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yoga for beginners

Research shows that yoga decreases stress, tension, and blood pressure while increasing balance, strength, and flexibility. This beginners guide will help you understand the types of yoga, how it can influence your weight loss, and provide tips for getting started.

Types of Yoga

Most yoga classes at your local studio or gym are Hatha yoga. This means that they focus more on poses and breathing versus the forms of yoga that focus on meditation. There are a variety of styles under Hatha yoga so don’t throw in the towel if you dislike the first class you try.

Iyengar - This type focuses on correct posture and provides an introduction to the use of props for form and balance. Even if you decide not to stick with Iyengar, it is a great class for beginners because it will help you with proper form and alignment before you move on to other types.

Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga - Some of the most physically challenging forms of yoga, these classes focus on flow as you move through a sequence of poses. The American Council on Exercise states that Ashtanga (Power Yoga) has been found to increase muscular endurance and flexibility.

Gentle or Restorative - If you need to relax or you are healing from an injury, this type of yoga is ideal. Restorative yoga involves only a few poses and focuses on relaxation and breathing. If you do have an injury, be sure to tell the instructor so that he or she may help you adjust each movement to your needs.

Yoga and Weight Loss

While small improvements in cardiovascular fitness are possible with more challenging classes (Ashtanga and Vinyasa), most versions of yoga do not increase heart rate enough to benefit aerobic fitness. As a result, a typical yoga session burns fewer calories than most cardio sessions. Some research suggests that yoga can actually lower metabolism.

Despite a lower calorie burn, regular yoga practice can influence your health behaviors and promote weight loss in other ways. The discipline and focus required in yoga can be transferred to other areas, such as healthy eating. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that those who practiced yoga ate more mindfully and had a lower body mass index. Mindful eating means you are more aware of what you eat thus making you more likely to eat only when you are hungry and stop when you are full. Mindful eating is linked to better weight control.

Tips to Get Started

Yoga at home is the ideal solution for a tight schedule or strict budget, but consider a few free community classes or a week pass to a studio when starting. Proper alignment in yoga is important for safety and taking at least a few classes with an instructor will give you a strong foundation in your practice. If you can’t make it to a studio, be sure to invest in a video that provides beginner instruction.

Here are a few more tips to help you get started whether you do yoga at a studio or in your living room:

  • You will need a mat, water bottle, and a towel. Some studios provide mats for newcomers but plan to buy your own if you stick with it.
  • Wear the most form-fitting clothing that you feel comfortable in. This type of clothing helps you move easily and allows you and the instructor to assess your form.
  • Ask questions and try different instructors or videos. It may take you some time to find the type of instruction style you prefer.
  • Benefits are seen with one session per week, but if you want to build on improvements and make progress, plan to do at least two sessions per week.
  • Remember that you aren’t being judged. If the instructor is watching you, he or she is trying to help you practice safely.
  • Don't take yourself too seriously. While yoga is a quiet, focused form of activity, smiles, giggles, and even applause are welcome in most classes.
  • Poses can be either energizing or relaxing. Keep this in mind when you are choosing yoga to do first thing in the morning or in the evening before bedtime.


Lori Rice, M.S., is a nutritional scientist and author with a passion for healthy cooking, exercise physiology, and food photography.
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