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Yoga for Beginners

Yoga for Beginners: The Ultimate Guide to Starting Your Practice

Are you ready to roll out your mat for the first time? We've got everything you need to know to get started with this mind-body practice.

We get it: Yoga can be intimidating. Between the gravity-defying poses and the overwhelming number of class options, it’s easy to think yoga is just for a certain type of person. Truth is, yoga is for everyone and you don’t need elaborate props or gymnast-level flexibility to give it a try. In fact, you don’t do yoga because you’re flexible—you do it to become more flexible (in your body and your life).

Here, we’ve got everything you need to know about yoga for beginners—from the history and benefits to the different styles, foundational poses, accessibility, and etiquette. Curious about how to pick the right class, proper breathing techniques, what it means to practice yoga respectfully, and more? We’ve got that, too. Consider this your go-to resource on yoga for beginners.

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A (very) brief history of yoga

An Indian woman sits in Lotus Pose with her hands resting on her knees in Gyana Mudra
(Photo: Getty Images)

“Yoga” is a very old term, says Indu Arora, Ayurveda and yoga therapist and author of Yoga: Ancient Heritage, Tomorrow’s Vision. “Its ancient roots are found in the text called Vedas, which are about 3,000 to 5,000-year-old texts” that originated in India. The term “yoga” also appears in other Indian texts, like the Bhagavad Gita.

So what does “yoga” mean? Put simply, yoga is “compatibility,” says Arora. “If two things are compatible to each other, are in harmony with each other, it’s a great idea to put them together—that’s called yoga.”

That said, there are many different types of yoga. In certain philosophical texts, yoga is a state of mind that has nothing to do with physical postures and movements.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a text compiled by an ancient sage named Patanjali, many different ideas of yoga are brought together under one umbrella, Arora explains. The result is structured guidance on how to achieve a yogic state of mind. As Patanjali explains it, yoga encompasses eight limbs (or steps) that essentially serve as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. These limbs are a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health; and they help us acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature.

The eight limbs of yoga are:

  1. Yama (ethical standards and integrity)
  2. Niyama (self-discipline and spiritual observances)
  3. Asana (physical postures; what many Westerners think when we think yoga)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (sensory transcendence)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (state of ecstasy)

Much of the yoga practiced in the West today focuses strongly on asana, but it’s important to remember that physical postures are just one aspect of yoga. The practice, as a whole, is both much more profound—and simple—than any bodily contortions. As Arora explains it, yoga is “that harmonious, peaceful, content, still, state of mind. Whenever we have found that, we are in that state of yoga.”

See also: Get to Know the 8 Limbs of Yoga

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Unlocking the benefits of yoga

A woman pratices virtual yoga at home in her living room
Whether you do yoga at home or in a studio, there are many ways your body (and mind) can benefit from the practice. (Photo: Getty Images)

Incorporate yoga into your routine, and you’ll unlock a host of health perks. Because yoga engages the mind, body, and spirit, these benefits span the physical, mental, and emotional realms. “There’s so many benefits” to yoga, says Kiesha Battles, yoga teacher and trainer, and co-director of the Yoga Retreat for Women of Color. Here is just a small sampling of yoga’s benefits:

Pain relief

Yoga shows promise as a treatment for relieving certain kinds of chronic pain, according to various research. One example: When German researchers compared Iyengar (a style of yoga) with a self-care exercise program among people with chronic neck pain, they found that yoga reduced pain scores by more than half.

Reduced inflammation

The bad news: Factors like stress and a sedentary lifestyle can trigger chronic inflammation, which in turn can raise your risk for disease. The good news: Yoga may be a powerful antidote. Researchers at Ohio State University found that a group of regular yoga practitioners had much lower blood levels of an inflammation-promoting immune cell called IL-6 than a group new to yoga. And when the two groups were exposed to stressful situations, the more seasoned practitioners showed smaller spikes of IL-6 in response. Even more promising, the study concluded that the benefits of a regular yoga practice compound over time.

See also: Want to Strengthen Your Immune System? Science Says Do More Yoga

Better heart health

The evidence is overwhelming: A review of 70 studies concluded that yoga shows promise as an effective way to boost heart health and manage heart conditions. And, in a 2013 study by researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center, subjects who participated in twice-weekly sessions of Iyengar Yoga (including pranayama as well as asana) significantly cut the frequency of episodes of atrial fibrillation, a serious heart-rhythm disorder that increases the risk of strokes and can lead to heart failure.

Mood booster

Much attention has been given to yoga’s potential effect on the persistent dark fog of depression. In a small study, UCLA researchers examined how yoga affected people who were clinically depressed and for whom antidepressants provided only partial relief. After eight weeks of practicing Iyengar Yoga three times a week, the patients reported significant decreases in both anxiety and depression. Moreover, scientists at the University of Wisconsin have shown that meditation increases the activity of the left prefrontal cortex—the area of the brain that’s associated with positive moods, equanimity, and emotional resilience.

See also: 15 Small Things That Will Instantly Boost Your Mood

Improved focus

The yoga practices of asana (physical postures), pranayama (breathing), and meditation all train you to fine-tune your attention, whether by syncing your breathing with movement, focusing on the subtleties of the breath, or letting go of distracting thoughts. Studies have shown that yogic practices such as these can help your brain work better. Case-in-point: University of Illinois researchers found that immediately following a 20-minute hatha yoga session, study participants completed a set of mental challenges both faster and more accurately than they did after a brisk walk or a jog.

Increased gratitude

A regular practice of yoga can shift your mindset for the better. “Yoga has helped me to deal with life struggles,” says Battles. “It allows me to have more clarity in the way I see things so that I can deal with troubles or problems.” She gives the example of a car accident. Instead of fixating on negative thoughts in that scenario—like “My car is damaged”  or “Screw the person that hit me”—she would react with gratitude, thinking things like: “I’m so grateful I’m alive” and “Thank goodness I didn’t get seriously hurt.”

See more: 38 Ways Your Yoga Practice Can Improve Your Life

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The importance of breathing in yoga

A woman breathes out softly through her mouth during a yoga class
Breathwork, or pranayama, is an integral part of any yoga practice. (Photo: Getty Images)

Focusing on your breath—pranayama—is an important element of yoga. In fact, some yoga gurus rank pranayama over asana (physical postures) as the most important part of the practice. Prana means life force or breath sustaining the body; ayama translates as “to extend or draw out.” Together, the two mean breath extension or control.

There are many different pranayama techniques; one of the most common is Ujjayi. To gain the full benefits of Ujjayi, you have to do it properly. Ujjayi should be both energizing and relaxing, and is created by gently constricting the opening of the throat to create some resistance to the passage of air. An effective Ujjayi breath renders a soothing sound.

Learn how to do Ujjayi with this video: 

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Yoga for Beginners: How to find the right style of yoga for you

If you’ve ever browsed yoga class schedules in your area, you’ve likely encountered a slew of options—perhaps some with names you don’t recognize or understand. These names typically signify various styles (or types) of yoga, and the different approaches vary in intensity, focus, and format. Here are common styles of yoga you may encounter.*

Ashtanga yoga

The inspiration for many vinyasa-style yoga classes, ashtanga yoga is an athletic and demanding practice based on a set sequence of postures that never changes, with sequences in increasing levels of difficulty. Traditionally, ashtanga—which was founded by K. Pattabhi Jois (1915–2009)—is taught “Mysore style,” meaning students learn a series of poses and practice at their own pace while a teacher moves around the room providing adjustments and personalized suggestions.

Hatha yoga

Most forms of yoga in the West can be classified as hatha yoga. Hatha simply refers to the practice of physical yoga postures, meaning your ashtanga, vinyasa, Iyengar, and Power Yoga classes are all hatha Yoga. The word “hatha” can be translated two ways: as “willful” or “forceful” (or the yoga of activity) and as “sun” (ha) and “moon” (that) meaning the yoga of balance. Hatha practices are designed to align and calm your body, mind, and spirit in preparation for meditation, and as such you may hold each pose for several breaths at a time and move slowly between postures.

Hot yoga

A woman sweats while demonstrating upward-facing dog in yoga
Yes, yoga can make you sweat! (Photo: Getty Images)

Any style of yoga practiced in an intentionally heated room is hot yoga. This would include Forrest Yoga and CorePower Yoga. In these classes, the studio is set to temperatures ranging from 85 degrees to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat is said to help you sweat out toxins while you work toward increased strength and flexibility—it’s important to exert caution and not overstretch or hyperextend your joints while practicing. Here are some other tips for staying safe in hot yoga.

Iyengar Yoga

By paying close attention to anatomical details and the alignment of each posture, Iyengar Yoga is the practice of precision. Poses are held for long periods and often modified with props. This method—founded by B.K.S. Iyengar—is designed to systematically cultivate strength, flexibility, stability, and awareness, and can be therapeutic for specific conditions.

Jivamukti

Incorporating chanting, meditation, pranayama, philosophy, and music into a vigorous flowing asana, or vinyasa practice, Jivamukti is a physically and intellectually stimulating type of yoga. This system emphasizes bringing ancient teachings alive in a contemporary setting, and espouses environmental sustainability, veganism, and other values. Jivamukti was founded by David Life and Sharon Gannon in 1984 in New York City. Since then, it has expanded to multiple studios around the world, although the famed NYC studio and school closed in 2019.

Kundalini Yoga

A man practices Kundalini Yoga wearing all white
Many practitioners of Kundalini Yoga wear all white and head coverings. (Photo: Getty Images)

An uplifting blend of spiritual and physical practices, Kundalini Yoga incorporates movement, dynamic breathing techniques, meditation, and the chanting of mantras, such as Sat Nam, meaning “truth is my identity,” with the goal of building physical vitality and increasing consciousness.  Kundalini Yoga was brought to the West by Yogi Bhajan (Harbhajan Singh Khalsa) in 1969. Practitioners of Kundalini Yoga often wear white—Bhajan believed the color helped extend your aura—and head coverings, which is thought to focus your energy at your third eye (ajna) chakra.

See also: A Beginner’s Guide to Kundalini Yoga

Power Yoga

Power Yoga is a fitness-based vinyasa practice. An offshoot of ashtanga, it has many of the same qualities and benefits, including building internal heat, increasing stamina, strength, and flexibility, as well as stress reduction. Teachers design their own sequences, while students synchronize their breath with their movement. The original Power Yoga was developed and founded by Beryl Bender Birch, but it is now a term used to describe many vigorous vinyasa styles.

Prenatal yoga

A practice uniquely designed for pregnancy, prenatal yoga can help support moms-to-be emotionally and physically. With an emphasis on breathing, stamina, pelvic floor work, restorative poses, and core strength, Prenatal Yoga can help you become more resilient during and after pregnancy.

See more: The Benefits of Prenatal Yoga

Restorative yoga

restorative yoga props
You’ll want to use props to rest and relax in restorative postures.

A restorative yoga class typically involves only five or six poses, supported by props—like blankets, bolsters, or pillows, and blocks or stacks of books—that allow you to completely relax and rest. Held for 5 minutes or more, restorative poses include light twists, seated forward folds, and gentle backbends. Most restorative practices are based on the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar.

Tantra Yoga

While most of us think of sex when we think of Tantra Yoga, this ancient practice is actually a powerful combination of asana, mantra, mudra, bandha (energy lock), and chakra (energy center) work that you can use to build strength, clarity, and bliss in everyday life. By harnessing and embodying the five forces of Shakti, the female deity that represents creativity and change, Tantric Yoga suggests we can move through the world with more confidence and contentment.

See also: Everything (And We Mean Everything) You Ever Wanted to Know About Tantra

Vinyasa

The word vinyasa can be translated as “arranging something in a special way,” like yoga poses, for example. In vinyasa yoga classes, students coordinate movement with breath to flow from one pose to the next. Ashtanga, Power Yoga, and prana flow could all be considered vinyasa yoga. Vinyasa classes typically comprise a sequence of poses (for example, Chaturanga to Upward-Facing Dog to Downward-Facing Dog​)​ that are ordered to gradually intensify the stretching of the body.

Yin Yoga

Yoga students hold their stretches in seated forward folds
In Yin Yoga, students hold poses for 3-5 minutes in order to deepen their stretches and improve flexibility. (Photo: fizkes)

This practice, which was originally introduced in the 1970s, is designed to stretch the connective tissue, especially around your joints (mainly the knees, pelvis, sacrum, and spine). A largely passive practice, Yin Yoga involves variations of seated and supine poses that are typically held for 3 to 5 minutes to access deeper layers of fascia. The benefits of Yin Yoga include increased flexibility during the practice of other styles of yoga as well as in everyday life.

Yoga Therapy

Any yogic technique used to systematically address physical injury or pain, or mental and emotional stress or trauma, can be considered yoga therapy. There are different approaches to yoga therapy, including Viniyoga, Integrative Yoga Therapy, Phoenix Rising Yoga, and iRest yoga. Note that the teachers are frequently not licensed therapists.

*Yoga is not without its scandals and controversies. Some prominent teachers associated with several of these styles of yoga have been accused of sexual assault, harassment, and other improper conduct. While these instances are important to be aware of, the behavior of individuals is not reflective of the practice of yoga as a whole.

See also: Be Your Own Guru

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How to get started in yoga

A yoga mat, block, strap, and blanket are pictured in a studio
You don’t need any special equipment to get started with yoga, but props can make the practice more comfortable. (Photo: Getty Images)

Props and equipment

You don’t technically need props or equipment to practice yoga, but certain items can enhance your practice by making it more accessible and comfortable. Luckily, you don’t need to drop a lot of dollars to get effective tools.

Yoga blanket

The most versatile prop, according to Jivana Heyman, founder of Accessible Yoga, is a firm blanket or towel. This item is a staple in restorative yoga and can also be used to support your knees, wrists, and back throughout any practice, says Battles. Look for a blanket that is thick in texture to ensure you have adequate support, advises Battles. Traditionally, yoga blankets are made from wool, cotton, or a blend. Look for one that can cover your entire body while relaxing in Savasana (Corpse Pose).

Yoga blocks

Blocks are another common prop that effectively “brings the floor to you” and adds stability and balance to your practice—and they’re not just for beginners. Blocks are often used by experienced yogis to help them work within the limitations of their bodies and allow them to achieve a fuller expression of poses. If possible, Battles suggests buying two blocks, as together they create a more stable foundation for your practice.

See also: 10 Ways to Use Blocks to Enhance Your Practice

Yoga straps

Straps are another helpful tool—you can buy a yoga strap or use a long, flexible item like a tie or belt, says Heyman. Straps, explains Battles, extend your reach in postures. If you have a stiff lower back or tight hamstrings, for example, the strap allows you to access and connect more poses.

Yoga mats

Yoga mats, you may be surprised to learn, are not a must, says Heyman. “You really don’t have to use a yoga mat unless you really want that stickiness, that extra traction,” he explains. In lieu of a mat, you could practice on wood floors, with a towel, or on carpeting, says Heyman. If you do opt for a mat, make sure it is secure and doesn’t slide around on the floor, says Battles.

See also: The Best Yoga Gear Under $20

Etiquette and respect

You don’t need to know a ton about yoga before you attend your first class. In fact, “that’s why you’re there—you’re there to learn,” says Susanna Barkataki, yoga teacher trainer and author of Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice. That said, there are some basic things to be aware of when it comes to yoga etiquette and respect.

The first: Keep in mind that yoga is a mind-body-spirit practice that is about much more than just fitness. So if your yoga class incorporates some non-movement elements—like breathwork, meditation, or intention-setting (sankalpa) at the beginning of class—be open to those aspects of the practice and take them seriously.

In India, where yoga originated, it’s a sign of respect to remove your shoes before you enter someone’s home, temple, or practice space. The same is expected in a yoga class. Additionally, if you’re practicing in a studio that has deities or sacred symbols, avoid pointing your feet toward those items, says Barkataki. “That’s an important part of just cultural elements,” she explains. If you don’t understand an element of class, simply ask—yoga teachers are happy to share their knowledge and experience, especially with new students.

While many teachers provide physical, hands-on adjustments for students, know that you have the right to decline. Some teachers may ask students to raise their hands at the beginning of class if they do not wish to be touched throughout a practice. You can also tell your teacher directly before the practice begins. Always speak up if any hands-on adjustments make you feel uncomfortable in any way. “I think that’s another piece of the etiquette going both ways,” says Barkataki.

In terms of respect, avoid combining yoga with other elements—like yoga and wine or goat yoga—as “those are unnecessary and often disrespectful ways to choose to practice,” says Barkataki. Also, be sure to acknowledge your teacher when you enter the room—whether with a smile, hello, or bow—thank them for the class, and ask any questions that may have popped up, says Barkataki.

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Terms to know

Many, but certainly not all, yoga teachers call poses by their Sanskrit names, in addition to (or in lieu of) their English interpretations. Don’t feel like you need to brush up on this ancient Indian language before taking your first yoga class. However, make sure you understand the meaning of certain well-known Sanskrit words and phrases—such as namaste, a widely used, but often misunderstood term—before incorporating them into your lexicon (or on your clothing). If you hear something in class you don’t understand, simply ask the teacher to explain it to you.

See also: 40 Common Sanskrit Words Every Yogi Should Know

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What to wear to yoga class

Women demonstrate Warrior II in yoga class
When it comes to yoga clothes, wear what you feel comfortable in. (Photo: Getty Images)

Despite what you might see in the media or your social feeds, you don’t need fancy “yoga clothes” to do yoga. In fact, you can practice in anything that you feel comfortable wearing—whether that’s leggings and a sports bra, sweatpants and a t-shirt, pajamas, an exercise dress, or even nothing at all (for your home practice, at least).

For an asana practice, look for clothes that you personally feel comfortable in, that easily move with your body, don’t get in the way, and provide adequate coverage so you don’t feel exposed in various postures. Avoid pants that you might trip over or shirts that will fall around your face in inversions. While more vigorous vinyasa practices might call for leggings and a fitted tank top, you might prefer wide-legged pants and a loose-fitting shirt for a restorative yoga class. Men might wear joggers and a moisture-wicking top or shorts with no shirt.

One thing you shouldn’t wear? Socks! Not only can they make you slip as you move through your practice, they can also impede proper alignment and make standing postures less safe. The exception is in restorative or Yin classes, where you’re often in seated or reclining poses, and coziness is key.

See also: Trade In Your Leggings for These Comfy Yoga Pants

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Students participate in a yoga class, as the instructor adjusts a male student
Every yoga class is different. The key is finding one that is right for you. (Photo: Getty Images)

What to expect from a class

Yoga classes vary widely in format and intensity (see the above section of yoga styles) but in general, you can expect some combination of movement of the body and breath, says Battles.

Tips for finding the right yoga class for you

Brand new yoga practitioners—no matter their fitness level—should look for classes that are labeled “beginner,” “basic,” or “yoga 101.” These courses will help you learn the foundations of yoga, says Battles. You may also consider observing a class before you participate in it yourself, suggests Battles. (Of course, confirm with the instructor beforehand that this is OK.)

Your goal, says Heyman, should be to find a practice that is safe for your body and any particular conditions you are experiencing, and also effective in the ways you want it to be. If you have a particular health condition (for instance, scoliosis), are coming to yoga for a certain reason (say, stress relief), or want specific support in yoga (maybe you haven’t felt welcomed in exercise spaces before), simply Google “yoga + your specific issue,” suggests Heyman. That search might lead you to a teacher who has experience with what you’re seeking. Many instructors teach online classes so you can try one out in the comfort of home, have articles or resources you can read, or even offer contact info so you can reach out with questions.

If you have a bad first experience with yoga, don’t throw in the towel just yet. Instead, find another teacher and see if their class is better suited to your needs. Battles suggests trying yoga at least three times before deciding it’s not for you. Heyman adds: “There are literally millions of yoga teachers out there.” Chances are, with a little research and patience, you’ll be able to find one that’s a good fit for you.

How yoga can benefit your fitness routine

Yoga complements a number of sports and activities—from dance, swimming, and running to cycling, hiking, and weight lifting—making it a great addition to a broader fitness routine. There’s no prescription for how many times a week you can (or should) practice yoga. “I wouldn’t get caught up on the frequency,” says Battles. “Once you get a taste of it, then you’ll start to experience the benefits and you’ll naturally want more of it.”

As you pencil yoga into your schedule, let your body be your guide. If, for example, you’re sore from yesterday’s intense workout, but still want to practice yoga, opt for a gentler form—like yin or restorative.

See also: The Best Yoga Poses to Stretch Sore Muscles

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Beginner yoga poses to know

Here are six foundational yoga poses that are beginner-friendly and accessible for many body types and abilities.

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

  1. Stand with your big toes touching, heels slightly apart (so that your second toes are parallel). Lift and spread your toes and the balls of your feet, then lay them softly down on the floor. Rock back and forth and side to side. Gradually reduce this swaying to a standstill, with your weight balanced evenly on the feet.
  2. Firm your thigh muscles and lift the knee caps, without hardening your lower belly. Imagine a line of energy all the way up along your inner thighs to your groins, and from there through the core of your torso, neck, and head, and out through the crown of your head. Turn the upper thighs slightly inward. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor and lift the pubis toward the navel.
  3. Press your shoulder blades into your back, then widen them across and release them down your back. Without pushing your lower front ribs forward, lift the top of your sternum straight toward the ceiling. Widen your collarbones. Hang your arms beside the torso.
  4. Balance the crown of your head directly over the center of your pelvis, with the underside of your chin parallel to the floor, throat soft, and the tongue wide and flat on the floor of your mouth. Soften your eyes.
  5. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, breathing easily.
Alexa Silvaggio in savasana
(Photo: Ian Spanier)

Savasana (Corpse Pose)

  1. Sit on the floor with your knees bent, feet on the floor, and lean back onto your forearms. Inhale and slowly extend the right leg, then the left, pushing through the heels. Release both legs, softening the groins, and see that the legs are angled evenly relative to the midline of the torso, and that the feet turn out equally. Lie down slowly, and soften (but don’t flatten) the lower back onto the floor.
  2. With your hands, lift the base of the skull away from the back of the neck and gently release. If you have any difficulty doing this, support the back of the head and neck on a folded blanket.
  3. Reach your arms toward the ceiling, perpendicular to the floor. Rock slightly from side to side and broaden the back ribs and the shoulder blades away from the spine. Then release the arms to the floor, angled evenly relative to the midline of the torso. Turn the arms outward and stretch them away from the space between the shoulder blades. Rest the backs of the hands on the floor. Make sure the shoulder blades are resting evenly on the floor.
  4. Soften your tongue to the bottom of your mouth. Furrow and unfurrow your brow. Relax your face. Let the eyes sink to the back of the head, then turn them downward to gaze at the heart.
  5. Stay in this pose for 5 minutes for every 30 minutes of practice. To exit, first roll gently with an exhalation onto one side, preferably the right. Take 2 or 3 breaths. With another exhalation press your hands against the floor and lift your torso, dragging your head slowly after. The head should always come up last.
Asian woman in blue dong Half Lord of the Fishes (Ardha Matsyendrasana)

Seated Twist (Half Lord of the Fishes)

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you, buttocks supported on a folded blanket. Bend your knees, put your feet on the floor, then slide your left foot under your right leg to the outside of your right hip. Lay the outside of the left leg on the floor. Step the right foot over the left leg and stand it on the floor outside your left hip. The right knee will point directly up at the ceiling.
  2. Exhale and twist toward the inside of the right thigh. Press the right hand against the floor just behind your right buttock, and set your left upper arm on the outside of your right thigh near the knee. Pull your front torso and inner right thigh snugly together.
  3. Press the right foot very actively into the floor, release the right groin, and lengthen the front torso. Lean the upper torso back slightly, against the shoulder blades, and continue to lengthen the tailbone into the floor.
  4. You can turn your head in one of two directions: Continue the twist of the torso by turning it to the right; or counter the twist of the torso by turning it left and looking over the left shoulder at the right foot.
  5. With every inhalation, lift a little more through the sternum, pushing the fingers against the floor to help. Twist a little more with every exhalation. Be sure to distribute the twist evenly throughout your spine; don’t concentrate it in the lower back. Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then release with an exhalation, return to the starting position, and repeat to the left for the same length of time.
extended triangle

Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)

  1. Stand in Tadasana. With an exhalation, step your feet 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and reach them actively out to the sides, shoulder blades wide, palms down.
  2. Turn your left foot in slightly to the right and your right foot out to the right 90 degrees. Align the right heel with the left heel. Firm your thighs and turn your right thigh outward, so that the center of the right knee cap is in line with the center of the right ankle.
  3. Exhale and extend your torso to the right directly over the plane of the right leg, bending from the hip joint, not the waist. Anchor this movement by strengthening the left leg and pressing the outer heel firmly to the floor. Rotate the torso to the left, keeping the two sides equally long. Let the left hip come slightly forward and lengthen the tailbone toward the back heel.
  4. Rest your right hand on your shin, ankle, or the floor outside your right foot, whatever is possible without distorting the sides of the torso. Stretch your left arm toward the ceiling, in line with the tops of your shoulders. Keep your head in a neutral position or turn it to the left, eyes gazing softly at the left thumb.
  5. Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Inhale to come up, strongly pressing the back heel into the floor and reaching the top arm toward the ceiling. Reverse the feet and repeat for the same length of time to the left.
Woman demonstrating cat-cow pose
(Photo: Renee Choi)

Marjaryasana (Cat Pose)

  1. Start on your hands and knees in Tabletop. Make sure your knees are set directly below your hips and your wrists, elbows and shoulders are in line and perpendicular to the floor. Center your head in a neutral position, eyes looking at the floor.
  2. As you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling, making sure to keep your shoulders and knees in position. Release your head toward the floor, but don’t force your chin to your chest.
  3. Inhale, coming back to Tabletop on your hands and knees.
  4. This pose is often paired with Cow Pose (see below) on the inhale for a gentle, flowing vinyasa.

Bitilasana (Cow Pose)

  1. Start on your hands and knees in Tabletop. Make sure your knees are set directly below your hips and your wrists, elbows and shoulders are in line and perpendicular to the floor. Center your head in a neutral position, eyes looking at the floor.
  2. As you inhale, lift your sitting bones and chest toward the ceiling, allowing your belly to sink toward the floor. Lift your head to look straight forward.
  3. Exhale, coming back to Tabletop on your hands and knees. Repeat Cat-Cow 10 to 20 times.
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A pregnant woman demonstrates Downward-Facing Dog using chair yoga
Chair yoga is a great way to make the practice accessible for people of all ages and abilities. (Photo: Getty Images)

How to make yoga accessible to you

There are a lot of misconceptions about yoga. Perhaps the biggest one? You have to be flexible, strong, or otherwise “ready” to do it. That belief, says Heyman, is “wrong for so many reasons.” Yoga, he explains, is a holistic practice that helps reduce stress and combat issues like anxiety and fear. These are benefits that anyone can reap from yoga, no matter their physical body or abilities.

The key, Heyman adds, is finding the appropriate type of yoga for you. That process might take some time and energy. You can start by Googling “yoga + what specifically you’re looking for”—for example, “yoga for bigger bodies” or “yoga for seniors”—to find suitable online or in-person classes. You can also check out Accessible Yoga, Heyman’s nonprofit, to learn more about the topic.

If you’re recovering from injury or are otherwise concerned about your physical condition, you may also want to consider chair yoga, a gentler form of yoga that is practiced in a seated position. “Chair yoga is my favorite way to teach and practice,” says Heyman. “Whether you think you need chair yoga or don’t need it, it’s still an amazing tool to have.”

“Chair yoga,” Heyman, “helps us focus more on the subtle practices of yoga—like relaxation, breathing, meditation.” And these non-physical practices, he adds, are oftentimes where we get the biggest benefits from yoga anyway.

Jivana Heyman hosts a five-week, on-demand workshop on Chair Yoga for Yoga Journal. Read more about the course here.

Watch: 3 Beginner Yoga Videos to Jumpstart (or Restart) Your Practice