Getting Started, What You Really Need to Begin a Yoga Practice (Hint: it's not Flexibility)

‘I’m not flexible, I can’t practice yoga’ – does that sound familiar?  Despite all of the bendy and twisty photos you may have seen, the truth is that you don’t have to be flexible, or able to stand on your head, to practice yoga.  In fact, being inflexible is one of the best reasons to begin a practice.  Most of us aren’t born with the ability to touch our toes to our heads or balance on our hands, but with time, patience, and practice, you can develop the strength and flexibility to get there.  All you really need is an open mind and the willingness to try. 

So how do you go about getting started?  The first step is learning about the different styles of yoga and then deciding which one is the best fit for your needs.  Below is a breakdown of some popular yoga styles:

1.      Ashtanga – a rigorous style that follows a specific sequence of postures, always practiced in the same order.  Try this if you’re looking for a physically demanding practice, and enjoy routine.

2.      Bikram – includes a series of 26 postures (again, always in the same order) performed in a room heated to 104 degrees Fahrenheit with 40% humidity.  Give this 90-minute practice a go if you love the heat and are prepared to sweat buckets.

3.      Hatha – a broad term referring to any practice that includes yoga postures.  In general, a class labeled as Hatha includes basic yoga postures, and isn’t too rigorous.  If you’re looking for a more moderate practice, this is a good place to start.

4.      Hot Yoga – similar to Bikram in that the room is heated, but different in the sequence of postures.  Try this style if you want to sweat a lot but are looking for a deviation from the classic Bikram class.

5.      Restorative –A restorative class is both relaxing and revitalizing, but requires no effort to get into or stay in each pose.  Props like bolsters, blankets, and blocks are used to support the body in a series of passive stretches.  If you’re looking for something mellow and tranquil, this is it.

6.      Vinyasa – literally meaning ‘flow’, vinyasa classes will have you moving fluidly from pose to pose with a focus on the breath.  The sequence of postures is almost never identical from class to class.  Give this style a try if you like a challenge but dislike routine.

Once you’ve decided on a style, the next step is determining where to practice.  As a beginner, it’s always ideal to start out in a private or group class, where a teacher can provide guidance and give hands-on adjustments.  Also, there are little to no interruptions in a classroom, unlike a home-practice.  But if the cost of a studio is a deterrent, there are a number of fantastic resources available online which provide virtual classes taught by highly qualified teachers.  Monthly memberships to these websites are often equivalent to the price of a single class at a studio. 

What you’ll need for class: comfortable clothing and a yoga mat.  The mat doesn’t have to be expensive, it’s there to provide cushioning and traction while you move into and out of the postures.  Some studios provide mats, but it’s nice to have your own, especially if you plan on practicing at home.  As for props like blocks and straps, those are generally provided by the studio, but if you’re doing a home practice it’s not a bad idea to have these helpful items on hand. 

Congratulations, you're almost ready to begin.  The last, and perhaps most essential thing to have, is the right attitude.  Being open-minded and eager to learn are far more important than the brand of your yoga mat.  Realize that the practice will be challenging, humbling, and also rewarding.  Don’t compare yourself to others, and allow yourself to enjoy the process of learning.