Yoga for beginners

It may have originated from ancient India but yoga is just as valuable in today's busy Western world and is used by many to help strengthen the body, improve flexibility and promote a feeling of calm and relaxation.

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Yoga devotees report that regular practise helps to increase energy levels and improve the quality of sleep, as well as bringing with it a host of other physical and emotional benefits, including better muscle tone, relief from muscle pain and stiffness, improved circulation and overall better general health.

Yoga can be a benefit to anyone of any age – but it's worth finding the right class, DVD or book to meet your specific needs. Poses range from the strenuous for those who like to keep fit to the gentle, for those with health problems. There are also classes designed especially for pregnant women and mothers and babies.

Read on for our basic guide to a few of the most popular styles of yoga...

The term 'hatha yoga' covers all types of physical yoga. Placing an emphasis on postures with breathing and relaxation, it's suitable for all ages and levels of ability, making it ideal for beginners. Classes that are described as 'Hatha' tend to involve slow-paced stretching with some simple breathing exercises and meditation.

This type of hatha yoga is based on the guru/student model, in which an experienced teacher works with a student on an individual basis, making a personalised yoga programme based on their age, health, fitness and needs. While it still focuses on postures and breathing and concentration, it's ideally meant for those wanting an individual yoga programme for daily practice or a specific health concerns.

This type of yoga puts an emphasis on postural alignment and poses or 'asanas' as a way of deepening relaxation. Physically demanding, it's most suitable for those with a reasonable level of fitness. Iyengar's method teaches a correct way to do each pose, sometimes through the use of props, such as blocks, straps, pillows and chairs. Once postures are done to perfection, the balance in the body is reflected in the mind.

Ashtanga uses a fast flowing, dynamic sequence of 75 poses (which take around an hour and a half to two hours to complete) with a focus on breathing. It's physically demanding, so is best for those who have a good level of fitness to begin with and enjoy a more athletic work out.

Finding a class
If you're just starting to exercise or have a health problem, look for a gentle or beginner's hatha yoga class. If you have a reasonable level of fitness and a strong, healthy back, opt for a middle-level class. Those with a good level of fitness who want something challenging should opt for an advanced class or more strenuous ashtanga yoga.

Whatever type or level of class you choose, make sure to check the teacher's qualifications before you sign up. British Wheel of Yoga teachers have trained for 2-3 years and are up to date on safety guidelines and best practises.