Yoga for Beginners

by Alexandra S. Wimberly

From PHN Issue 33, Summer 2017

Have you ever tried yoga? Ever been curious about what yoga is or if it might be something that you would like to try? The following is a short introduction to yoga, along with a few yoga practices to try. One of the great things about yoga is that it can be practiced anywhere and needs no special equipment—just your mind, your body, and your attention.

What is yoga?

Yoga is a mental, physical and spiritual practice that originated in India over 5,000 years ago. Yoga means “union.” That can be interpreted in many ways, including finding union between your body and mind, finding union between yourself and your environment, or finding union between yourself and a higher power (however you conceive of a higher power). Historically, yoga was much more of a mental practice (focusing on meditation), but it has become more of a physical practice in the last century (focusing on physical stretches). The physical practices (called “asanas” in Sanskrit) relax the body in order to quiet the mind and make it easier to meditate.

Do I have to be religious to practice yoga?

No, yoga is a secular practice. However, some of the ideas of yoga can work well with religious practice.

What will I get from yoga practice?

There are numerous health benefits associated with yoga, including reduced stress and improved flexibility. The more you do it, the more you are likely to get out of it. Also, think about what you want to get out of it, and focus your efforts there. For example, if you want to become more flexible, maybe you would focus on certain stretches. Becoming more flexible in the body can also help your mind become more flexible and open to new ideas.

How can I try out yoga?

Below, you will find a few practices to get you started. You could carve out 15 minutes of your day to do this routine, or you could do parts of this routine throughout the day. Some people find it best to practice yoga when they first wake up, because their mind is often a little calmer then, and it can be a nice way to start off the day. When doing the poses, you want to feel like you are getting a stretch, but if you feel any sharp pain, stop the pose, as you do not want to strain yourself. Yoga is a safe and gentle practice, but it is advisable to consult with a medical professional before starting out a new exercise activity.

A Yoga Practice:

Meditation (about 5 minutes):

  • Sit cross-legged. If sitting cross-legged bothers you, you can lie down or sit with your legs straight out.
  • Close your eyes, or relax your eyes and keep your gaze at one point.
  • Take a few deep breaths, breathing down to your abdomen. You can place a hand on your stomach to make sure that it moves out when you inhale and moves back towards your spine when you exhale.
  • Purpose: This posture is helpful to calm one’s mind. Our minds are constantly wandering to thoughts about the past and present, taking us away from our present state of being. Focusing on the breath can bring our focus back to the present.

Staff pose (30 seconds to 1 minute):

  • Sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you.
  • Flex your feet.
  • Roll your shoulders back so you are not slouching.
  • If you have tight hamstrings (the muscles in the backs of your thighs), sit on a blanket.
  • If it is difficult to sit up, practice with your back against the wall.
  • Don’t practice this pose if you have a lower back injury.
  • Purpose: strengthens your core and hips

Seated forward bend (30 seconds to 1 minute):

  • Start in staff pose.
  • Lean forward from the hip joints.
  • Reach towards your feet. If your hands don’t reach your feet, let them rest on your legs. Don’t force yourself to touch your feet.
  • If you have tight hamstrings, sit on a blanket.
  • Don’t practice this pose if you have a lower back injury.
  • Purpose: stretches the back, shoulders and hamstrings

Twist (30 seconds to 1 minute):

  • Start in staff pose.
  • Bend your right knee and put the foot on the floor.
  • Lengthen your spine (try not to slouch).
  • Rotate your torso to the right and wrap your left arm around the right thigh.
  • Place your right hand behind you on the floor.
  • Gently turn your head to the right.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Try sitting on a blanket if it is hard to sit up straight.
  • Purpose: strengthens and stretches the spine.

Standing side bend (30 seconds to 1 minute):

  • Stand with feet together and arms at your sides. If it is hard to balance, stand with your feet about 6 inches apart.
  • Bring your arms out to the sides and up overhead.
  • Face your palms to each other and interlace your fingers, pointing your index finger to the ceiling.
  • Straighten your arms, but don’t lock the elbows.
  • Lift up and over to the right as you press your left hip out to the side.
  • Keep your feet firmly rooted into the ground.
  • Stay here for a few breaths, and then bring your arms back up to center and down to your sides.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Purpose: opens the chest and lungs. Stretches the sides of the body and spine.

Warrior 2 (30 seconds to 1 minute):

  • Stand with legs 3 to 4 feet apart, turning right foot out 90 degrees and left foot in slightly.
  • Extend arms out to the sides, palms down.
  • Bend right knee 90 degrees, keeping knee directly over ankle. (Do not let the bent knee move past the foot, as that can strain your knee.)
  • Gaze over right hand.
  • Switch sides and repeat.
  • Purpose: strengthens and stretches your legs

Corpse pose (5 minutes):

  • Lie on your back and relax your arms by your sides, with your legs outstretched. If your lower back is tight, bend your knees or place a blanket or pillows underneath your knees.
  • Close your eyes. Relax all body muscles. Allow your mind to relax.
  • Purpose: relaxes your body and mind

Alexandra Wimberly is a registered yoga teacher who taught yoga for four years at the Institute for Community Justice Center’s Reentry Center and currently teaches yoga at the Baltimore County Department of Corrections. She is also a research fellow at the Columbia University HIV, Substance Use and Criminal Justice Research Training Fellowship Program. Her research looks at ways to support people in the criminal justice system who have substance use problems.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s