The beginner’s guide to yoga at home
You don't have to visit a yoga studio to enjoy the life-enhancing benefits of this ancient practice. Here's everything you need to know to get started from the comfort of your living room
Always wanted to give yoga a go, but never quite got around to it? With more online tutorials, books and live stream classes to choose from than ever before, there couldn't be a better time to join the community.
'Now more than ever, we need to connect and we need to move,' says Naomi Annand, director of Yoga on the Lane and author of Yoga: A Manual for Life. 'Yoga asana allows us to do both these things together as it encourages you to connect with your breath and your body, which allows you to drop out of the fight/flight mode in to the parasympathetic nervous system, where you can find calm and ease anxiety. '
It might seem like a modern fitness trend, but yoga has been practised in India for about 5,000 years. Yoga classes combine mindful breathing with physical poses called asanas – you’ll move, or ‘flow’ through a series of postures while focusing on your breath, or do simple breathing exercises to relax the nervous system and calm the mind.
‘Yoga can balance both our bodies and our lives,’ adds London yoga expert Mollie McClelland Morris. Studies suggest it can improve bone density, help with back pain, heart disease and high blood pressure, ease symptoms of stress and depression and even enhance memory.
Do it your way
Thanks to the likes of YouTube, Instagram Live and Zoom, it’s perfectly possible to begin your yoga journey in your bedroom or living room. ‘Online classes are great for beginners who want to try yoga at home,’ says Mollie.
'There’s a wealth of stuff out there on the internet,' Naomi adds. 'And of course, my book is a perfect resource for this time as it’s full of yoga sequences, self-practice tips and little things you can do often, to feel better.
'Don’t feel you need to do an hour of yoga in a studio with mood music and candles. Yoga isn’t that. It’s about connecting to your breath and your being, five minutes is worthwhile whenever you can grab a moment – before you start work, at lunch, whenever. I'm a big believer in little and often.'
‘One of my first teachers said doing 10 minutes of yoga every day is more valuable than an hour once a week,’ Mollie agrees. ‘Try to do something every day, even if it’s just taking three quiet minutes to breathe.’
Choose your style
Don’t worry – you don’t need to be super-fit or able to tie yourself up in knots. Simply pick a beginner-friendly class that suits your level. If you're just starting out, finding a class and teacher you click with (even if you're not in the room with them) is more important than the style, or how the class is labelled.
You can look for classes aimed at new mums, mums-to-be, or specific issues such as anxiety or insomnia. ‘Once you’ve tried your first class, or done a beginner’s course, try a few others,’ says Mollie. ‘If you don’t love the first one, try a few others to see who inspires you.’
That said, if you’re a beginner, hatha is a great place to start – classes vary in difficulty but focus on asana or physical poses; think tree pose, forward folds and good old downward-facing dog. Ashtanga is a dynamic class based on a set order of postures, where you move up to the next set or ‘series’ once you’ve mastered the first. Vinyasa or ‘flow’ classes are energetic and allow the teacher to choose the blend of postures, meaning you work up a sweat but get a different class every time.
Looking for a gentle class to ease you into the practice? Iyengar yoga focuses on getting the basics right, using props like straps, blocks and bolsters to correct your alignment. Yin yoga is a slower style designed to improve flexibility and cultivate a mindful state of being. It targets the connective tissues in the hips, pelvis and lower spine – areas that tend to stiffen up when we run, play sports or spend too much time sitting down. Restorative classes are even more relaxing, using props to help you hold restful poses for up to 20 minutes at a time.
Kids got excess energy to burn? It's never too early to get them started.
'Yoga nourishes our bodies by helping us stay strong and active,' says Jaime Amor, who leads fun classes for children aged 3+ on Cosmic Kids Yoga. 'Balanced with awareness and breathing, we learn to steady our minds and stay calm. Panic is not a state that we need right now. We need strong bodies, calm minds and loving kindness to ourselves and each other. Yoga is a great way to achieve this.
'It builds strength, flexibility and balance but it also has mental and emotional benefits. We aim to help kids develop awareness of their feelings, so they learn to self-regulate and be resilient. We make it as fun and inspiring as possible so it’s something the kids want to do over and over again.
'We make yoga and mindfulness fun for kids by making it story-based. I lead kids on 'yoga adventures’ – stories told in yoga poses. The kids copy the poses I do and become the heroes of the adventure. We visit amazing places like space or under the sea, encounter engaging characters and help them solve challenges. At the end we lie down to relax, breathe and reflect on what we learnt today. We finish feeling stronger, clearer and more peaceful.'
Get the kit
Leggings or yoga pants with a sports T-shirt or vest top will work for most yoga classes. ‘Tops that are too loose can fall in front of your face when you fold forward, so it’s best to choose something more fitted,’ Mollie recommends.
When embarking on a home practice, it's worth investing in a decent yoga mat. ‘Mats that look glossy are usually very slippery,’ Mollie warns. ‘I generally prefer a tough, thick mat. If you are concerned about the ecological impact, you can get mats made from cork or tree rubber, rather than plastic.’
A helping hand
Yoga props can help you to take your practice to the next level. Blocks, straps and resistance bands are great if you’re less flexible. ‘If you can’t touch your toes, stand up two yoga bricks and reach down to them instead,’ Mollie suggests. ‘For a longer reach when you are lying down, wrap a band or strap around your foot and hold that instead of struggling to reach your leg.’
Blocks, straps and bands also provide support. ‘Some people find sitting cross legged uncomfortable, so a block under each knee puts less pressure on the knees and hips,’ says Mollie. ‘In restorative yoga poses, straps help hold the legs in position so the muscles can relax. They can also help with bone alignment.’
You can also use a blanket for extra support and cushioning. ‘You can fold it under your knees for hands and knees poses, sit on it during seated poses and use it to cover up during relaxation,’ says Mollie. A yoga wheel will ease you into your first backbends and inversions by providing extra back support while improving hip flexor mobility and relieving tension in the back, chest and spine.
5 of our favourite home yoga classes
Naomi's East London studio is now running a full timetable of livestreamed yoga classes on Zoom. 'You can feel the connection of bending and breathing with others, even if they’re in Brazil!' she explains.
Mollie is one of the brilliant yoga, Pilates and meditation teachers handpicked to lead classes on Movement for Modern Life's online platform. Classes range from lunch break-friendly five-minute tune-ups to 90-minute flows, perfect for helping you disconnect from work after a day at your desk.
Adriene Mishler is one of the internet's most popular yoga teachers – and the one everyone wants to be friends with. With hundreds of free beginner-friendly classes to choose from, we recommend heading to her YouTube channel if you're after a helping hand to guide you through the first steps on your journey.
Whether you want to build strength, lose weight or simply unwind, if you're interested in exploring the physical and emotional benefits of yoga, but aren't so bothered by the traditional spiritual aspect, Tara's short, snappy classes could be just what you're looking for. She's currently leading a free live class each day on Instagram Live.
Want to get the kids involved? Cosmic Kids Yoga brings the fun with its programme of story-based yoga, mindfulness and relaxation classes. Created for children aged 3 and up, they're loved by kids, parents and teachers from all over the world and promise to leave your little one feeling stronger, clearer and more peaceful.
We recommend you consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise programme.
Image: Getty Images