What Is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient Indian philosophy that enhances personal growth and well-being. Although yoga has several branches, the best known in the Western world is Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is a form that encompasses all physical styles of yoga, including Ashtanga, Anusara, Bikram, and Iyengar. These forms primarily focus on the physical practice of yoga and include stretches, strength postures, breathing exercises, and deep relaxation.

Choosing an Instructor

When researching classes in your area, it is important to find a registered yoga teacher. Instructors should have completed a minimum of 200 hours of training in their style. Don’t be afraid to ask the instructor about her training and whether she has worked with clients with conditions such as arthritis.

Your First Class

Because each style of yoga has its own benefits, it's important to find a style that meets your needs. For example, Ashtanga Yoga is a physically demanding practice in which participants move from posture to posture in a flowing sequence. Bikram Yoga is a set series of 26 postures performed in a room where the temperature is upward of 100 degrees. Lyengar is known for its attention to detail and the precise alignment of postures as well as the use of props such as blocks and belts. What to expect in your first class will vary depending on the style of yoga you choose. Generally with Hatha Yoga, you can expect to perform a series of standing postures, balancing postures, seated postures, spinal twists, and a 5-10 minute relaxation finale.

What to Wear/Bring

Yoga is typically performed in bare feet. With regard to clothing, comfort is key. You should wear a somewhat fitted shirt and shorts/pants that allow you to have a full range of motion. Stay away from baggy clothing which may be too revealing in certain positions and will not allow the instructor to see if your alignment and form are correct. The majority of studios will have all the equipment you need for the class, but you may want to call in advance to ensure they provide mats. Some studios will rent mats for a nominal fee, although you may want to bring your own. It's also important to bring water to stay hydrated before, during, and after the practice. Note that some forms of yoga discourage drinking fluids during the practice. Things you may not want to wear include dangling jewelry and strong-scented perfumes and lotions.

Yoga Postures

Tree Pose (Vriksha-asana)

  • Stand with your feet together and arms by your sides in Mountain Posture (Tad-asana).
  • Bend your right leg at the knee and bring the sole of your right foot as high up on the inside of your left thigh as possible.
  • Balancing on your left foot, bring your palms together. Then inhale and raise your arms toward the ceiling. Hold the posture while breathing gently through your nose for about 10 breaths.
  • Lower your arms and leg and return to Tad-asana or standing position, with your feet together and arms at your sides. Pause and repeat on opposite leg.

Warrior Two (Virabhadra II)

  • Stand at Tad-asana.
  • Jump feet apart about 3-1/2 to 4 feet and bring your arms out to a T position.
  • Turn your right toes to the right side of the room and slightly pigeon-toe your left foot.
  • Bend your right knee until it is at a 90-degree angle and your knee is tracking over your ankle. Ensure weight continues to press toward the baby toe side of your right foot to prevent the knee from rolling in toward the big toe. Breathe gently through your nose for about 10 complete breaths.
  • Straighten your right leg and turn your toes to the left. Either jump or walk legs back together to Tad-asana. Repeat on other side.