Advice for Yoga Beginners - Where To Start? Q&A
How To Get Into Yoga At Any Size
Yoga makes a lot of big promises. Get into the practice and you're sure to improve your flexibility, energy, and strength while and emotional baggage. Heck, you can even lose weight. In fact, one study found that overweight yogis in their 50s who practiced at least once a week lost an average of 5 pounds, while similar people who didn't do yoga gained more than 13 over the same time period.
Certain forms of yoga will be more taxing, says Travis Eliot, author ofHolistic Yoga Flow: The Path of Practiceand creator of the popular Ultimate Yogi DVD series. "Power, flow, or vinyasa classes keep the body moving constantly, which means the heart rate is going to increase and the body will begin to burn fat, which of course leads to weight loss," he says. It's probably safer to start off a little slower, he says, but even a gentler practice has weight loss benefits. Holding poses results in isometric muscle contractions, explains Jessica Bellofatto, founder of JBYOGA, which specializes in yoga, standup paddle boarding, and retreats around the world. Engaging your muscles in isometric holds builds strength over time, and lean, mean muscles continue torching calories long after your practice ends.
Any form of yoga is going to help ease stress and slow production of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol can make us ravenously hungry—a physiologic response leftover from the days when our ancestors were stressed by threats they might need to outrun, like lions on the prowl for lunch. Cortisol doesn't usually fuel cravings for fruits and veggies, unfortunately; instead, we often reach for high-fat, high-sugar foods in stressful scenarios, which can in turn contribute to additional pounds. Yoga might short-circuit this vicious cycle.
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Sounds good, right? But between the chic, candlelit studios; the pricey, sometimes see-through pants; and the bendy bodies, yoga might not feel like the most accessible workout option when you're looking to shed a significant amount of weight. Here are some tips for unleashing your inner Warrior 2. (Like with any new fitness routine, it's best to check with your doctor before hitting the mat.)
Remind yourself that yoga is for every body.
We know what you're thinking: If you're not skinny, rich, white, and female, yoga's not for you. But yoga is experiencing a moment of inclusion that puts a seriously giddy smile on our faces. "The reality is that yoga students all over the world are incredibly diverse," Eliot says. "You should know that there are lots of other people just like you doing yoga." In fact, take a look at these yogis who prove there's no such thing as a "yoga body."
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Bellofatto hates the idea that people might be missing out on the practice because of the stereotypical image of yoga. "It saddens me to think people assume they can't do yoga just because of a picture they saw on Instagram," she says, "especially because it would be really amazing for them."
Find a class tailored to you.
Efforts toward inclusion aside, there are definitely some studios with a certain air that still feels totally intimidating. You don't have to go there, plain and simple. "Do a little research," Bellofatto says. "Seek out a studio that caters to beginners with a wide range of class styles and teachers."
You'll want to start with the basics in a class that focuses on proper alignment in every pose, she says, so you don't get injured. Look for a class like gentle flow or Iyengar to keep things slow and steady at first. If you feel up for it, consider a level one vinyasa class, which offers constant movement to keep your heart rate elevated without feeling overwhelming, Eliot says.
Don't be surprised if finding the perfectly suited class means shopping around for the perfect studio—or the perfect instructor. Yoga teachers come in many different forms. "If you go to a class and don't connect with it, don't give up on yoga altogether," Eliot says. Maybe you'd feel more at ease with someone who's a bit more playful and funny, or you'd prefer an older or younger instructor. These days, even small towns often have more than one studio. "You will find the right person."
Or get comfortable at home first.
Maybe the idea of Downward Dogging in public is a little too much for you at first. That's OK, Eliot says, because now, more than ever before, there are easy, affordable ways to do yoga at home. Not only are there tons of great DVDs to try in the comfort of your own living room, there are also streaming classes. "As you start to lose weight and get the gist of what this yoga thing is all about, then you might feel more comfortable going to a public class," he says. Here's our very own 10-minute routine for weight loss:
Take it slow.
You know your lofty weight loss goals require some regular activity, but you probably don't want to roll out your yoga mat every single day, at least not right off the bat. Go too hard, too soon, and you risk burning out and losing interest, Eliot says. Stick with three classes a week or so, to allow yourself some time to rest and recover. "In the state of rest, the body repairs itself," he says.
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Expect to be sore.
Speaking of recovery, you're going to feel it the next day—and probably all over. Soreness in the arms, legs, and core is definitely common, Bellofatto says, especially if you're used to a more sedentary lifestyle. Remind yourself it's a sign of change: That pain is your muscles getting stronger. Note, however, that if the pain is in a joint, you may be on the verge of an injury and should check with a doctor before going back to class.
Give yourself permission to take breaks.
"Yoga is not a competition," Eliot stresses, so remember to go at your own pace. Take as many breaks as you need to throughout class, he says, by resting comfortably in child's pose. Rejoin the class whenever you're ready.
Sometimes a certain pose or position won't feel comfortable for you. In a class geared toward beginners, the instructor should offer all sorts of helpful ways to modify the pose slightly to help you feel more comfy. (If she doesn't, keep shopping for a better fit.) When you have pounds to lose, your hands might not reach all the way to the floor in a lunge, for example, Bellofatto says, or your hips might feel tight in seated positions. "Modifications make poses more doable," she says. You can find a bunch of them here.
Grab some gear.
Many of those modifications rely on the help of a few tools of the trade. Most studios will be stocked with blocks and blankets, but if you're practicing at home, you might want to purchase or borrow a few of your own. Eliot recommends starting with two yoga blocks (look for the lightweight but durable ones made from cork or foam), a blanket or bolster to prop you up when sitting, and a strap for stretching. "Props are there to help you find your sweet spot in the pose," he says. "They make the pose more accessible to the student; it's about fitting the pose to the student instead of the student into the pose."
Embrace the emotional benefits.
Even if you're doing this for the waistline benefits and not the mental metamorphosis, the yoga feels could make your weight loss mission a little easier. Experts say many people find their relationships to their bodies change as they become more seasoned on their yoga mats. "Whether it's the thoughts you harbor about your body or the food you're putting into it, even over just a period of a few weeks of yoga, you might find you feel more compassionate toward your body," Eliot says.
Video: Advice for Yoga Beginners | 5 Yoga Tips for Beginners | Suggestions for How to Start Yoga
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