How to Start Yoga for Beginners – Step by Step Guide

Are you a complete beginner to Yoga and not sure where to start?

Here is the Complete Beginners Guide To Yoga – How to start a daily yoga practice from the comfort of your own home.

Yoga is everywhere these days! Everyone from your favorite movie stars to your favorite plumber seems to be catching on to the trend.

It sounds like a good way to exercise without lifting a lot of heavy objects or joining some team, and some people even say it helps them to relieve anxiety and makes them happier. The trouble is a quick search on the internet reveals a whole myriad of styles and brands, lots of different approaches and opinions, and an unusual amount of people doing handstands.

Plus, a trip down to the local yoga studio can be a bit intimidating at first. Everyone seems to be wearing fancy designer outfits, using a lot of big words in a different language and, again, what’s with all the people practicing handstands?

It can be tough to know where to start, but yoga isn’t about the way you look or dress, and it certainly isn’t about doing handstands (though they are a lot of fun). Learning a simple yoga practice that you can do at home is easy; it just takes a little bit of time to learn the basics and a little bit of patience.

We’ve created this guide to help you in the process. We’ll start by covering some basic concepts, and then move on to a few simple sequences that you can gradually add to week by week until you have a complete home practice.

To supplement the guide, we will link to relevant videos from our extensive YouTube library, which will serve as a helpful reference if you need clarification or simply prefer to learn visually.

What is Yoga?

It might seem at first glance that yoga is mainly about flexibility or acrobatic skill, but if we look at what the word yoga actually means we will discover something much deeper.

The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit language of ancient India. The relationship of Sanskrit to Indian culture is a bit like Latin to European culture. It is the traditional scriptural and poetic language of ancient India and is still used to this day in the rituals and practices that surround the Hindu religion.

The word Yoga has been interpreted in many different ways, but there are three common uses of the word. Each of them shows a different aspect of what the practices of Yoga are all about.

1. Union

Yoga is usually translated directly as “union.” It refers to the union of the ordinary separate self with the divine, or supreme consciousness. In yogic philosophy, the divine is seen as being the true nature of every person at the deepest level of their consciousness.

This sense of union can also be used in a more practical way. To indicate a union between different types of people. Between people and animals. Between people and their environment. For most people, this type of union is necessary in order to cultivate the higher state of union with the divine.

It can also be used to indicate the union of the body, mind, and spirit of an individual person. This is what we are trying to accomplish through the postures and breath practices that have become synonymous with modern Yoga.

2. Concentration

Yoga is intrinsically related to the concept of Samadhi, roughly translated as concentration. Essentially, Samadhi means to be completely absorbed in the present moment. Traditionally, this is cultivated through various meditation practices, but the ultimate test of concentration is whether one can be present in the various activities of daily life. Standing in line at the bank, sitting in traffic, cooking dinner; every aspect of our life is an opportunity to practice Yoga.

3. Control

In the most practical terms, Yoga is developing control over our body and our mind so that we can live life in a concentrated way and move towards the various levels of union described above. All of the various techniques outlined here are intended to help us develop this control.

Breathing for Beginners

In Hatha Yoga, it is understood that the breath is the bridge between the body and the mind. It is seen as the key to the control of both and, ultimately, the key to uniting them.

A full, controlled breath helps us to bring energy to the body without also bringing anxiety or tension. A slow, relaxed breath helps to quiet the mind and create the conditions necessary for states of deep meditation.

Without an emphasis on the breath, the Asana, or postures of yoga, are simply physical fitness exercises. Though they are still a healthy activity to engage in, their effects will be far short of their potential unless they are combined with deep, conscious breathing.

For this reason, it is always a good idea to start your yoga practice with some simple breathing exercises that will establish the patterns of optimal respiration in a seated position, before complicating things by taking a more difficult posture.

We will focus on three different types of breathing:

1. Thoracic Breathing

In Thoracic Breathing, we will focus on breathing into the whole trunk.

Inhale slowly, gently and deeply. Try not to over-breathe or lengthen the breath more then is comfortable.

As we inhale, we expand through the chest, stretching out the ribcage. As our ribcage expands, we should also try to feel a sense of expansion in the back of the body, as well as the sides of the body. Try placing a hand on the upper back to get a better sense of this expansion.

Exhale gradually with control. Try to keep the length of the exhalation roughly equal to the length of the inhalation. As we exhale, we feel the ribcage contract and settle back towards the spine.

Breathing in this way will help to stretch and strengthen the intercostal muscles of the ribcage, and increase our breathing capacity.

2. Abdominal Breathing

In abdominal breathing, we draw the diaphragm down into the abdominal cavity by moving our belly in and out as we breathe. This form of breathing helps to draw oxygen deep into the lower parts of our lungs, where blood tends to pool due to the effects of gravity and is, therefore, a more efficient form of breathing then thoracic breathing and will tend to relax the nervous system.
Inhale slowly, gently and deeply. This time, expand only through the belly and the sides of the abdomen, making sure not to expand the ribcage.

Exhale with control, drawing the belly in towards the spine. Try to keep the length of the exhalation roughly equal to the length of the inhalation.

3. Friendly Breathing

This is the full yogic breath, which we like to call “Friendly Breathing.” It combines both Thoracic Breathing and Abdominal Breathing so that we can lengthen and deepen the breath as much as possible.

In Friendly Breathing, on our inhale, we expand through the abdomen and the chest at the same time, feeling the expansion through the front and back of the body. As we exhale, we feel the chest contract, and the belly move in towards the spine at the same time.

It may be helpful initially to place one hand on the chest and one hand on the belly in order to get a sense of this expansion and contraction and to ensure that is equal through the upper and lower half of the trunk.

Yoga Poses for Beginners

It is a good idea, when starting a practice of Asana, or yoga postures, to introduce them gradually, week by week. Once you have mastered a number of basic postures, you can start to sequence them together using Vinyasa, or linking movements. We suggest a simple four week program where we begin with simple warm-up movements and gradually integrate more complex postures.

Week 1: Warm-Up Stretches

After completing the breathing exercises outlined above, we will start with some simple warm-up exercises that can be done at the beginning of any yoga practice to limber up. Reference the video below at any time if you need clarification.

Seated Neck Stretches

We’ll start with some simple neck stretches.

1. On an inhale, slowly lift the chin, stretching the front of the neck, on an exhale lower the chin stretching the back of the neck. Repeat five times.

2. On an exhale lower the head to the left side, stretching the right side of the neck, on an inhale return to the center, then on an exhale lower the head to the right side, stretching the left side of the neck. Repeat five times

3. Perform a complete rotation of the neck, exhaling as the chin lowers and inhaling as the chin lifts. Make sure to rotate in both a clockwise and counter-clockwise direction. Repeat three times each

Don’t overstretch the neck, simply move within your normal range of motion.

Seated Shoulder Stretches

1. Place the fingertips of both hands on their respective shoulders, closing the elbow joints. On an inhale lift the elbows up and in. On an exhale  bring them apart and down, rotating through the entire range of motion of the shoulder joint. Repeat three times, and then repeat three more times, rotating in the opposite direction.

2. Lift the right elbow towards the ceiling and place the right hand behind the head, reaching down towards the upper back. If it feels comfortable, gently pull the right elbow to the left using your free hand. Hold the stretch for five breaths and repeat on the other side.

Seated Spinal Warm-up

1. From your seated position, lift your chest and begin to walk the hands forward as far as is comfortable. Start by keeping the back as straight as possible. Hold for five breaths here. After five breaths, you can push into the hands and tuck the tailbone, stretching the lower back. Hold for another five breaths and walk the hands back in.

2. This time, as you fold forward, walk the hands out to the left side, stretching the right side of the back. Hold for three breaths and repeat on the other side.

3. Keeping the spine straight, place the right hand on the left knee and the left hand on the floor behind you. Inhale here, and then while exhaling, begin to gently twist to the left. Hold for three breaths and then inhale, returning to center. Repeat on the other side.

Standing Hip Warm-up

1. Stand with the feet more than hip-width apart. Reach the arms out to the side. Inhale here. On an exhale start to tip over to the right side, reaching the right hand towards the right shin, stretching the left side of the body. On an inhale return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. Repeat the whole sequence three times.

2. Start with the feet hip-width apart. Perform gentle hip rotations, making a big circle with the hips. Repeat 3 times in each direction. Take the feet a bit wider and repeat three more times in each direction.

Week 2: Basic Yoga Poses

Now let’s start to introduce some simple poses to our practice. These ones will all begin in a tabletop position:

Cat/Cow Tilts

Begin in a tabletop position with the knees directly underneath the hips and the hands under the shoulders. On an inhalation start to tip the tailbone up and back and lower the belly towards the floor. Lift the chest and slightly raise your gaze.

On an exhalation tuck the tailbone under and round the back. Spread the shoulder blades and relax the head towards the floor.

Repeat the movement five times

Downward Facing Dog

From your tabletop position, tuck the toes under and lift the hips up and back. Press the hands into the floor, extending the spine and start to let the heels move towards the floor. If it feels good you can start by bending each knee in turn and making little walking motions with your legs.

Once you feel limber, start to straighten the legs, pressing the heels towards the floor. You can also bring more stretch into the back by bending the knees slightly and drawing the chest towards the floor.

Extended Child’s Pose

Begin in your tabletop position. Take the knees more than hip-width apart and sink the tailbone onto the heels.

Reach your arms forward and place your hands on the floor with your palms facing down. Breathe deeply into your back, stretching your trunk with every breath. Hold for five to ten long breaths.

Plank Position

From your tabletop position simply step both feet back, so the body is completely straight from head to foot. Press strongly into the floor with your hands, spreading the shoulder blades wide. Keep the stomach firm and don’t forget to breathe. Hold for five breaths.

Knee To Elbow

Inhale in a plank position. On an exhale, round the back as you bring the right knee as close as you can to the right elbow. On an inhale return to plank position. Repeat on the left side and repeat the whole sequence three times.

Week 3: Basic Yoga Poses cont’d

Now we’ll start to work into our spine and hips a little bit more with some gentle backbends and twists:

Cobra Pose

Lower down to your stomach. On an inhalation, press into the floor alongside your ribcage and lift your chest up and forward, keeping the hips on the floor. On an exhale lower back down. Repeat this movement a few more times, arching your back a little bit more each time. On the final time, hold the pose for three breaths and then lower on an exhale.

Three-legged Dog

Begin in Downward Facing Dog. On an inhale, lift the right foot up and back, engage your right hamstring and reach towards the back of the room, keeping your hips square to the front of the room. After holding for three breaths, bend the right knee and open the hips up to the right side, stretching through the front of the right hip. Hold for three breaths and return to Downward Facing Dog on an exhale. Repeat on the other side.

Thread-the-needle Pose

Lie down on your back. Bend the left knee, placing the foot on the floor and drawing the heel towards the left sitting bone. Place the right heel across the left thigh and let the knee fall out to the side.

If there is no pressure or tension in the knee, reach around the left thigh with both hands and draw the left knee towards the body, keeping the head and shoulders in contact with the floor. Breathe deeply for five to ten breaths and repeat on the other side.

Supine Twist

Lie down on your back. Bend both knees, placing the feet on the floor and drawing the heels towards the sitting bones. Reach the arms out to the sides. Pick the hips up and move them slightly to the left as you allow your knees to fall over to the right side, gently settling towards the floor. Hold for five to ten breaths and repeat on the other side.

Week 4: Simple Standing Poses

Now we’ll work on some simple standing poses to build strength in the legs. Check out the video below for ideas on how to link all these poses together in a flowing sequence!

Warrior Two

From Downward Facing Dog, step the right foot forward between the hands and lower the left heel to the floor, turning the foot out 90 degrees. Stand up into a long lunge, squaring the chest towards the side of the room and reach the arms out to opposite ends of the room. Hold for three to five breaths. On an exhale place the hands on the floor and step back to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat on the other side.

Triangle Pose

From Warrior Two, straighten the front leg, being careful to keep a slight bend in the knee. On an exhale, tip the body to the right, reaching the right hand towards the shin and the left hand towards the ceiling. Try to keep the back straight, and the chest opens towards the side of the room. After five breaths return to Warrior Two on an inhale.

After moving through Downward Facing Dog, repeat on the other side.

Side-Angle Pose

Start in Warrior Two. On an inhale place, the right forearm on the right thigh and reach the left arm up and forward, stretching the left side of the body and opening the chest up towards the side of the room. Hold for five breaths and return to Warrior Two on an inhale.

After moving through Downward Facing Dog, repeat on the other side.

Half-Moon Pose

It’s best to have a yoga block handy for this one.

Start in Warrior Two. Place your right hand on a yoga block six to 12 inches in front of your right foot. Start to bring weight into your right foot. On an inhale to lift your back leg off the floor and bring all the weight into your right foot and right hand. Open your hips and chest up to the side of the room and lift your back leg as high as you can. Remember to breathe!

Hold for three to five breaths and return to Warrior Two on an exhale.

After moving through Downward Facing Dog, repeat on the other side.

Don’t Forget To Rest!

After your yoga practice remember to relax for three to five minutes on your back with your eyes closed. In yoga, it’s always important to balance out effort with relaxation, so don’t skip this important step!

Best of luck on your yoga journey. Leave us a comment and let us know what you think and when you’re ready to learn some more, simply subscribe to our YouTube channel for loads of high-quality yoga instruction!

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