The beginner’s guide to at-home yoga
Enjoy the life-enhancing benefits of yoga in the comfort of your living room
Searching for a way to soothe and rebalance body and mind as the new year begins? Even with studio classes off the table, at-home yoga is a great way to ease everyday aches and pains, and bring structure to your day, as well as a feeling of connection.
'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 poses allow you to do both these things as they encourage you to connect with your breath and your body, which allows you to turn off your fight-or-flight response and tune in to the parasympathetic nervous system, where you can find calm and ease anxiety. '
It might seem like a modern fitness trend, but although it's become more energetic over the past century, yoga has been practised in India for 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 McClelland Morris.
‘Don’t assume you need to do an hour of yoga in a studio with mood music and candles,’ Annand adds. ‘Yoga isn’t that. It’s about connecting to your breath and your being so even 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.’
McClelland Morris agrees: ‘One of my first teachers said doing 10 minutes of yoga every day is more valuable than an hour once a week. 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 class that suits your level and requirements. 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, say, new mums or mums-to-be, or at those dealing with 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 McClelland Morris. ‘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 yoga is a great place to start – classes vary in difficulty but focus on asanas or physical poses; think tree pose, forward folds and good old downward-facing dog. Ashtanga yoga is a more 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 also energetic and fast moving, but allow the teacher to choose the sequence 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 such as 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.
Do the kids have 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. ‘Panic is not a state that we need right now. We need strong bodies, calm minds and to be kind to ourselves and each other. Yoga is a great way to achieve this.’
Amor believes that yoga not only builds strength, flexibility and balance but has mental and emotional benefits too. ‘We aim to help kids develop awareness of their feelings, so they learn to self-regulate and be resilient,’ she says. ‘We make it as fun and inspiring as possible so it’s something the kids want to do over and over again.
‘I lead kids on "yoga adventures" – stories told in yoga poses. The kids copy the poses 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 of the session, we lie down to relax, breathe and reflect on what we learnt. We finish feeling stronger, clearer and more peaceful.’
5 of our favourite home yoga classes
Annand’s east London studio is now running a full timetable of live-streamed yoga classes on Zoom. ‘You can feel the connection of bending and breathing with others, even if they’re in Brazil,’ she explains.
McClelland Morris is one of the brilliant yoga, Pilates and meditation teachers leading 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. 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 yoga journey.
If you're interested in exploring the physical and emotional benefits of yoga, but aren't so bothered by the traditional spiritual aspect, Strala Yoga’s no-frills classes could be just what you're looking for. Founder Tara Stiles offers live and on-demand classes to energise, strengthen and de-stress. If you're up for something a bit different, Strala can also help you get to grips with tai chi and qi gong.
Want to get the kids involved? The programme of story-based yoga, mindfulness and relaxation classes at Cosmic Kids Yoga keeps things fun. Created for children aged 3 and up, the online classes are 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