Our guest writer today is the gorgeous yogini, Lou Halliday. This Aussie supermom lives in Saigon, Vietnam, where we caught up with her for a morning in the sun talking all things yoga...
"It’s 2020 and everyone is doing yoga, or has tried it at least once! I'm here to give you the inside scoop on why yoga is not only a great workout for your body...but also for your mind."
What is yoga?
In a nutshell, yoga is coordinating movement with breath. Often, newbies to yoga might be intimidated by all the complicated poses they have seen on Instagram, but I can promise you that is not what yoga is about!
Can I do yoga?
The best part about yoga is that it is suitable for EVERYONE! You can start from as young as 2 years old (although you may have spotted a tiny baby literally doing ‘happy baby pose’ as they grab their feet while lying on their back) all the way up to 100 years old and beyond!
Men, women and children of all ages can practice, plus, anyone with physical limitations can be accommodated with different variations of a pose through the use of props (block, strap, chair or bolster - which is a large long cushion).
How do I start?
I definitely recommend going along to a yoga studio and joining a beginner's class. Nothing beats having a qualified instructor guide you safely into poses, and help you by offering options that are best suited to your body and limitations.
If you are pregnant, or have just had a baby, then we also suggest visiting a studio or taking a private class with a teacher who is qualified in teaching pre- and post-natal yoga, as there are variations on poses that you’ll need to take.
Don’t be surprized to find that, even if you have a strong fitness regime, or consider yourself very active, that you may find yoga a challenge! This is very normal; you wouldn’t expect to be able to run 10km te first time you decide to go for a jog...so bring that mindset onto the yoga mat ;)
Of course, if you’re limited by location or budget, there are online options and apps you can try from home to start practicing (I like Yoga Studio which offers a range of accessible beginner sequences and a handy glossary and breakdown of poses).
The old adage that "you get what you pay for" applies to taking a yoga class! You may find a studio that offers a super cheap class, but it’s likely you’ll be in a room of 30 people plus.
Large numbers make it physically impossible for the teacher to properly watch and take care of all the students in a class that size. It’s also highly likely you won’t be able to see or even hear he tacher properly, which is something you want to avoid when starting out as a newbie. So, a smaller studio that is charging a higher price is going to offer you a more personalized experience, which is worthwhile as you commence the start of your yoga journey.
Studios often offer the first class for free to see if you like the vibe and teachers, so keep an eye out on social media, or give them a call and ask about new starter offers.
Quality online apps will mostly charge a monthly fee after a free trial period. That said, YouTube is free, and Yoga with Adriene is very popular (plus she has a super cute canine companion that stars in her videos). We do, however, encourage you to do some research and choose what works for you. One of the wonderful things about yoga is stepping away from external distractions, so if you’re taking a class via your phone or laptop, make sure you switch off notifications or change to airplane mode to avoid being disturbed.
What do I bring and wear to a yoga class?
The key is to be comfortable and unrestricted during your yoga practice. Wearing fitted clothing is important, so that you don’t have to pull up your leggings during Sun Salutations (enter fitphyt leggings)!
Avoid loose tops that will fall in front of your face during Downward Dog. You’ll likely find you heat up during most yoga classes so a singlet or short sleeve top is best. If it’s cold where you live, then a long sleeve outer layer that’s easy to remove is a good idea to keep on at the beginning and end of class.
Don’t feel pressured to go out and buy new gear but take a look in your wardrobe and be mindful of what you choose to wear.
If you are heading to a yoga studio you can usually expect mats and props to be provided in the class fee. It’s worthwhile bringing along your own hand towel for sweat and to use during savasana (this is the lovely end to every yoga practice where you lie on the mat and close your eyes - by placing your towel over your eyes it helps you relax and minimize distractions).
If you plan to practice at home then a yoga mat is the bare minimum as you can manage without props. I also encourage avoiding buying those super cheap yoga mats from discount stores, as they fall apart easily and quickly end up in landfill. You will also notice the grip isn’t that good on them, and your hands and feet may slip if they get a little sweaty. Try borrowing a decent one from a friend and if you decide that yoga is for you look to invest in a quality mat!
If you're keen to splurge a little on your own kit, a yoga block can be a handy addition for your home practice to assist with sitting comfortably, balancing poses, etc.
Where can I learn more about yoga?
There is a lot of information online about yoga! Check out Yoga Journal for reliable and well-informed content. As you research yoga studios, it’s a good idea to follow their Instagram accounts or Facebook pages to get a feel of what type of classes they offer and what’s at the heart of their offering.
A great tip is to ask your yoga teacher questions! They have spent time studying yoga, anatomy and teaching many students so it’s best to stick with a professional’s advice rather than turning to the internet or a friend if it’s something specific you’re looking for information on.
How can I expect to feel after a yoga class?
You may have heard someone say they feel so ‘blissed out’ after their yoga class. The likely reason for this is due to savasana - the special time at the end of all the physical practice where you get to lie down on your mat (savasana literally translates as ‘corpse pose’) close your eyes and completely relax. If you are in a smaller yoga studio the teacher may offer a savasana massage (for example applying firm pressure on your shoulders helping you to further relax down onto the mat).
Students new to yoga often find this time difficult, as their mind might be racing or thinking about what they need to do after class. Encourage yourself to embrace the chance to quieten the mind and soak up all the good energy you’ve created across and throughout the class. With practice, you’ll find your body and mind will become better at slowing down during Savasana, so stick with it.
Like any new workout or exercise, you may find you wake up the next day with muscle soreness! Yoga challenges you with core muscle work and also time spent in Downward Facing Dog, Sun Salutations and Standing Poses can have your arms and hamstrings feeling the workout they’ve received a day or two following your class.
You have probably been living under a rock if you haven’t heard all the hype around mindfulness - but the good news is that the hype is entirely warranted and has been scientifically proven to benefit your wellbeing!
In the hectic world of life online and digital addiction, cultivating a regular yoga practice takes you away from distractions and aims to focus your mind and body on the present moment and your breath and movement. Some people aren’t able to place their finger on why exactly they feel great after a yoga class, but part of the reason is that they create space in their mind which in turn delivers clarity.
Now, who doesn’t want to get a lovely hit of physical movement and mindfulness in one? The perfect combination of body and soul.
CURIOUS (what’s next, what can my body achieve, what other classes can I try etc.)
Hopefully, you’re feeling excited and keen to continue with yoga after your first class! Spend some time attending some different beginner or ‘all level’ classes with a range of teachers. Just like anything, there will be studios or teachers that click for you.
Yoga is an incredible practice that can be a wonderful tool for you both physically and mentally. When you’re feeling fatigued or anxious, a restorative class might be just the thing to help you relax. There are lots of different options of classes to try and I’ll help breakdown the main styles of yoga below to help make your choice easier.
What kind of yoga is best for beginners?
There are SO many yoga styles out there and you might have a friend who says you must check out a ‘hot’ yoga class with her - but what exactly does that mean? I'm here to demystify the main types and names of yoga practices ;) My pick for newbies is to try a Hatha or beginner level Vinyasa class.
Ashtanga - Also known as Power Yoga, this style is physically demanding and suited for people looking for an intense workout and who already have strong fitness levels.
Bikram - Be prepared to sweat! This is yoga practiced in 105-degree heat and 40% humidity. That said it’s very alignment-oriented with only 26 poses so if you can handle the heat and like a good work out then it might be for you.
Hatha - These classes are wonderful for beginners as they are centered around fairly slow and gentle movements. Also good for more seasoned yogis to wind down at night time.
Iyengar - This style of yoga is alignment heavy and relies strongly on many props (blocks, straps, and chairs) but it is great for physical therapy.
Restorative - Purely focussed on relaxation, restorative classes are lovely to take in the evening or to help you wind down. You could liken it to the yoga version of a relaxation massage.
Vinyasa - A popular term that you may already associate with yoga. Vinyasa classes are flowing and relatively fast moving. It is the most popular style in North America and once you are comfortable with Sun Salutations and the basic poses then give this style of yoga go.
Yin - a slower-paced class with poses held for longer periods of time (around 5 minutes). The aim of Yin is to apply moderate stress to the connective tissues of the body with the aim of increasing circulation in the joints and improving flexibility. A Yin class is like a remedial massage for your body.
Yoga terms and lingo you can expect to hear in class...
One thing to expect when you start practicing yoga, is to become a little familiar with Sanskrit - it is the ancient language of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. It is still used today in the reading of sacred texts and hymns and is also alive and well in yoga practices around the world.
A good teacher will cue a class using both traditional Sanskrit terminology for poses and English translations. Let’s break down some of the traditional yoga terms along with foundation poses or sequences of yoga to help you move from novice to beginner.
A respectful greeting - can be used to say hello and also thank you. You might hear your teacher welcome you to the class with Namaste and also use it at the end of a practice to thank the students.
Child’s Pose - Bālāsana
This pose is a very important one to know and feel comfortable in. The best part is pretty much anyone can do this without needing too much instruction. It’s the pose teachers will guide you into to take a break and it’s one you can come into at any time if you feel your body needs a break.
One of the wonderful things about yoga is there is never any pressure to feel you need to ‘keep up with a class or sequence’ - a good teacher will encourage and give you permission to listen to your body and if at any point you feel dizzy, in pain or even overwhelmed then drop down into this soothing and restful pose and take some deep breaths.
Downward Facing Dog Pose - Adho Mukha Svanasana
It’s pretty safe to say this is THE pose that typifies yoga. Even people that don't know anything about yoga could probably name this pose. There's so much information out there and so many cues and direction is given on practicing it. My top two tips for Downward Dog are:
Don’t worry at all about getting your feet flat on the mat. Some people will find their heels may touch the mat and others won't be - the reason for this is that thankfully everybody is unique and depending on your leg and bone lengths this is what will impact your Downward Facing Dog alignment.
Your legs do NOT need to be straight - a gentle or deep bend in the knee is absolutely fine and even encouraged as the focus of Adho Mukha Svanasana is to lengthen your SPINE, not your legs.
Sun Salutation - Surya Namaskār
A Sun Salutation is a sequence of poses performed in a particular order that is used to warm up the body. There are several variations of Surya Namaskār and when you are starting out as a beginner just focus on listening to the teacher’s instructions and concentrating on your own breath. You’ll find as you begin to practice more often you get more confident and can move faster between poses.
Savasana - Corpse Pose
I touched on it a little earlier, but Savasana is actually the most important part of your yoga practice. For many beginners and even seasoned yogis, it can also also be one of the most difficult poses as it requires moving towards a complete state of relaxation for the body and mind. If you find lying still and trying to quieten your mind challenging then our recommendation is to bring your awareness to your breath and you’ll find over time and with practice that savasana will probably become your favorite yoga pose.
Hopefully, this helps answer some of the burning questions you might have had about starting out with yoga! I certainly hope that if you are new to yoga, or have ever been curious about it, allows you the confidence to take a class.