I’ve been asked to write on yoga for beginners according to my experience. Challenging task, as there is plenty of literature on this topic. I will try to be as concise and effective as possible.
First of all: why approaching yoga instead of stretching? Why integrating fitness or other sports with yoga? The answer is simple: yoga works through flows, which is more effective for the body than doing single exercises of static and dynamic stretching, without connection. Flows connect exercises (better known as positions, or Asanas) through a meaningful body logic in harmony with the breathing. Yoga philosophy is that no muscle works in isolation and yoga works isometrically, balancing opposite muscles, developing resistance, flexibility and balance, not only strength.
That said, the logic of yoga is to pass from a position to another one in harmonic flow, stimulating methabolism and enhancing gradual flexibility. Yoga positions can be divided into groups: position laying or sitting on the mat, standing, twisting, reversed, head and hand standing positions. Head and hand standing are the most difficult and acrobatic ones, reserved to those yogis who can reach that point of training. Beginners start from sitted/laying and standing, later they continue with twisting and reversed positions. Progress in these position is necessary, because of balance and body elasticity. Usually, people approaching yoga as beginners, unless coming from dance, do not have the necessary elasticity and balance to perform all the positions.
From a psychological point of view modern lifestyles has lead to a reduction in our bearing power, the power to withstand when things do not go as one would like. Flexibility, endurance and resilience give the ability to keep going forward even when hard times take one two steps back. Going forward requires to be both physically and mentally fit, strengthening the core and channelling mental energy in the right direction rather than letting it dissipate. The qualities of endurance and resilience are illustrated perfectly, for example, when doing standing poses, working on balance, posture, and full-body coordination, aligning the body and focusing the mind in order to stand on one leg. Flexibility and purification is achieved through the twisting positions. Passing from a position to another one in a coherent flow is what really makes yoga different from other practices.
I individuated as primary poses for two flows, one on the mat and the other standing, the following sitted poses:
- Child pose
- Half lord of the fishes (seated half spinal twist)
All these positions are fundamental for the mobility of the spine, the promotion of circulation, the awakening of the core, the massage and stimulation of internal organs and the release of tension, usually great in the morning for awakening. They all should be done gently, at one’s own level, without putting too much pressure.
Then, I individuate the following standing poses:
- Warrior 3
- Warrior 1
- Reversed side angle warrior
- Warrior 2
- Reverse warrior
These positions engage the muscles of the core, of the spine and balance. Working on legs, balanced by arms, movements are in axis, strengthening and stretching all the body. They also open the side body. Some of these position resemble to traditional stretching exercises, for example “half lord of the fishes” (half spine twist) or “warrior 1” (low lunge) or “chair” that can be considered similar to squat.
For better description of each single pose, good guides can be found on Lessons, where poses are analytically described also in side effects, YogaDownload, where you can download PDF series, Yoga Journal ,where poses are classified by benefit, anatomy and type, Gaia and many other yoga websites.