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Introduction to Yoga

Originated in ancient India, the word Yoga means union, as in the union of the body, mind and spirit, or the union between the individual and the collective consciousness. Today, Yoga is used to refer to a series of poses and breathing exercises designed to increase strength and flexibility, and to create balance, flow and relaxation in your body and mind.

Benefits of Yoga

  • reduced stress
  • increased flexibility
  • increased strength and muscle tone
  • mental calmness
  • better sleep
  • injury prevention
  • allergy and asthma symptom relief
  • reduced blood pressure
  • reduced heart rate
  • slowed aging process

Yoga Gear

To get started with yoga, all you need is comfortable, breathable clothes and a yoga mat. Often, yoga studios have mats available for your use, so all you need is to show up.

Clothing Most people wear comfortable, relatively form-fitting clothing. They now have specific 'yoga clothes' from companies like LuLuLemon Athletica, which sells form-fitting pants and tops. You don't need to wear 'yoga clothes', any comfortable outfit that you'd workout in will do.

Shoes Yoga is typically done barefoot, so no particular shoes are required.

Mats Yoga is typically done on a rubber-like mat that helps keep your hands and feet from sliding as you do your poses. Most yoga studios have mats available for their members to use, either for free or for a nominal rental fee. You can buy a yoga mat for anywhere from $20 - $50.

Blankets No, you do not need to bring a blanket to class. Many studios provide blankets, which are typically used folded rolled up to improve your posture and alignment while sitting, or make you more comfortable while lying down. Often, yoga teachers will recommend you grab one or two blankets to keep near you during the class, especially if you're new or relatively inflexible.

Blocks Blocks also help to improve your posture and alignment while sitting, and are often used for standing poses where you can't quite reach the floor. You should probably grab a block before you start the class if you are new or relatively inflexible.

Straps Straps are useful for poses which require you to bind your hands if they don't reach each other, or if you need to hold on to your feet and can't quite reach. You should probably grab a strap before you start the class if you are new or relatively inflexible.

Common Yoga Styles


Hatha is a general term that includes many different types of yoga. A Hatha yoga class is likely to be a good introductory course with gentle and slow basic poses.


Vinyasa is a general term that includes many different types of yoga. A Vinyasa yoga class is likely to be a bit more intense than a Hatha yoga class and include a series of poses known as Sun Salutations done in sequence of varying speeds. Vinyasa is one of the more common styles of yoga.


Ashtanga is an intense, fast-paced type of yoga. An Ashtanga yoga class includes a series of poses performed in a particular order. Ashtanga classes are more intense because they involve a constant movement, or flow, from pose to pose. Variations of Ashtanga classes are sometimes referred to as Power Yoga due to the intensity of the class.


Iyengar yoga is more concerned with alignment than flow. An Iyengar yoga class is less focused on flowing from one pose to the next than holding poses for a long time to maximize the benefit in terms of improved body alignment.


Kundalini yoga is combines a focus on breathing with physical poses to release trapped energy in your body. A Kundalini yoga class involves a particular focus on the breath in each posture to release energy, and involved quick, repetitive movements. Kundalini means 'Serpent Power', and often the image of a coiled or sleeping serpent located towards the base of the spine is used to represent the enormous reserve of untapped potential that Kundalini yoga is thought to release.


Bikram is 'hot' one. Literally. A Bikram yoga class is typically practiced in a 95 to 100 degree room. The high temperature causes sweating and allows tight muscles to loosen. The official Bikram method involves a series of 26 poses, but not all hot yoga classes use this series.


Anusara Yoga is the 'fun' one. Anusara is a relatively new style of yoga that combines an uplifting 'Tantric' philosophy that celebrates the intrinsic Goodness in each of us with an emphasis on alignment and opening the heart. Anusara means 'flowing with grace' and is based on a very positive philosophy of celebrating the beauty, integrity and creativity in each of us. An Anusara yoga class is usually very light, fun and uplifting. Anusara yoga was created by John Friend in 1997.


Jivamukti yoga is also newer style of yoga, created by David Life and Sharon Gannon in New York in 1984. The name Jivamukti means 'Liberation while living' and the idea of Jivamukti is to bring the spiritual and enlightening elements of yoga back into the practice. A Jivamukti yoga class involves chanting, meditation and spiritual teachings, in addition to typical Ashtanga yoga poses.


Sivananda yoga is a form of hatha yoga that is less athletic and more focused on frequent relaxation, and emphasizes full, yogic breathing. The Sivananda training system aims to retain the vitality of the body and decrease chance of disease, by simply and naturally cultivating the body. A Sivananda yoga class typically starts in a full resting posts called Savasana, and consists of a series of 12 basic poses.

Basic Yoga Poses

Here are some images to give you an idea of the basic yoga poses. The name appears followed by the Sanskrit word for the pose:

Downward-Facing Dog ('Adho Mukha Svanasana')

Upward-Facing Dog ('Urdhva Mukha Svanasana')

Warrior I ('Virabhadrasana I')

Forward Bend ('Uttanasana II')

Bow Pose ('Dhanurasana')

Triangle Pose ('Trikonasana')

Wheel Pose ('Chakra Asana')

Basic Yoga Sequences ('Vinyasas')

Sun Salutation ('Surya Namaskar')

Sun Salutation is a series of 12 postures performed in a single, graceful flow. Each movement is coordinated with the breath. Inhale as you extend or stretch, and exhale as you fold or contract. The Sun Salutation builds strength and increases flexibility. Different styles of yoga perform the Sun Saluation with their own variations. A single round consists of two complete sequences of the 12 postures – one for the right side of the body and one for the left.