The Beginner Yoga Routine That Actually Works
One instructor’s yoga routine might not be the one for you, despite the prevailing wisdom that you just need to “stick with it” to get results. This thinking doesn’t factor our unique physiology into the equation, such as hormonal fluctuations and chronic pain. Some of us may find it difficult to follow a consistent yoga routine because we think we’re failing when we can’t keep up with our instructor’s vinyasa (loosely translated: flow).
These days, modern convenience (and an ever-changing pandemic situation) seem to be working against our bodies. Many people are opting for grocery delivery, telehealth services, virtual schooling, and round-the-clock digital connection to stay home and avoid unnecessary face-to-face interaction.
Yet sedentary behavior from increased screen time was on the rise pre-COVID, putting a majority of the US population at a higher risk for obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.1
Yoga therapy, on the other hand, is a step in the right direction. As a gentle form of exercise that’s suitable for most ages, body types, and health conditions, yoga gets you moving and makes you feel good. And, you can do it safely from home.
Ahead, we list beginner yoga poses and describe how to tailor your yoga routine to your health, schedule, and energy flow. As you overcome self-doubt and start to build resilience, your daily practice will become more second nature and feel less intimidating.
Recognizing What’s Holding You Back
The benefits of yoga include (but are not limited to) improved respiration, flexibility, stress relief, and physical awareness, along with the possibility of producing favorable effects for the immune and nervous systems.2
These findings aren’t new, as Western culture sometimes likes to believe. The centuries-old practice of posture and breath control has been well-documented across the globe, particularly in ancient India.3
Okay, sure, you might be thinking. All that sounds wonderful, but where do I start? Our doctors tell us that yoga is good for us, but from there, the next steps seem generic, even vague.
Follow your breath, they say, feel the stretch from within. Before many of us even get to that step, though, we decide that to reap the benefits, we have to look the part. On an impulsive shopping frenzy, brand marketing urges us to buy mat accessories, toeless grip socks, gongs, incense, and other atmosphere enhancers to help “set the vibe.”
Then, like many people, you look outside yourself for answers. Whether it’s from lack of experience or that all-human desire for community and inclusion, you commit to pricey yoga classes, maybe even sign up for ad-free, uninterrupted streaming services to follow along with instructors online. After a while, interest wanes. Other duties take precedence. Self-care becomes an afterthought.
All of this is to say that our culture loves to sell us on the idea that yoga is an investment (time and money!). Similarly, a 2014 study from the International Journal of Yoga underlines how the modern lifestyle threatens the tradition of yoga as a way to access spirituality and self-realization.4
If knowing is half the battle, why is it so hard to start and stick to a yoga routine? One theory is that we’re following yoga routines that don’t complement our body’s unique physiology.
A Biochemical Way to Approach Yoga: Three Examples
It’s a fact of life: women, men, and non-binary people—young or old—all go through unique health phases, requiring specific care based on biological, genetic, and environmental/social factors. Biohacking your yoga routine is a self-reliant process that gives you more control over your mind and body. Wellness advice about biohacking is everywhere, but to simplify things, let’s take a look at three ways you can biohack your yoga routine, starting now:
Women spend over three decades of their life in a 28-day hormonal cycle. Although menstruation tends to get the most attention, planning your yoga routine with the four phases in mind (follicular, ovulation, luteal, and menstruation) can provide a cyclical advantage for your mood, pain, and metabolism. The Cycle Syncing Method®, outlined by Alisa Vitti in her second book In the FLO: Unlock Your Hormonal Advantage and Revolutionize Your Life5, touts the benefits of gentle exercise, like yoga, during the second half of the luteal phase and onwards into menstruation. Since female hormones are at their lowest during these phases, you can try restorative yoga poses that work with, not against your biochemistry. Opting for vigorous cardio in the second half of your cycle can contribute to hormonal imbalances, like more stress!
Chronic Pain Conditions
People with chronic pain, such as osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches, and endometriosis, to name a few, may have a hard time doing the most basic poses, leading one to believe they aren’t physically capable of practicing yoga. Taking on certain poses may exacerbate your pain tolerance, so it’s always a good idea to rest when needed and look for poses that won’t put more strain on your body than necessary. Many instructors offer practices with chronic pain patients in mind, like the one below:
Another way to biohack your yoga routine is to mindfully include plants into your practice. Taking in low-sugar and low-carb foods/beverages before and after a yoga sequence eliminates the heavy stomach sensation, plus you’ll feel your energy levels shift from crash and burn to longer-lasting focus. A supplement with rejuvenating herbs, like Purpose, helps you set intentions and promotes sustained energy to keep you on the yoga mat longer. Evening yoga can also be good for people who have trouble “turning off” after work. A 20-minute yoga session before bed, with Dream, does wonders for the overall quality of your sleep.
Beginner Yoga Poses
The following poses are good starter stretches to try at home. As discussed earlier, remember to consider your unique physiology before twisting into more advanced poses. The most important thing is to listen to the “feel” of each stretch, and when you figure out what works, you can gradually increase the number of poses and duration of each session.
Start by sitting on your knees, close to one end of the mat. Inhale, lift your arms over your head and extend them to the front of your mat, letting your forehead rest on the floor. Stay here for a couple of breaths.
From Child’s pose, place your hands on the mat, lifting one knee to the front, with the other leg out behind you. Focus on holding your hip as close to the mat as possible, moving the extended knee inwards as needed. Hold here for a couple of breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.
After you complete Pigeon pose on both sides, lay flat on the mat, with your legs extended. Bend your elbows, place your palms face down, then lift your tailbone into the air. Keep your arms straight as you try to push your feet flat into the floor. Hold here for a couple of breaths.
Although improved posture and flexibility take time—as little as five to ten minutes a day can make a difference—practice, and dedication, working with your body is the key to benefiting from yoga. Listen to each sensation, especially if you have a history of chronic pain. Ultimately, the tools you need to get started are already within you, as long as you’re willing to listen, honor, and respect your inner-knowing.