Trying Yoga for the first time can be daunting, especially if you’ve seen the experts perform their super-bendy, pretzel-like poses on YouTube. Yet surprisingly, Yoga is actually made up of very basic postures and has long been considered an ancient remedy for improving flexibility and strength.
September celebrates National Yoga Month making it the perfect time to try this popular activity. Here at Champneys HQ we have lots of yoga retreats to suit all abilities and have created the ultimate beginners guide to help you get started.
The development of yoga can actually be traced back to over 5,000 years ago with the beginnings of the exercise being developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation in Northern India.
According to Yoga Basics, the word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda, a collection of texts containing songs, rituals and mantras.
Initially the discipline of Hatha yoga was developed to help with meditation as it prepared the body for stillness. The word hatha has lots of different translations, but the most commons is ha meaning ‘sun’ and tha meaning ‘moon’.
Since these early beginnings the practice has been adapted in other countries in a variety of ways and now yoga features in a range of spa days, health clubs, schools and leisure centres up and down the country.
As a beginner the sheer variety of yoga styles out there can be confusing and with so many variations, there is no need to feel bad about not knowing what a certain style means. Here we guide you through the main types of yoga, including the ones you can do at our yoga retreats.
This style of yoga is the most common form and is one of the original branches of the exercise as it combines a number of basic movements with breathing.
Hatha includes all types of modern yoga and if you see this type of class advertised you can expect a simple and classical approach.
Do Yoga With Me, who provide high quality information about yoga, says, “It is an old system that includes the practice of asanas (yoga postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises), which help bring peace to the mind and body, preparing the body for deeper spiritual practices such as meditation.”
Best for: weight loss and flexibility
This style will take you through six strenuous pose sequences and you will move quickly in this class as you flow from one pose to the next with each inhale and exhale that you take.
The Ashtanga Yoga site talks about the early beginnings of this style and some of its benefits as well.
“Ashtanga yoga is a system of yoga transmitted to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures—a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind.”
Best for: upper body strength
Similar to hatha, Vinyasa is one of the most popular styles among yogis.
It is an active and athletic style adapted from the traditional ashtanga system in the late 1980s to make it more appealing for the aerobic-crazed Westerners.
As a student you will be asked to coordinate movement with breath to easily flow from one pose to another. Instructors will keep the flow of movements smooth and continuous, but while asthtanga yoga uses only certain poses, Vinyasa is much more flexible.
The order of poses can be mixed up and new poses could be thrown in. You may have heard the term Vinyasa Flow, which sounds easy and relaxing, but it really pushes you to your physical limits.
Best for: detoxification
If like some of us at Champneys you have come back from a nice summer holiday and want to carry on that holiday feeling, then you should try the Bikram style of yoga as it features yoga poses in a sauna-like room.
The heat is actually cranked up to 40 celsius and 40 per cent humidity in official Bikram classes and you will go through a series of 26 different postures twice.
This form of hot yoga is aimed at flushing out toxins as well as helping you to manage your weight.
Best for: relaxing the mind
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Yin yoga is a quiet and meditative style as it focuses on lengthening connective tissues and is meant to complement yang yoga.
The poses you will do are more passive and you will need to relax your muscles and let gravity do its thing.
Esther Ekhart, from Ekhart Yoga, talks about Yin Yoga, “A Yin Yoga class usually consists of a series of long-held, passive floor poses that mainly work the lower part of the body—the hips, pelvis, inner thighs, lower spine. These areas are especially rich in connective tissues. The poses are held for up to five minutes, sometimes longer.”
- Iyengar - This style was founded by yoga pioneer B.K.S Iyengar and props like straps, blocks, harnesses and incline boards are used to get you into perfect positions. The Yogi Times says, “Sometimes, poses are held longer (1 minute or more) than what yogis might be used to in a flow-style yoga class like Vinyasa yoga.”
- Restorative – This style aims to restore the balance of your mind, body and soul. You will often use props to help you hold poses for longer and these classes are generally very relaxing.
Experienced yogis will vouch that the exercise has so many mental and physical benefits and here we share some of the major benefits.
It has been known that by going to a yoga class every week it can help you get rid of the stress that builds up in your mind and body.
We have all been there where stress has taken its toll either mentally, physically or emotionally and this can disrupt your sleep, relationships and digestion.
Anna Coventry from Do You Yoga tells us about some of the different ways yoga can help you reduce stress.
She says it can relax the body, “Yoga practiced in the right way can be as soothing as a hug or a massage when it comes to reducing tension and relaxing the physical body. Certain postures have a deeply calming effect on the whole system, particularly forward bends and inversions.”
Yoga can also relax the mind as Anna Coventry adds, “Meditation is an incredibly powerful tool for relaxing and slowing down the mind as is any kind of breath awareness. Whether you’re holding postures, flowing through sequences, or in a seated meditation pose, everything begins to focus and slow down when you take your awareness to the breath. Over time and with repeated practice, you start to develop new habits towards a more relaxed internal state.”
By practicing yoga asanas, meditation or both you can ease any aches or pains you suffer from and it is known to help people suffering from auto-immune diseases, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and cancer. The practice of yoga can also ease your emotional pain too.
If you suffer from lower back pain, arthritis and migraines then yoga can help with these problems. In an article on the Harvard Health Publications site it reveals that in a study of 313 people who suffer from lower back pain, a weekly yoga session helped their mobility more than standard medical care.
While muscles might look good they have lots of other benefits such as helping to protect us from back pain and arthritis and if you go regularly to classes you will notice that you will become stronger.
Yoga helps strengthen your core, which ensures muscle gain is supported. If you use equipment in the gym, it can leave you with muscle your body can’t support and this can cause problems.
Speaking to lifestyle brand GAIAM, yoga expert Rodney Yee, says, “People always ask me, ‘Don’t you lift weights? I sort of giggle to myself and say, ‘Yes — I lift my own body weight!’
“You’re putting your body in positions and orientations that you ultimately have to support with your muscles. So you are lifting weights.”
Another benefit is that you can improve your breathing and will be taught to take slower and deeper breaths. This will help improve your lung function and in turn will increase the amount of oxygen available to your body.
If like many of us you can’t touch your toes, then yoga could be a great option for you as it can improve your flexibility.
In an article about the benefits the Yoga Journal, says, “During your first class, you probably won't be able to touch your toes, never mind do a backbend. But if you stick with it, you'll notice a gradual loosening, and eventually, seemingly impossible poses will become possible. You'll also probably notice that aches and pains start to disappear. That's no coincidence.”