in front of you, bend one knee and put your foot flat on the ground. Support yourself with the arm on the same side as the bent leg, and put the elbow of your other arm on the outside of your bent knee.
Cross your foot over for a more challenging stretch ¦ source: Pixabay – evitaochel
There are many variations to the spinal twist with a range of difficulties.
Sphinx pose is not just great for preventing lower back pain, but it is also incredibly simple to do.
Lay on your front with your legs relaxed behind you. Next, support your upper body by bringing your elbows underneath your shoulders with your forearms out in front of you. As you inhale, press your chest outwards, and relax as you exhale. You should feel a stretch in your abdominal muscles and your spine.
The sphinx pose is known to strengthen the spine and tone other muscle groups ¦ source: World Peace Yoga School
The cat/cow movement is a combination of two yoga poses which stretches the back in a dynamic way whilst improving mobility. This is another very simple pose which is popular as a warm-up transition.
Begin in a tabletop, with your hands and knees shoulder and hip-width apart respectively. Start with the cow pose by arching your back towards the ceiling whilst pushing your hands and feet into the floor as you drop your head down. To transition to the cat, arch your back the opposite way whilst moving your head up and looking forward.
The bow pose is quite an intense exercise, so you may wish to seek advice from a yoga instructor before attempting it.
Begin by laying on your front, then bend your knees and reach back with your arms to grasp your feet. Lift your feet towards you and upwards, holding the pose for three breaths at a time.
This pose is fantastic for strengthening the shoulders and upper back to improve posture and prevent injury ¦ source: Visualhunt – LCRF-FreetoBreathe
Core strength is an important part of a person’s general fitness and ability to take their training to the next level as well as their performance in sports. For this reason, yoga is a popular complement to the training programmes of many athletes.
Working on your core strength may not sound too appealing, especially if you’re haunted by painful memories of planking competitions in school PE classes, however, yoga can add a different, more relaxing angle to building core strength.
Here are some beginner-friendly yoga poses for people looking to strengthen their core:
This is a challenging pose which targets the abdominal muscles, however, it can be made slightly easier by using a modified pose.
Supporting yourself on your seat bones, lean back and straighten your legs toward the ceiling, so that your body forms an upright V-shape. Reach your arms in front of you, either side of your legs.
To make this pose more manageable, bend your knees and keep your calves parallel to the ground ¦ source: Dr Weil
Slightly less intense than boat pose, the triangle can also be modified to become easier or more difficult. This is a common pose which is used by almost all yoga teachers.
To perform this pose, stand with your legs about a metre apart. Turn one foot 90 degrees so that it’s in line with your mat, and turn the other slightly inwards. Stretch your arms out to your sides, then slowly lean to the side on which your foot is facing forward, while keeping your arms outstretched. Once your hand had reached the floor, look up at your other hand and feel the stretch in your legs and hips.
This is one of the first yoga poses you will learn ¦ source: Visualhunt – LCRF-FreetoBreathe
The triangle pose targets the whole body and promotes good core strength as well as releasing tension in the legs, hips and shoulders.
In addition to stretching large muscle groups, the upward-facing dog pose also helps strengthen key areas of the body. As a more relaxed strength pose, upward-facing dog is a great way to finish off your core-strength yoga routine.
The benefits of yoga include an improved posture and injury prevention ¦ source: Visualhunt
Lay flat on your stomach, then place your hands under your shoulders and straighten your arms so that your hips and thighs come off the ground. Hold for up to ten breaths, pressing your chest up as you squeeze your shoulder blades.
Yoga is generally regarded as the most relaxing form of exercise. While lots of poses target key muscles, others are perfect for relaxing both the body and mind.
Here are some simple poses you can perform to clear your head:
Child’s pose is often used to round off a yoga class, as it gives a gentle stretch down the spine with minimal effort.
Begin by sitting on your knees, reach forward to rest your torso on your thighs and place your hands on the floor with your arms outstretched in front of you.
You can hold this pose for as long as you like. You may want to focus on your breathing, or simply take note of how the pose affects your body ¦ source: Pixabay – StockSnap
This is a restorative pose which requires little effort whilst offering a good stretch.
Simply lay on your back and pull each of your thighs upwards so that your knees are bent and the soles of your feet touch each other. Relax your arms by your sides.
Notice how the stretch reaches deeper with every exhale ¦ source: Divinity Magazine
A pose which requires absolutely no effort at all, the corpse pose is exactly what it sounds like:
Lay on your back in a relaxed position.
Your yoga instructor may offer you a blanket for this pose as your body temperature drops ¦ source: Allwomenstalk Fitness 2018
There is, however, a challenge involved with this pose: allowing your mind to relax. Once you have overcome the unfamiliarity of clearing your mind, the corpse pose may be your new favourite!