Rolling out your yoga mat for the first time can be daunting and a little intimidating. But regardless of your age, weight, religion, or fitness level, yoga is for everyone. To help you get started, we’ve created the ultimate beginner’s guide to yoga, explaining the key principles of yoga and how regular practice can help you lead a healthier, happier life.
What is Yoga?
An ancient practice over 3000 years old, yoga helps to strengthen the mind and body using a series of breathing techniques and postures. The word “yoga” comes from a Sanskrit root “yuj” which means union, or yoke, to join, and to direct and concentrate one's attention.
While there are many types of yoga and the purpose of each differs slightly, the ultimate goal is to promote mindfulness and freedom within the body.
Physical and mental health benefits of Yoga
One of the most widely recognised health benefits of yoga is increased flexibility. That’s because yoga postures often require your muscles to stretch, which increases your range of motion. But how often do you need to practice to see results?
A recent study measuring the impact of yoga practice over a 10 week period, found that individuals who took part in biweekly yoga sessions demonstrated increased flexibility and balance.
But yoga isn’t just about being able to touch your toes. It’s also an effective way to build muscle strength, improve respiratory and cardiovascular function and promote recovery. In fact, the same study revealed that practicing yoga enhances fitness components that are essential to sports performance, concluding that yoga not only improves flexibility and balance but can also improve athletic performance.
In addition to the physical benefits, studies show spending time on your yoga mat can also help mental health disorders such as stress, anxiety, and depression, in addition to easing chronic pain, improving sleep patterns and enhancing overall well-being and quality of life.
Types of Yoga Practice
When searching for yoga classes, you’ll find there are lots of different types of yoga to choose from. Don’t worry, this is good. A broad range of options means you can choose the best class to suit your needs. For example, some practices are more fast-paced and physically demanding, while others focus on slowing down and relaxing the body. Therefore it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of the different types of yoga.
Hatha - Hatha yoga uses a combination of poses and breathing techniques to calm the body and mind. Typically, classes are slower paced and poses are held for longer intervals to help the body relax.
Viniyoga - “Vini” is a Sanskrit term meaning “adaption”. Therefore viniyoga is a practice that can be adapted to meet the needs of the individual, taking into consideration their limits and goals. It combines yoga poses, breathing exercises and meditation.
Iyengar - Iyengar focuses on posture alignment and other small subtleties, therefore poses are often held for longer. Props, such as blocks, straps, bolsters and blankets, are often used to support injuries or muscle tightness or to help you move into a posture correctly.
Jivamukti - Jivamukti is best suited to individuals wanting a deeper, more spiritual practice. Most classes begin with a jivamukti style warm-up which includes a combination of unique poses and breathing technique, often followed by chanting, meditation, readings or affirmations.
Vinyasa - Sometimes referred to as a ‘flow yoga’, Vinyasa is the synchronisation of movement with the breath. This type of yoga is more fast-paced and a continuous flow from one yoga posture to the next. Unlike Bikram or Ashtanga, Vinyasa classes offer a variety of postures meaning no two classes are the same.
Ashtanga - Traditional Ashtanga yoga is a sequence of postures practiced in a specific order. Starting with the primary series, there are a total of six Ashtanga series. Classes can often move quickly, however, Mysore-style classes allow you to work at your own pace under the guidance of your instructor.
Bikram - Bikram, or Hot yoga in today’s Western world, consists of two breathing techniques and 26 postures, always performed in the same order. Typically, Bikram is practiced in a heated room (around 40.°C ), with a humidity of 40%. Classes are usually physically demanding and combined with the heat, you’ll certainly work up a sweat. This helps to flush out toxins and allows you to move more deeply into poses.
Kundalini - A series of seven chakras, Kundalini yoga aims to awaken the energy at the base of the spine and draw it upwards. Kundalini exercises (Kriya’s) consist of repeated movements, dynamic breathing techniques, chanting, meditation and mantras, to help stimulate energy throughout the body.
Yin - Yin is a slow-paced type of yoga with postures held for 3-5 minutes, mostly in a seated or lying down position. Holding poses for longer intervals helps to ease muscle tension and improve flexibility, making it an ideal practice for individuals suffering from tight muscles, stress, or chronic pain.
Restorative - Restorative yoga is a slow practice aimed at relieving stress and encouraging relaxation. Poses are very gentle and often held for 10 minutes or more. With plenty of props to support you, such as blankets, bolsters and straps, restorative yoga makes it easier to let go of any tension in the body.
What Do I Need to Practice Yoga?
The beauty of yoga is you don’t need much equipment to get started. All you need is loose clothing and a comfortable yoga mat with a good grip. Yoga Blocks can also come in handy, especially for beginners, as they help support a full range of motion. They can also be used to support the back, head and hips, helping your body to relax into certain postures.
Choosing Your Yoga Mat
When choosing your mat, grip is really important. If you’re slipping around on your mat, you’ll not only struggle to hold your posture, but you’re also more likely to injure yourself. Cork Mats provide the best non-slip surface as their grip increases as you sweat. And with it’s natural antibacterial properties, cork is far more hygienic compared to plastic or rubber mats, which are often breeding grounds for bacteria.
As well as providing grip and stability during your practice, your yoga mat also provides a cushion for your joints and helps to prevent injuries caused by hard surfaces. Therefore choosing the right thickness is equally important. Whilst standard mat thickness is around 3mm, 4mm mats are recommended for individuals seeking extra cushioning.
CorkYogis Eco Friendly Cork Mats
CorkYogis natural Eco-friendly Yoga Mats provide maximum grip to ensure you are steady and safe in each posture. And when you purchase a cork yoga mat with CorkYogis, we give 10% of our profit to Destiny Reflection, a Kolkata based charity that supports survivors of sex trafficking.
In addition to our popular cork yoga mats, we also offer a full range of yoga products including yoga water bottles, cork yoga blocks and unique sari yoga bags. Made using 100% recycled sari material, our yoga bags are handmade by the woman and girls supported by our partner Destiny Reflection. By teaching the women how to turn unwanted saris into yoga mat bags, Destiny Reflection provides sex trafficking survivors with the means to earn a living.