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Yoga for Beginners: Poses, Exercises, Meditation, Weight Loss

Yoga is a spiritual and physical practice with roots that can be traced beyond 3000 BC. Known in present day as a valuable exercise, it has long been used to aid with meditation and concentration. The earliest practitioners were thought to unite the body and the soul. The practices encourage inner thought while strengthening the body. Some believe this leads to enlightenment. Others simply believe yoga creates a sound mind and strong physical being.

This post is long, really long - use the index below to quickly navigate to each section.

Yoga Terms​

Because yoga originated in India, many of the words used are unfamiliar. The quick guide will help the first-time yoga practitioner to learn the most commonly used terms. This list is by no means complete, but is a good first resource.

  • Asana: Yoga pose
  • Ayurveda: Ancient, holistic healing method
  • Chakra: Energy center
  • Drishti: A focal point used for meditation
  • Mantra: A repeated sound or phrase used in meditation
  • Namaste: A greeting meaning
  • Pranayama: Breathing exercise
  • Shavasana: Corpse pose; final relaxation
  • Surya Namaskar: Sun Salutations
  • Yama: The five principles of yoga
  • Yogi/Yogini: A yoga practitioner

Basic Yoga Exercises for Beginners

​Prior to beginning any yoga routine, it is vital to prepare the body as well as the environment. It is best to practice yoga on an empty stomach. Clothing should be loose and comfortable. The area should be quiet with no distractions. Music may be played, but it should be calming and wordless. Nature sounds are excellent choices. The temperature of a room should be mild.

​Yoga is best practiced in the early morning. The deep breathing techniques that accompany yoga allow for better concentration and clearer thinking. This makes the work day more productive. Likewise, even the simplest yoga poses encourage circulation, which gives the body a feeling of rejuvenation.

​Easy Pose/Sukhasana

​Sit on the floor with shoulders back and spine held upright. Sit as though a string were lifting your head to the ceiling, keeping your pelvis, back, neck, and head in a perfect line. Cross your shins, placing each ankle beneath the shin of the opposite leg. Allow your knees to naturally drop to the floor. Allow your palms to rest on your knees, or hold them in prayer position, or Anjali Mudra. Breathe deeply and comfortably, allowing the mind to rest.

​Lotus Pose/Padmasana

As with Easy Pose/Sukhasana, sit on the floor with your spine upright. Keep your hips beneath your head, valuing the importance of a straight line that begins with the crown of your head and ends with your tailbone. Fold your legs so that each ankle rests on the thighs of the opposite leg. This pose requires flexibility. New yoga practitioners may prefer to hold Lotus Pose/Padmasana for only brief periods of time until the body can become accustomed to bending in this way.

​Cat Pose/Marjaryasana

​Place hands and knees on the floor parallel to each other. Hands should be directly beneath the shoulders. Knees should be directly below the hip bones. Holding your spine straight from tailbone to head, slowly exhale. While exhaling, curve the center your spine upward to the ceiling while dropping your head and pelvis into a C shape. Inhale and straighten your back or combine with Cow Pose/Bitilasana.

​Cow Pose/Bitilasana

​Start in the same neutral position as Cat Pose/Marjaryasana. On inhale, drop the center of your spine to the floor while lifting your head and pelvis to the ceiling. Exhale and return to neutral or combine with Cat Pose/Marjaryasana.

Downward-Facing Dog/Adho Mukha Svanasana​

​Start in tabletop position with hands and knees firmly on the floor. Lift your ankles, letting your toes touch the floor. Slowly lift your pelvis upward, pulling your knees off the ground and resting your weight on the balls of your feet as you rise. Exhale and straighten your legs, keeping knees soft. Fingers should maintain contact with the floor at all times, creating a triangle.

​Child's Pose/Balasana

​Kneel on the floor with your buttocks pressed firmly into your heels. Separate your thighs slightly so that they are about hip width apart. Lie down on the floor in front of you by placing your torso between your thighs and stretching your arms on the floor in front of you. Allow your head to rest on the floor, but continue to stretch your spine while resting.

​Mountain Pose/Tadasana

​Stand with your feet nearly parallel and toes touching. Allow your leg muscles to stiffen slightly. Lengthen your spine: Imagine a weight is held to your tailbone and a string is pulling the top of your head. Concentrate on your breathing, allowing your body to feel stronger with each inhale and exhale.

​Tree Pose/Vrksasana

​Begin in Mountain Pose/Tadasana Spread the toes of your left foot as much as possible, shifting weight to your inner foot in order to maintain balance. Lift your right leg, bending at the knee. Place your ankle into the fold of your left thigh, toes facing downward. Hold hands in prayer.

​Warrior I/Virabhadrasana

​Begin in Mountain Pose/Tadasana. Inhale deeply, and then exhale while moving feet as far apart as comfortable, or about four feet. Inhale and raise arms to the side, parallel to the floor. Turn your left foot in slightly, while turning your right foot out 90 degrees. Turn your torso to the right and lift arms above your head. Exhale and bend your right knee. You may look ahead or to your clasped hands.

​Warrior II/Virabhadrasana

​As with Warrior I/Virabhadrasana, begin in Tadasana. Move feet four feet apart while exhaling. Position your feet as in Warrior I/Virabhadrasana, inhale, and bend the right knee. Lift your arms so they are parallel to the floor. Without turning your torso, look over your right arm.

​Corpse Pose/Shavasana

​Lie on your back in neutral position. Feel your body relaxing into the floor. Allow your bones, muscles, and organs to release all stress. Corpse Pose/Shavasana is the ideal way to end every yoga routine.

​Yoga for Weight Loss

​Yoga poses can be used to create a lean, strong, flexible body. While your primary goal with yoga may be a mind/body connection, you can also use yoga for healthy weight loss. The deep breathing techniques employed even during the beginner's poses can cause the body to heat from the inside, thus burning calories. In addition, many yoga poses strengthen and tone muscles, which then allow the body to become more efficient at using calories and digesting food.

There are specific poses that are better for weight loss than others. The following routine will help you to fine tune your body while connecting with your spiritual side:

  1. ​Begin in Easy Pose. Find your breath and prepare your body for the yoga workout ahead. Visualize healing your body, releasing toxins, and losing weight.
  2. Move to a combination of Cat Pose and Cow Pose. These movements will loosen your joints, speed digestion, and stretch your muscles.
  3. Strengthen and tone hips with Downward-Facing Dog.
  4. Rest with Child's Pose, and then move to Cobra. This pose will help you stretch your back and spine before moving into Sphinx Pose. This pose helps you to lose weight by firming muscles, particularly those in your lower back and buttocks.
  5. After another rest with Child's Pose, move into Plank. This pose strengthens your arms, chest, upper back, and abs. It can also strengthen your hips, buttocks, thighs, and calves.
  6. Turn around and lie flat on your back in a brief Corpse Pose/Shavasana. Move to Fish Pose/Matsyasana. This pose increases metabolism, increases respiratory response, urges the release of toxins from the body, and generates energy.
  7. Move into Mountain Pose, and then lower your upper body with a Standing Half Forward Bend. This pose stimulates your metabolism, allowing you to more efficiently burn calories.
  8. Return to Mountain Pose, and then lower your body into Chair Pose. Utkatasana creates strength and toning in your legs, shoulder, and chest. It also stimulates metabolism and raises your heart rate. Chair Pose is one of the best asanas for weight loss, but it works best when combined with the entire routine.
  9. End your yoga session by moving into Lotus or returning to Shavasana. Slow your breathing, allowing your body and mind to reach a complete state of rest.

    Each of these poses may be held for one to three minutes, though you should not push yourself to hold any pose longer than is comfortable. Beginners may find that they need to rest often. When doing so, it is important to make each movement deliberate. If you are more experienced, you may repeat each pose. Allow yourself to take a brief rest between asanas.

    ​You should always hydrate well after this yoga session. This routine can stimulate the bowels, which can lead to dehydration.

    ​Yoga Classes

    ​There are many different ways to enjoy yoga. The one you choose is entirely dependent upon your personal preference. Most fitness centers offer yoga classes in a variety of skill levels. Community recreation centers may have yoga as well. These are sometimes included with the cost of a base membership, though they may also incur an additional fee.

    ​Yoga centers are becoming commonplace in even smaller communities. These spots focus entirely on yoga, which can offer a great benefit for the first-timer. There are often many types of yoga, including those for seniors, advances yogis, and "hot" yoga, which is meant to detoxify the body and aid in weight loss.

    ​Some yoga practitioners prefer a more intimate environment. Some yoga instructors offer private instruction to small groups or individuals. This instruction may take place in your home or a public area, such as a park, beach, or nature reserve. However, most instructors prefer to practice inside in order to avoid distractions.

    ​Yoga to Ease Back Pain

    ​Those who experience chronic pain know that pain management is a difficult, arduous ordeal. Medication can leave your mind unclear while doing little to ease the pain and nothing to resolve the root cause. Yoga is a proven method of pain management, specifically for those who suffer from back pain.

    ​The following postures are known to resolve back pain issues. Along with lessening pain, they can also help to strengthen your joints and muscles, making future issues less problematic. However, as with all forms of exercise, you should discuss these poses with your doctor before pursuing them.

    ​Cobra Pose/Bhujangasana

    ​Lie with stomach on the floor with legs straight behind torso, feet pointed. Place your elbows on the floor close to your torso. Exhale and lift up your torso in a gentle curve, pushing on the floor with your hands. Maintain contact between the tops of your thighs and the floor. Inhale and release gently, returning to neutral.

    ​Half Knees-to-Chest Pose/Ardha Apanasana

    ​Lie in Corpse Pose/Shavasana. Inhale deeply. Exhale and bring one knee to your chest, keeping back in neutral position. Exhale and release leg, lowering to the floor. Repeat with opposite leg.

    ​Eye of the Needle Pose/Sucrindhrasana

    ​Lie in Corpse Pose/Shavasana. Bend both knees, lifting to your chest. Rest your right ankle above your left knee. Grasp your left leg with both arms by threading your right arm between your two legs. Pull your left leg to your chest, bringing your right leg with you. Release both legs, and then return to Corpse Pose/Shavasana. Repeat with the opposite leg.

    ​Cat Pose/Marjaryasana and Cow Pose/Bitilasana

    ​Place hands and knees on the floor parallel to each other. Hands should be directly beneath the shoulders and knees below the hip bones. Exhale, curving the center of your spine upward. Drop your head and pelvis into a C shape. Inhale and drop the center of your spine to the floor while lifting your head and pelvis to the ceiling. Exhale and return to neutral.

    ​Bridge Pose/Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

    ​Start from Corpse Pose/Shavasana. Bend both knees, and then place feet flat on the floor. Lift your pelvis to the ceiling, keeping your knees directly above your ankles. Steadily hold your head, neck, and shoulders on the floor. Move your arms together beneath your lifted pelvis, grasping your hands together. Exhale in and out repeatedly before returning to Corpse Pose.

    ​Fish Pose/Matsyasana

    ​Start with legs in Lotus Pose/Padmasana. Lean back until your back is flat on the floor. Lift your pelvis upward. Bring your arms beneath your buttocks with your palms facing the floor, holding your arms tight to your body. Rest your buttocks on your hands. Exhaling, lift your shoulders and upper torso. Arch your neck so that your head continues to rest on the floor. Do not place too much weight on your head and neck. If you are unable to perform Fish Pose/Matsyasana while in Lotus, you may perform this pose with legs extended and knees slightly bent.

    ​Locust Pose/Salabhasana

    ​Lie flat on your stomach with your arms resting on each side. Inhaling deeply, lift your arms, chest, head, and legs off the floor. Exhale, holding this position. Breathe deeply three times. Return to neutral position.

    ​Yoga and Meditation

    ​Meditation is arguably the most important aspect of yoga. Being able to clear your mind allows you to connect fully with yourself. Both your soul and your body can heal itself when allowed to communicate fully and completely with the art of meditation.

    ​Meditation is not a practice that you can perfect in an afternoon. As with all things, you must start slowly and deliberately. As you continue on your path, meditation will become easier. It will also become a vital part of each day. You will find yourself thinking more clearly, sleeping better, and experiencing full-body health.

    ​Before you begin, you must understand that there is no one right way to meditate. However, this guide will get you started so that you may discover which method words best for you.

    ​Clearing the Environment

    ​Most yogis will recommend that you perform your yoga postures in a room in which there are no distractions. Noises, extreme temperatures, and uncomfortable clothing can all prevent you from being able to concentrate. Most yoga classes offer a time of meditation. If you find it difficult to relax around others, you may discover that smaller groups or singular yoga meditation is better for you.

    ​Clearing the Mind

    Find a focal point, or drishti, in which to gaze in order to settle your mind and body. A candle, mandala, or crystal can serve as an excellent drishti, though some prefer to use photographs of loved ones, scenes of nature, or even the tips of their own noses. Gaze thoughtfully at this drishti. Do not strain your eyes by staring too intently. Simply focus on the drishti with relaxed mind and eyes. Allow all other objects in the room to melt away.

    ​A proper breathing technique is vital when meditating. Without altering your breathing, allow yourself to feel how your body changes with each breath. Concentrate on the act itself. Give yourself permission to feel each organ, tissue, and cell change as fresh air flows in. Upon exhale, release every ounce of air from your lungs. Push it outs so that your body can be renewed with every breath. Count your breaths, enjoy them, and love them. Remind yourself that breathing is what gives you life.

    ​Postures for Meditation

    ​The most common postures for meditation are seated postures. Easy Pose/Sukhasana allows is arguably the best pose for beginners. This pose keeps your organs aligned, letting them to benefit from the breathing techniques. Likewise, it is also a comfortable pose for most people to hold. More advanced yoga practitioners may prefer Lotus Pose/Padmasana. This pose is thought to calm the mind, heal the body, and encourage happiness.

    ​Mountain Pose/Tadasana is another popular choice for meditation. Standing in this pose allows you to become one with the world around you. The external balance required while standing in meditation creates an internal balance as well. As you progress in your yoga and meditation techniques, you may wish to use a more complex pose. Tree Pose/Vrksasana is thought to be one of the best poses for meditation because it requires a great deal of skill to hold for extended lengths of time.

    ​Corpse Pose/Savasana is a common choice for group meditation. Lying in a relaxed state gives you the freedom to open your mind as you wish. However, using Corpse Pose/Savasana requires a different focal method. Rather than concentrating on an external drishti, you must concentrate on an internal one. Your breath or beating heart can serve as an excellent focal point if you choose to lie still during meditation.

    ​The Sound of Meditation

    ​The repeated chant "om" is often associated with yoga and meditation. However, you do not have to employ this particular technique if it does not work for you. A new yoga practitioner can choose his or her own mantra that can be repeated externally or internally. Group meditation, performed in a yoga class, is often led by a yogi/yogini who says a chant that is repeated by class members.

    ​Relaxing music or nature sounds can offer good choices for meditation. It is imperative that the choices not be overwhelming. It may be worthwhile to listen to several types of music prior to beginning your practice. Only you can know what leads your meditation in the right direction.

    ​Yoga, Meditation, and Essential Oils

    Aromatherapy is thought by many to help guide the mind and soul during meditation. Room fragrances should be soothing and mild. Scents that are overpowering can cause your mind to become distracted. Likewise, you may find that you are sensitive to certain senses. It may be in your best interests to test the oils prior to burning or diffusing them during your meditation session.

    ​The best essential oils for meditation are bergamot, cedarwood, clary sage, frankincense, lavender, myrrh, neroli, patchoili, sandalwood, and vetiver. You may research each oil to discover which will guide you on the path you seek. For instance, neroli may help you to explore your creative side while myrrh encourages physical health. You might even try to blend multiple oils together for a unique experience.

    ​The use of an essential oil diffuser is the most common way to use aromatherapy during meditation. However, an oil burner can create a softer scent that might be more conducive to your singular needs.