Yoga 101 for the true beginner: No rubber band levels of flexibility required


women preparing to do yoga

Related Articles

Yoga is everywhere. It’s so prevalent, in fact, that it can be difficult to know where to begin. Going from zero to crow pose is not your best move, nor is just cueing up a random video and hoping for the best. Even some “beginner” stuff seems to expect you to have rubber band levels of flexibility or doesn’t take into account the needs of the person practicing at home. These tips and resources, however, will help you to establish a safe, enjoyable yoga practice.


Class act

My first tip for all aspiring yogis is to head to a class. Proper alignment is key to establishing a safe yoga routine, and attending classes helped me become familiar and comfortable with practicing yoga at home. Some studios offer beginners classes or, even better, a beginner series, in which a yoga instructor takes the time to really break down the poses and help you to understand the movement and breathing involved in yoga over a period of time. You will also be able to talk to a knowledgeable professional about any issues you may have, such as injuries, weak joints or lack of flexibility and learn about modifications and props that may make certain poses easier and safer to perform on your own. If money is tight, check out your local studios for new-student discounts, free classes or donation-based classes. If you’re concerned about yoga lingo, Heidi Kristoffer at Shape magazine defines some of the jargon common in many yoga videos and classes so you will actually know what your instructor means when she tells you to “tuck your tailbone” or “press into all corners of your feet.” Of course, if you’re having trouble or need help, let your instructor know so she can assist you.


Building up your yoga practice

It’s helpful to have some resources to go to for practicing proper alignment at home in between classes. Amber Karnes, founder of Body Positive Yoga, is on a mission to make yoga accessible to bigger bodies as well as those with limited mobility. Her website is a fantastic resource for beginning and plus-size yogis. For instance, downward dog is a pose many yoga videos and tutorials seem to take for granted, as if even a beginner’s body will naturally bend into position. Karnes, on the other hand, offers an in-depth look at the pose and offers several modifications that will help those who may not be quite as flexible slowly and safely ease into downward dog over time. Check out Karnes’s modification series for tips on how to make yoga work for your body.

One of Karnes’s recommended stretches for downward dog is a wrist stretch from Expert Village, an eHow YouTube channel. This is one of a series of warm-ups on the channel from certified yoga instructor Jennifer Kostel that will help prepare the body for practice, including some core work and a downward dog tutorial.


Let it flow

Now that you’ve become more familiar with basic poses, try a yoga series that helps you get comfortable with flow. Tara Stiles, resident yogi for CosmoBody’s online subscription home fitness service, created a Beginners Yoga Series for Live Strong Women that is great for building on the basic poses and stretches and going through a complete yoga flow, from learning how to sync breathing and movement to playing with poses like Warrior Two in a strength routine. Stiles has a calm demeanor, but her workouts are paced a bit faster than true beginners may be comfortable with, so remember to go at a pace that works for you. They are a fun challenge when you’re ready to step it up a bit but are still working on getting comfortable with the basics. Tip: watch the Beginner Yoga Breakdown first for a better understanding of the order of the videos, since neither one of the two playlists from Live Strong has the videos in order. Stiles also ends the videos with a heads-up on what’s next, so try to follow her lead. The Flexibility and Range of Motion flow, first up on the roster, will help you to become acquainted with stretching in a yoga framework and is a great routine to get you started, while other workouts in the series, such as the Building Balance flow, offer a bit more of a challenge with poses such as Dancer’s Pose, which Stiles demonstrates with modifications.

Talk to your doctor to see if yoga is the right exercise for you, especially if you are recovering from an injury, and enjoy a safe, healthy yoga practice for beginners.