Yoga Beginners! Is yoga right for you? How do you start? Is online yoga okay? All you need to know from Kat Farrants, founder of the UK’s online yoga platform.
Welcome to the start of hopefully, a lifelong daily yoga practice, and welcome to Movement for Modern Life. I do hope that you get as much energy, joy and healing from your practice as I have done over the years.
What is yoga all about?
Yoga sometimes has a bit of a reputation for being a bit esoteric. Yoga does have ancient roots and a beautiful philosophy behind it, but to me, the practice of hatha yoga, which is what the whole movement yoga is about, is really very simple.
Yoga is moving mindfully whilst breathing consciously.
But there is something very magical about it. Like describing swimming, it’s hard to do, you really just have to jump in and get wet to experience it! So the same is with yoga, you really just have to try it to find out what it’s all about.
Who is Yoga For?
Although yoga has an image of being for young, strong and flexible people, it is for every body, no matter your level of mobility, or your weight, because yoga is mostly a breathing practice. In fact, the shapes are really by the by, it’s all about moving consciously and most importantly, moving with the breath.
It doesn’t matter if you’re confined to bed or a chair, if you have a body and you can breathe, then you can practice yoga. In fact, I have a niggling suspicion that some of the finest yoga practitioners out there are the less mobile folks. Yoga is more about a state of mind than a state of body.
What if I feel that a pose hurts?
There’s only one rule in yoga – don’t do it if it hurts! If something hurts somewhere – simply stop doing that thing immediately.
All our bodies are so different, so the teacher may instruct something that is OK for many bodies, but all of our bodies have different histories, different proportions and experiences. So that thing that may be OK for others might just not be appropriate for you. That could be because of an injury, an experience or just the way our bodies differ to each others. Some days and some times, I find I experience poses completely differently. Some days I just can’t do a lunge, for example, because it hurts my knees. So I don’t do it. I modify my moves instead of doing exactly what the teacher says.
I know that in life we’re used to following the teachers, and we want to do the ‘right’ thing, but in yoga, don’t follow what the teacher says without checking in with your body as to how that makes you feel.
Yoga differs so much from day to day and time of day. What feels right one time, will be painful and could cause injury just a few hours earlier! In the mornings, I’m always stiffer and go a lot more easy on my body. Treat each yoga practice and each pose anew. See if you can be curious as to how the yoga feels in your body, and be sensitive to how every different pose makes you feel, in body and mind.
The lovey thing about practicing to MFML online is that there is nobody to judge you, there’s no worry that you won’t impress us. We are most impressed by those who have developed the art of a really subtle listening to the needs of the body, not the ego. If something doesn’t feel good – please don’t do it! There is no need for any pain in your yoga practice, just do what is within your range for that moment in that day.
Please be especially careful with your knees.
As someone who has suffered knee pain from running, I do know that many yoga poses aren’t appropriate for me. I work with an osteopath who guides me to appropriate poses and I do the classes with those and my osteopath tells me what poses won’t work for me. When the teacher suggests those poses in class, I simply modify the pose to something that doesn’t hurt. If you have any injuries or have had previous injuries causing weaknesses, see a medical specialist to find out what will hurt and what will help you, before you try anything on your own. And no matter what happens, if it starts to hurt – stop!
I have bad wrists
So many of us do, because of all the typing and holding iPhones! We have classes which are wrist-free, and most of our Yin classes are wrist-free – we hope that these help! If it’s appropriate for you, you may want to check out our wrist strengthening classes.
Can I Practice Yoga if I am injured or sick?
If you are injured, moving with yoga is not the best thing for you. But what I can firmly recommend is yoga-nidra and deep relaxation. That is yogic-sleep. I have had some of my most profound life experiences when unable to move fully after a car accident and performing yoga nidra. It really is a very healing practice, and you just need to lie still. If you cannot lie down, it can be performed sitting. You can also practice mindfulness or meditation, no matter the state of your physical body.
If you are thinking of doing a ‘moving’ yoga practice and you are injured or sick – please ask your health practitioner first. Once you get the go-ahead, you might want to try our Limited Mobility classes first.
I’m pregnant, can I do yoga?
Pregnancy can be the most beautiful time to re-connect with your body and practice yoga. But you need to follow special pregnancy sequences, and if classes specify the trimester, please follow that. If you are in your first trimester and you’re new to yoga, please be very careful and consult your health practitioner before you start yoga from scratch. One thing that many pregnant folks enjoy are our breath-work classes. It can be deeply relaxing to explore breath-work when your body is going through so many changes. Be aware that there are many poses that aren’t a good idea to practice when pregnant, so please stick to our pre-natal classes.
I have my period
The tradition in yoga is to not practice during the ‘moon days’, and in many traditions of yoga, upside-down poses aren’t practiced, as they run contrary to the body’s natural flow. My personal take on this is to do exactly what feels good in your body. Your yoga practice is to enhance and increase your sensitivity, and as you become more sensitive, you will feel what is more nourishing and supportive to you and choose to do whatever feels right for you.
We have some fabulous women’s health classes and feature some amazingly wise women on the site, so I’d encourage you to check these classes out if you have your period, or the menopause or if you’re just feeling like your body could do with some extra nurture.
How do I use the website?
For guidance on finding your way around the site, I made this little video to get you started:
As a beginner we recommend starting in our Beginners’ Centre – where you can pick and choose from a huge selection of basic yoga videos. Or try our 21-Step Beginners’ Challenge – where you will find our recommended first 21 videos – starting at the very beginning with Beginners’ 1: Move with the breath.
If you’re new to yoga it might help you to watch the videos through before practicing alongside. One thing to remember is that if you’re craning your neck to watch, or straining your eyes to follow along, then that’s not going to be doing you much good. You’re better off listening to the audio rather than watching the classes – and pausing properly to check the images if you are unsure.
Some of our Movers have found really nifty ways of using the site. One popular way to do so is to hook up your phone or laptop to your TV and watch classes on your TV.
Some of our most avid Movers have even commandeered their garden shed to turn into their own private yoga studio! For the rest of us, we use our tablet or laptop at the front of our mats and when the poses aren’t facing the front, simply listen to the audio instruction rather than risking injury.
Do you have an App?
Yes! We have an iOS app, free to subscribers, so you can watch classes even more easily on mobile devices and download your favourites to use even when you don’t have internet connection.
Click here to find out more about our App.
Why do I practice yoga?
I started to practice yoga at the age of 18, although, to be honest, it was mostly to do with the ‘work out’ rather than the ‘work in’, when I started out. I just loved the way that the shapes and breath-work made me feel, and i found the progression of the shapes really drew me in!
I wanted to know how to make the complicated shapes and got really excited during tough sequences when the teacher was taking us through a journey with the body. But then, years later, I had a car crash and then my partner of 16 years left me, out of the blue. So I very swiftly learnt that yoga was a wonderful healing practice.
For me, yoga has helped me to recover from the emotional challenges in life, as much as the physical challenges. This is why we have a ‘scroll by emotion’ section – so you can find the right class for how you’re feeling and to help you to move into a better feeling!
If you’re interested in hearing my story, here’s an article about me!
What are Challenges all about?
I came up with idea of Yoga Challenges because some of us are too busy to search for a class every day. We simply want to know the suggested class for the day, so we don’t need to scroll on the website to find the best class for the day.
The thing to remember with the challenges is that the next day classes are all just suggestions. We all have very different bodies, and what one person finds hard, the next person will find to be easy.
I wrote a little article about how our bodies can work so differently in different poses, so never assume that just because you’re ‘meant’ to do a certain pose, that it’s in fact the right pose for your body on that day. Just listen to your body, maybe do yesterday’s class again, maybe try searching for something that might be more appropriate for your body. Yoga is all about the art of listening to your own body signals, and being sensitive to your own needs, so go with your needs rather than what we proscribe.
Why do we practice yoga? What are the health benefits
I personally practice every day because i feel so much better on days that I get on the mat. I feel happier, stronger, my body feels freer, my immune system seems improved. Studies aside, I’ve noticed that when I do more yoga, when I simply move more, I start to feel more, and breathe more consciously. And I notice the difference that moving this way has on our state of mind. It opens up a world of possibilities.
I believe that YOGA CAN AND DOES CHANGE THE WAY WE SHOW UP AND RESPOND TO THE WORLD.
The process of using the breath to quiet the voices in our heads and return to our bodies is something we learn on the mat, but take into our lives and share with everyone we meet.
We become calmer and more contented. More present. More patient. More resilient. We can focus better. Take care of our bodies better. Take care of others too. We are nicer. We are happier. We are more ‘us’.
That’s why yoga isn’t just another workout. And why all those people who recommended yoga to you were probably right.
But aside from just feeling wonderful, there have been studies which have shown the following health benefits:
YOGA REDUCES INFLAMMATION
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that breast-cancer survivors who practised yoga showed a 10–15% reduction in inflammation markers compared to those who didn’t, helping them feel less fatigued and more energised.
YOGA HELPS REDUCE STRESS
It’s no coincidence that yogis seem to be society’s most zenned- out citizens. Lots of reviews have made a link between yoga and the modulation of stress response systems, including raised heart rate, high blood pressure and shallow breathing.
YOGA ALLEVIATES BACK PAIN
60 to 80% of adults suffer with back pain (yes, that shocked us too). But it probably explains why every second yogi you meet seems to have a story about how yoga helped them heal.
YOGA HELPS YOU SLEEP BETTER
It’s a fact – yoga helps relieve chronic insomnia. Even if you nd your sleep minimally disturbed, the deep breathing, physical exercise and mindfulness associated with a yoga practice help calm the nervous system and improve your zzzzs.
YOGA MAKES YOU FITTER
To us, yoga is so much more than fitness. So much more. But you can’t argue with the fact that yoga improves balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength, leading to an altogether fittter you.
YOGA MAKES YOU HAPPIER
Several studies have highlighted the effects of yoga on mood. In 2005, German researchers asked a group of ‘emotionally distressed’ women to undertake three hours of yoga a week for three months and saw a 50% improvement in depression, 30% in anxiety and 65% improvement in overall wellbeing.
The therapeutic effects of yoga have also been proven with psychiatric patients, sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder, and women experiencing the menopause or postmenopausal symptoms.
There’s no arguing with that. But then, we’ve never met a yogi who wouldn’t wholeheartedly agree that yoga is good for their health. And in many ways that are yet to be proven.
TO ME, YOGA IS AN ANTIDOTE TO MODERN LIFE. TO ITS STRESS, STIFFNESS, SPEED AND SLEEPLESSNESS.
To its tired, desk-bound bodies – its hunched shoulders, aching backs, tight hips and typed-out wrists.
I do hope that you enjoy your first foray into yoga and yoga adds as much to your life as it has done mine!
This article was written by Kat Farrants, founder of Movement For Modern Life.