The teachings of yoga have been around for thousands of years and practiced by many, but it’s only in recent decades that the practice of yoga asanas, or poses, has become mainstream.
While women tend to outnumber men in yoga classes in the modern Western world, the practice is designed for everyone.
Here are reasons yoga can be good for you, poses and practices to try, plus tips to get going.
There are countless advantages to practicing yoga, and the beauty is that the more you practice, the more improvements you’ll experience. Allow these benefits to inspire you to establish a solid practice.
Improve your sleep
You may find that you’re able to relax, fall asleep quickly, and sleep soundly. Plus, you may find that learning to quiet your mind can help you to feel at ease if you wake up during the night.
Yoga can reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Research from 2016 found that people who practiced yoga continuously for 8 or 16 weeks reduced their stress and anxiety levels and improved their psychological health. Significant improvements to well-being were noted after practicing yoga, including decreased insomnia and depression.
Make movement easier
Some physical benefits of yoga:
- increases flexibility
- improves range of motion
- improves strength and balance
- prevents injury
The Yoga Alliance points out that practicing yoga helps to improve flexibility, mobility, and range of motion. Since the mechanics of yoga involve repeated movements, stretches, and concentrate on breathing and body awareness, it can relieve tightness and increase elasticity in muscles.
A 2016 study found that college male athletes who practiced yoga regularly for 10 weeks increased their flexibility as well as balance.
This can help you feel better in your daily life and may make other physical activities easier. Plus, increased flexibility can help to prevent injuries and muscle soreness.
Manage chronic conditions
The Mayo Clinic suggests yoga as one way to help you manage chronic conditions such as osteoporosis, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Both active and restorative forms of yoga have been shown to help you lose weight and keep it off. According to a 2012 review, yoga may help to burn calories, reduce pain in the joints or back, and develop mindfulness, which is associated with increased activity and changes in eating habits.
While the focus of yoga isn’t purely physical, feeling better in your body and making healthy choices can be a good incentive to get on the mat.
There are several types of yoga to explore. You may find that one specific style suits your needs or that you prefer to practice several types to bring yourself into balance. Popular types of yoga ideal for beginners include:
- restorative yoga
If you’d like a faster-paced class try:
- power yoga
Certain classes may incorporate breath work, chanting, and meditation.
The type of yoga combined with the individual style of the instructor or yogi leading a class makes a big difference, too.
Regardless of which types of yoga you try, they each require a certain kind of stamina, control, and strength. That being said, yoga can also meet your physical abilities where they’re at. So consider yourself the perfect complement to any yoga class that you join.
If you continue on your yoga journey, you may learn up to 80 poses. Mastering a few poses is an excellent way to get started. Here are a few asanas to know, plus their Sanskrit names.
Adho mukha svanasana
This pose strengthens your core, shoulders, and legs, and stretches your entire body. It can be used as a resting pose throughout your practice. Watch this video for step-by-step instructions.
- From tabletop position, press into your hands as you straighten your legs and lift your hips toward the ceiling.
- Lengthen your spine and bring your ears in line with your upper arms or tuck your chin into your chest.
- Press firmly into your hands and feet.
To do this pose safely, keep your knees slightly bent. This allows for more flexibility in your legs and for better spinal extension. If you have wrist concerns, walk your hands slightly forward and turn your fingers out slightly toward the outside of your mat.
If you want to ease into the pose, try a modified Downward-Facing Dog where you stay standing.
To challenge yourself, try holding the pose for an extended period or moving back and forth into plank for up to 1 minute.
Chair is an energizing and strengthening pose that challenges your stability and stamina. It strengthens your legs, core, and shoulders. Plus, it stimulates your heart, diaphragm, and abdominal organs. This video shows you exactly how to do chair pose.
- From standing, lift up your arms with your palms facing each other or touching.
- Bend your knees and sink your hips back as though you’re sitting in a chair.
- Bring your thighs parallel to the floor, leaning your torso slightly forward.
To ensure safety in Chair Pose, make sure you’re keeping your spine straight as you draw your navel toward your spine to engage your core. This helps to protect your lower back.
Press your hands into the tops of your thighs and draw your sitting bones up toward your pelvis to ensure correct alignment. To reduce the intensity of the pose, bring your arms into prayer pose at the center of your chest.
Engage your thighs by squeezing a block between them. Test your balance by lifting your heels and coming onto the balls of your feet with your arms extended in front of you parallel to the floor.
High Lunge or Crescent Pose
High lunge is a great alternative to Warrior I since it allows your hips to be square. It’s useful in alleviating sciatica and promoting healthy digestion. High lunge lengthens your spine, strengthens your lower body, and stretches your hips. This video explains the pose in detail.
- From Downward-Facing Dog, step your right foot forward between your hands.
- Lift up your torso and arms.
- Keep your back heel lifted and your ribs facing forward.
- Return to Downward-Facing Dog and repeat on the opposite side.
For alignment safety, make sure your front knee is positioned directly above your ankle. Bring your front knee toward your baby toe so it doesn’t collapse inward.
To reduce the intensity of this pose, rest your front thigh on a chair seat or drop your back knee down to the floor to come into a low lunge.
Use this pose as a base position to move in and out of poses such as Revolved Crescent Lunge, Warrior III, and Standing Split.
Boat pose is an excellent way to strengthen your core, hips, and spine. Plus, it stimulates your prostate gland, alleviates stress, and improves digestion. Follow along with this video for a demonstration.
- Sit back on your sitting bones and tailbone.
- Lift your legs into the air.
- Extend your arms with your palms facing each other.
For proper alignment, engage your abdominals, straighten your spine, and lift your chest. To increase stability, place your hands on the floor beside you or hold the backs of your thighs. You can also place a strap around the soles of your feet, pressing into the strap with your feet as you use both hands to pull the strap toward you.
Increase the intensity by pulsing your arms up and down and side to side. Then, extend your arms to the sides and make small circles in both directions.
Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend
This forward bend is an excellent way to open up and stretch the hips, which is where many men tend to have tightness. It also stretches your hamstrings and back. Follow along with this video for a demonstration.
- From seated, open your legs as wide as they’ll go.
- Press out through the bottoms of your feet.
- Hinge at your hips to fold forward.
For safety, sit on the edge of a cushion, folded blanket, or yoga block. This helps your pelvis to tilt forward. Keep your knees slightly bent. You can rest your arms, torso, or forehead on a cushion or block. If it’s too difficult to fold or walk your hands forward, place your hands to either side of your hips, behind your legs.
To deepen the pose, reach your arms to the side and take hold of your big toes. Pull back on your toes to move further forward, pressing out through the bottoms of your feet for resistance. Keep your elbows bents out to the sides and lifted away from the floor as you fold forward, hinging at your hips.
Wheel or Upward Bow Pose
Wheel is a challenging pose that should only be done after you’re warmed up into the practice and not tired. This powerful backbend opens up your chest and requires strength and energy to safely sustain. This video shows you how to do it.
- Lie on your back and bring your heels near your buttocks and your hands next to your ears.
- Press into your feet to lift your tailbone and buttocks.
- Use your arm strength to place the crown of your head on the floor.
- Press into your feet and hands to come all the way up into a backbend.
For alignment safety, make sure your toes and knees are facing forward instead of opening up toward the sides. Hold a block between your thighs to help keep your body in line. Place blocks under your hands or feet to make this pose easier.
To increase the intensity, walk your feet closer to your hands once you’re in the pose.
Truly, you can wear whatever you want. Take comfort and mobility into mind when choosing clothes. Fabrics like cotton, rayon, or modal tend to be more breathable.
Some people prefer to wear loose-fitting clothes because they allow for movement while others like tighter clothing because they don’t get in the way.
Your local yoga studio or gym may provide mats and will have appropriate props, but if you’re practicing on your own you may wish to have a few of your own. If you want to buy one item, make it a quality yoga mat.
Yoga is designed to be practiced by women and men. If you have an interest in yoga and aren’t sure where to begin, start by doing a 10-minute session. You can do it on your own following the instructions and videos above.
If you’re feeling ready to join a class, check out a few different types of styles at your local studio. It’s said that the yoga you want is not always the yoga you need, so if you feel drawn to a particular type of yoga, such as vinyasa, you may consider trying out a restorative class as well.
Taking the steps to begin a yoga practice is a wonderful way to improve your health and wellness. Yoga is all about balance, so finding your own groove is essential to the path that is all yours to discover.