Being a beginner isn’t easy but my first yoga class was enough to make me a regular on the mat. Half an hour into the session, I’d fallen four of times, felt sweaty and had almost made up my mind - not to give in. Every pose made me challenge my physical endurance and flexibility and I seemed to enjoy that, albeit gradually.
While I moved through a progression of poses, from Surya Namaskar to Naukasana, all muscles in my body were engaged. Working my limbs, shoulders stretched, twisting my torso. I juggled between maintaining postures and attempting to breathe the right way. I had already dreamt of the hot bath or oil massage that I’ll head for but there was no need to. I felt light, relaxed and a sense of relief took over.
Some will tell you that yoga is too slow and boring instead it is an intense and holistic exercise. This ancient form of fitness with roots in India focuses on developing balance, strength and flexibility. Don’t let anyone misguide you as these are all consequences of practicing yoga and not prerequisites. No one expects you to master the poses on the very first day. Yoga is all about pushing past your body's limits over time. To begin, it’s helpful to keep the following things in mind, suggests Zubin Atré, founder of AtréYoga Studio in New Delhi.
If you have a history of a chronic disease or are recovering from an injury, consult your physician before commencing. Let your yoga teacher know of any injuries or pains.
Do what you easily can. There is no competition. You are expected to move at your own pace. Listen to your body and do not push yourself.
Many benefits of the yoga practice will unfold progressively. Be regular in your practice and don't give up because you can't touch your toes in the first go.
Don't get discouraged by the initial lack of flexibility or strength, it improves over time. Be patient and give your body the time to respond.
Understand that every body is unique. Everyone has different levels of strength, stamina, and flexibility. Your lifestyle and goals may also vary. Find a style of yoga that suits your needs.
Your yoga practice can do much more than lend muscle power and reduce stress. A study conducted at University of Illinois indicates that short 20-minute sessions of yoga can help your brain work better and keep your mind focused. A lot depends on the kind of poses you perform – some of them are energizing like back bends while forward bends have a calming effect. Standing poses build stamina and balancing poses cultivate concentration. Twists will help you detoxify the body and release tension. If you’re new to yoga, start with these basic asanas.
“Each pose can be held for 3 to 5 long breaths. You can practice these twice a week and gradually make it a part of your daily routine,” recommeds Zubin.
1. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) This pose teaches one to stand with majestic steadiness like a mountain. The word ‘Tada’ means a mountain, that’s where the name comes from. It involves the major groups of muscles and improves focus and concentration. It is the starting position for all the other poses.
Stand with your heels slightly apart and hang your arms besides the torso. Gently lift and spread your toes and the balls of your feet, then lay them softly down on the floor. Balance your body weight on your feet. Lift your ankles and firm your thigh muscles while rotating them inwards. As you inhale, elongate your torso and when you exhale release your shoulder blades away from your head. Broaden your collarbone and elongate your neck. Your ears, shoulders, hips and ankles should all be in one line. You can check your alignment by standing against the wall initially. You can even raise your hands and stretch them. Breathe easy.
2. Vrikshasana (Tree Pose) This pose gives you a sense of grounding. It improves your balance and strengthens your legs and back. It replicates the steady stance of a tree. Place your right foot high up on your left thigh. The sole of the foot should be flat and placed firmly. Keep your left leg straight and find your balance. While inhaling, raise your arms over your head and bring your palms together. Ensure that your spine is straight and take a few deep breaths. Slowly exhale, bring your hands down and release your right leg. Back in the standing position repeat the same with the other leg.
3. Adho Mukho Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) This pose stretches hamstrings, chest and lengthens the spine, providing additional blood flow to the head. It is will leave you feeling energized. Sit on your heels, stretch your arms forward on the mat and lower your head. Form a table, like pushing your hands, strengthening your legs and slowly raising your hips. Press your heels down, let your head hand freely and tighten your waist.
4. Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) It stretches the legs and torso, mobilizes the hips and promotes deep breathing, leaving one with enlivening effects. Stand with your feet wide apart. Stretch your right foot out (90 degrees) while keeping the leg closer to the torso. Keep your feet pressed against the ground and balance your weight equally on both feet. Inhale and as you exhale bend your right arm and make it touch the ground while your left arm goes up. Keep your waist straight. Ensure that your body is bent sideways and not forward or backwards. Stretch as much as you can while taking long, deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.
5. Kursiasana (Chair Pose) An intensely powerful pose, this one strengthens the muscles of the legs and arms. It builds your willpower and has an energizing effect on the body and mind. Stand straight with your feet slightly apart. Stretch your arms but don’t bend your elbow. Inhale and bend your knees, pushing your pelvis down like you are sitting on chair. Keep your hands parallel to the ground and back straight. Take deep breaths. Bend gradually but make sure your knees don’t go beyond your toes.
6. Naukasana (Boat Pose) It tightens the abdominal muscles and strengthens shoulders and upper back. It leaves the practitioner with a sense of stability. Lie back on the mat with your feet together and hands by your side. Take a deep breath and while exhaling gently lift your chest and feet off the ground. Stretch your hands in the direction of your feet. Your eyes, fingers and toes should be in one line. Hold till you feel some tension in your navel area as your abdominal muscles begin to contract. As you exhale, come back to the ground and relax.
7. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) This one will strengthen the lower back muscles while cushioning the spine, triceps and opens the chest to promote the inhalations. It also makes the spine flexible.
Lie on your stomach with your feet together and toes flat. Place your hands downwards below your shoulders on the mat, lift your waist and raise your head while inhaling in. Pull your torso back with the support of your hands. Keep your elbows straight and make sure you put equal pressure on both palms. Tilt your head back and make sure your shoulders are away from your ears. Exhale while coming back to the ground.
8. Paschimottanasana This asana helps in improving the flexibilty of the hamstrings and hips and lengthens the spine. Sit up with your back straight and toes pointing outwards. Breathe in and raise your hands over your head and stretch. Now, while breathing out bring your hands down and bend then forward to touch your legs. Place your hands wherever they reach, hold your toes if you can but don’t force yourself. Breathe in and elongate your spine. While breathing out, keep your navel close to your knees.
9. Child's Pose This restful posture helps let go and surrender. It restores vitality physically, mentally and emotionally. Insert the pose between challenging poses, and practice with closed eyes, listening to the sound of your breath. Bend your knees and sit on your heels. Keep your hips on your heels. Lower your head on the mat and bring your hands forward by your side. Press your thighs against your chest and breathe lightly.
10. Sukhasna Sukhasna is a comfortable position for pranayama and meditation. It gives the practitioner a centering effect. All the other asnas are done to eventually make the body feel comfortable to be able to sit in this position for meditation. This asna takes the yoga practice beyond its physical dimension and helps you get in touch with your spiritual side. Sit comfortably on the mat with crossed legs (left leg tugged inside the right thigh and right leg tugged inside the left thigh). Keep spine straight. Place your hands on your knees. You can use the Jnana mudra or Chin mudra. Relax your body and breathe gently.