YOUR YOGA MOJO BLOG
Beginners Yoga: How to Learn to do Yoga
Moriah Diederich, Yoga Mojo
Holistic Yoga Therapist™, RYT500, Accessible Yoga Ambassador
Beginner yoga – where to start?
From pranayama (breathing techniques) to asanas (poses) there is a lot to learn as a beginner. Yoga offers a large variety of poses including standing poses, forward bends, backbends, inversions, twists, supine (lying on your back), prone (on your belly), balancing poses and more. Plus, yoga poses can be referred to during a class in its original language, Sanskrit, or translated into English, depending on who your teacher is.
Pranayama and Asana are the physical components of yoga, and are two of the eight limbs of the tree of yoga as defined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Other popular limbs of yoga that may show up in class are the Yamas (ethical guidelines for how we conduct ourselves toward others), and the Niyamas (self-discipline; how we treat ourselves). And of course, meditation, which has become increasingly popular as it’s own type of class.
Narrowing down which aspects of yoga you want to learn as a beginner – the physical, the philosophical or both– is a great place to start. This will help guide you in your search of yoga classes, teachers, books and videos.
jocelyn learns the yoga pose downward dog, or adho mukha śvānāsana, with Moriah during her private one-on-one beginning yoga class at Yoga Mojo & Movement Therapy in Vancouver, Washington.
Can I do yoga?
When a beginner wants to learn the physical aspects of yoga, many questions come up such as:
- Am I flexible enough to do yoga?
- I don’t workout and am overweight – can I do yoga?
- Can I still do yoga if I have a pre-existing injury?
- I have limited mobility…is yoga right for me?
The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES. Depending on the style of yoga taught in class and your teacher’s experience, yoga can be accessible to everyone, regardless of age or physical ability.
Not all yoga classes are equal though, and certain styles of yoga may be more appropriate for you depending on your needs. For instance, if you have difficulty getting down to the floor and back up again and want to build strength, flexibility and balance, chair yoga may be ideal for you to begin with.
I recommend you contact your local yoga studio, ask your teacher a lot of questions, and inform them of any concerns or pre-existing injuries you may have. They will help you find the right yoga class to start with.
Beginning Your Yoga Practice
Here are some practices that can help prepare you for your first yoga class:
Draw your senses inward
Find a comfortable position for your body, whether sitting or lying down. Close your eyes, and begin to draw all of your senses inward. Notice the state of your body – do you feel tense, stressed, relaxed, calm, anxious, or nervous? Observe yourself in this position, but do so without judgment or criticism. Just notice how you feel, identify it and allow yourself to acknowledge the state that you are in.
Attention to your breath
Continue in the comfortable position you were in previously, whether sitting or lying down. Now bring awareness to your breath. Notice where your breath is flowing in your body. Is your belly moving? Is your chest moving? Do you recruit your neck and shoulders when you breath in? Do you notice your body slumping or lifting on the exhale? Just notice and observe where your breath is flowing.
Now draw your attention to the quality of your breath. Does it feel shallow or full and deep? Does your breath feel like it’s moving quickly? Is it easier to breath in or out? Just notice without criticism or judgment. You are learning to become mindful of your body, the state it is in and the quality of your breath.
These are the first steps towards becoming more mindful, so that you may identify when your body is in need of a little more care or attention to a specific area.
Your first yoga pose: Tadasana, or Mountain pose
Come to a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. Notice if one or both of your feet want to turn out, or in. Observe if one foot is ahead of the other, and just acknowledge this. Now align your feet so that your toes are in-line with each other, feet pointing straight ahead.
Begin to rock forward and back, shifting your weight to the front of your feet and then back into your heels. Witness for yourself if shifting your weight forward feels easier or harder, and if perhaps your posture tends towards leaning in one direction or the other. Now find yourself centered over the arches of your feet, where you are not shifted forward or back.
Now begin to sway left and right, noticing if you tend to shift the weight of your body over to one leg. Perhaps this tendency is because you’re protecting the other hip, leg, knee or foot from a previous injury? Just observe without critique, bringing mindfulness to how you typically carry the weight of your body. Slow down the swaying motion and find yourself now with equal weight between right and left, balanced over the arches of your feet.
Move your shoulders as far forward as they’ll go, then up, then aaaaall the way back and then down, relaxing your shoulder blades. Do this a couple times so you know your shoulders aren’t rolling forward as they often do after working on the computer or reading in a seated position.
Gently use your index finger to push your chin back, feeling as if your head can ramp back and up, and align your ears with your shoulders. If you lift your chin up notice how it shortens the back of your neck, so instead have your chin in a slightly down position. You should feel like the back of your neck is long and uncompressed, but your chin isn’t so far down that you get a double chin.
Now that you have found yourself well aligned over your feet, rolled your shoulders back and aligned your head and neck, notice how you feel. Observe the work it takes to stand in this position and how different it is from how you typically stand. Again, no criticism or judgment here, I just want you to become mindful of your movement and the way you feel. There is no right or wrong, just mindful actions.
Congratulations, you have achieved your first yoga pose known as Tadasana, or Mountain pose!
Sync your movement with your breath
During yoga class, a rhythmically paced breath accompanies each movement.
Stand in Tadasana, or Mountain pose, as shown in the previous section. On your next inhale, raise your arms out to the sides and overhead, as if you can touch the sky. As you exhale, release your arms back down to your sides, prolonging the breath the match your movements.
Continue inhaling lifting your arms out and up, and bringing your arms back down with the exhale. Observe if the inhale is easier or harder than the exhale, and if the movement is challenging to sync with your breath. Just observe your movements and your breath, and as with anything practice will help you to become better and better.
Congratulations! You are now prepared to begin your first yoga class. With these practices, you will learn how to become more mindful of the way you feel, your breath, posture and movement patterns. This awareness will be your guide to becoming more balanced, centered and at-ease.
Learn Yoga with Moriah at Yoga Mojo & Movement Therapy
I love teaching yoga, and would love to share the many benefits yoga has to offer with you. During your private yoga classes, I will introduce you to the many aspects of a physical yoga practice including pranayama, or breathing exercises and asanas, or poses.
We begin with centering, or creating space for you to tune into your body and listen to what it is saying. You will learn how to become mindful of your breath, and change your breathing from automatic to voluntary. Then we will show you how to sync your breath with movement.
During your private yoga classes, you get to discover how to move your body into the vast array of poses that yoga has to offer: standing poses, forward bends, backbends, inversions, twists, supine (lying on your back), prone (on your belly), balancing poses and more. As we move through the asanas, or poses, we will learn where your body is in need of support and modify as appropriate.
And most of all, we’ll have fun while learning all that yoga has to offer you.
I hope to hear from you soon and look forward to beginning the journey into yoga with you!
Moriah Diederich is a certified Holistic Yoga Therapist, E-RYT 500 and Accessible Yoga Ambassador, and has been featured on KGW8 Portland Today. She owns Yoga Mojo & Movement Therapy in Vancouver, WA, where she offers holistic yoga therapy and private yoga classes customized for each client and their specific needs. Moriah is passionate about helping people move more comfortably on a daily basis with the energy to enjoy family, community and the world around us. She believes that every individual can benefit from yoga because the practice is accessible to everyone and teaches us how to sustain healthy movement for life. Moriah lives in Camas, Washington with her best friend and husband Bret Canfield and their two furry kids: a couch potato Pitbull named Rookie, and a sweet and sassy green-eyed cat named Evie.
Yoga Mojo & Movement Therapy
108 SE 124th Ave, Suite 18
Vancouver, WA 98684
Mon – Thurs 10a – 4p
By appointment only
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Yoga Mojo & Movement Therapy is conveniently located off I-205 and Mill Plain and serves all of the Clark County, Washington area including Vancouver, Washougal, Camas, Felida, Salmon Creek, Ridgefield, Battle Ground, Hockinson and La Center.The second exit after the NB I-205 bridge, Yoga Mojo is also quick and easy to get to from Portland, Oregon.