Peloton member doing downward dog, a yoga position

Peloton's Ultimate Guide to Yoga for Beginners

Ready to get started with yoga? Follow this step-by-step guide to creating a yoga habit that lasts.

By Team PelotonJune 21, 2023

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Forget what you think you know about yoga. The truth is, yoga can be practiced by anyone, no matter what your fitness level or experience, and provides numerous health benefits for both the body and mind. Depending on what type of yoga you practice, it can be slow and gentle, or more fast-paced and heart-pumping. But whatever type you fall in love with, yoga is meant to meet you right where you are and help you form a mind-body connection that will serve you both in the moment and well into the future. That’s exactly why yoga has been popular for thousands of years and why practitioners continue to seek it out time and time again.

In this guide, we’ll look at why yoga is such an effective and attractive workout and some of the key yoga benefits. We’ll also outline how to approach yoga as a beginner and go over a few basic yoga poses to start you on your journey. We tapped Peloton yoga instructor, Aditi Shah to answer some of the most common questions about yoga for beginners.

By the end of our guide, you’ll be better equipped to start incorporating yoga into your own life and fitness journey and hopefully feel ready to roll out your mat

Yoga 101: What to Know 

While it might seem like the main objective of yoga is to improve flexibility—after all, many poses involve getting flex-y—that only scratches the surface. What truly sets yoga apart from other workouts is its emphasis on the mind-body connection, which leads to incredible physical and mental health benefits, from strength to stress relief.

“Yoga is inclusive of everybody,” says Aditi. “It has something to offer everyone, no matter how different we are.” From marathon runners to everyday athletes to pregnant people, yoga is for every person.

Depending on what type of yoga you try, most classes include a mixture of poses designed to improve mobility, flexibility, and strength. This, combined with the intrinsic link between body and mind, makes yoga unique in both its practice and its benefits and explains why it has been around for over five thousand years.

The Benefits of Yoga

Developing a yoga practice can help strengthen your muscles, improve posture, improve brain mental health, and more. These are just a few of the most impactful benefits of yoga: 

Minimize Your Stress

Research has shown that many of today’s most common diseases—from high blood pressure to chronic pain— are related to stress. Yoga’s focus on mindfulness and relaxation can help you reduce the negative effects of stress, and evidence shows that both higher levels of mindfulness, as well as mindfulness training, are associated with better psychological well-being, coping, and quality of life.

Increase Your Flexibility

Yoga places a heavy emphasis on flowing through postures that will stretch and elongate your muscles and connective tissues while you move and lubricate your joints. With regular practice, this can lead to an increase in your body’s range of motion. Studies have consistently shown that better flexibility decreases the body’s risk of injury, increases blood flow to muscles, and improves the body’s ability to complete daily activities. 

Strengthen Your Body

While you might not think of yoga as a strength workout, yoga does make you stronger. Yoga poses, while low impact, use your body weight as resistance, which can challenge and strengthen muscles. And it's not just the more challenging power yoga classes that help build strength. Your yoga practice can build muscle even if it’s less vigorous, and if practiced with consistency you will feel your body grow stronger as it builds endurance. 

Better Your Posture and Balance

During your yoga flow, you will be relying on your core muscles to help you hold and maintain the majority of your seated and standing poses. There’s also a heavy focus on lengthening and elongating through the neck and spine and releasing the lower back. Research has even shown that because of this, yoga exercises can have a beneficial effect on the curves of the spine and may be an efficient training method for shaping proper posture in adults. In addition, the heavy emphasis on grounding and centering allows for better balance with a strengthened core.

Improve Your Brain Function and Cognition 

Yoga isn’t just good for your body, it’s good for your brain. In recent years, science has paid more attention to the effects of yoga on the brain. Research reveals promising early evidence that a regular yoga practice can positively impact brain health, and behavioral interventions like yoga may hold promise to slow down age-related and neurodegenerative declines.

Boost Your Heart Health

Going hand-in-hand with lowering stress levels, studies show yoga to be a significant heart health booster. The movement and breathing techniques that comprise yoga flows have been found to lower blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood glucose levels, and heart rate.

Get Better Sleep 

Yoga takes this positive effect of exercise one step further by helping your mind and body to actually relax. The focus on breathing, quieting the mind, and stretching the body to alleviate stress and tension sets the groundwork for a good night’s sleep and better sleeping habits in the long run. (Not convinced? Give these bedtime yoga poses a try.) Certain types of yoga classes are better to try closer to bedtime than others, like restorative yoga or any type of yoga that is more meditative and breathing-based. 

How to Start Yoga

Sometimes the hardest part of any workout, or adopting any new health habit in general, is finding the motivation to get started. Hopefully by now you’re intrigued by the benefits of yoga we’ve just discussed, but what does it actually take to get started? The good news is, it doesn’t take much. 

The first thing you’ll want to consider is what to wear. During your practice you want your attention to be on how your body is moving, not how your clothes fit or feel. Take some time to find clothing that allows for movement, but isn’t too loose or baggy. It’s all about feeling comfortable enough to moving freely and confidently. And skip the footwear—yoga is better when practiced in bare feet. 

Next, take inventory of what you already have and can use as props for your first yoga flow. Ideally, you already have a mat you can lay out for a little extra cushioning and better grip. Beyond that, you might want to consider having a block or a strap on hand, in case you need to modify some of the poses. In yoga, the use of props is not seen as a weakness; even the most experienced yogis rely on props to help them deepen into certain poses or improve alignment in a posture. If you don’t have any props, consider keeping a blanket or pillow nearby if needed.

There are certain classes or types of yoga that may be better than others for someone who is just getting started, and you can explore beginner-friendly yoga classes on the Peloton App. Slow flow classes are an excellent way for beginners to learn new postures and focus on their alignment, so you can get used to the way poses feel in your body.

If at any time during your flow a pose causes pain or feels too difficult, you can always stop and rest or take a variation or modification of the pose as offered by your instructor. This is where your props can come in handy.

And if it feels awkward? Welcome to the club! Every yoga practitioner has felt that way at one time or another. Don’t allow yourself to feel intimidated and don’t compare yourself to whatever idea you may have as to what makes a “good” yoga practitioner. “Focus on how it feels, not how it looks,” says Aditi. “Give yourself space to grow. And most importantly, don’t judge your practice!”

Everyone was a beginner at one point, and most people go through phases where their bodies change or react to certain poses differently. Allow your practice to feel fluid, and focus on the journey, and how incredible you’ll feel at the end of your flow, rather than how awkward or stiff your body may (or may not!) feel at first.

Does Yoga Burn Calories?

Any sort of consistent activity, particularly a fitness activity, is going to help your body burn calories. How many calories burned during yoga will depend on the type of yoga. According to the 2011 Adult Compendium of Physical Activities, a 150-lb person would burn around 89 calories doing 30 minutes of Hatha yoga (a gentle form of yoga). Meanwhile, that same person would burn about 143 calories in a 30-minute power yoga session.

But the beauty of yoga is that there is less focus on burning calories and much more on the body feeling good through healthy and intentional movement. It’s important to find reasons and goals for any fitness activity that transcend weight loss, in order for it to become a sustainable part of your long-term success. 

Does Yoga Build Muscle?

Yoga can absolutely strengthen your muscles. During many yoga poses, you’ll hold your full weight and support yourself with your arms, legs, and core, which helps target and build your muscles. While you may not be isolating a single muscle group like you would in traditional weight lifting, many yoga poses can build muscle mass across multiple areas of your body at the same time. 

What’s more, since many poses require flexibility and spine integrity, yoga is particularly useful for strengthening the core and back muscles. You’ll find pretty quickly that some of the more challenging balance poses require focusing on your abdominal muscles and overall form to help reinforce the torso and build core strength.

As you move through your yoga flow, you’ll also work your arms, legs, and glutes, with some poses even targeting smaller, more stabilizing muscles around the wrists and ankles. 

Keep in mind, repetition and longevity will be key. The longer you hold certain poses, the more you’ll start to feel the burn, so lean into it and keep your form aligned! And as with anything, consistency, and commitment are vital to your overall comfort and ability. In other words, you’ll get better the more you pull out the mat and get into those downward dogs!

Already have a strength routine? Yoga is an excellent option for cross-training. You can create a yoga-focused workout routine with a mixture of yoga, strength training, and cardio (like rowing or running). 

Motivation for Yoga Beginners

So how can someone get into the habit of practicing yoga and what’s the best way to stay motivated? Well, it’s important to find your whyyour reason for wanting to start in the first place. Refer to yoga’s list of benefits and find one or a combination of several that inspire you to develop a habit that will stick. Write down your own why, so you can refer to it on the days you don’t feel like rolling out your mat. 

Research has shown that once a good habit is developed, performing it on a regular basis becomes almost effortless. However, the time it takes to form a good habit varies; for some it can happen in under three weeks, while others need as much as half a year. So, do whatever it takes to allow your newly desired yoga habit to take hold and turn into something that will last. Create a sustainable and realistic routine for the days you want to practice, schedule your classes through the Peloton App, block out the time on your weekly calendar, and honor your commitment to yourself and your health.

And remember that yoga isn’t just about what happens during your practice. “Yoga helps us to develop ourselves and our strength from the inside out,” says Aditi. “When we practice, we look for where ease and effort meet. Some of us need more ease, and some of us need more effort. When we learn to be easeful or when we take a risk and dip one toe over our edge, we get to take that learning off of the mat.”

Yoga Breathing

One other important point to cover here that will most likely come up for beginners is how to breathe during yoga. Breath is a huge part of yoga, and will likely be highlighted throughout your practice. The yoga flow is meant to be very fluid, and designed for your movements to follow your inhales and exhales. You’ll notice that as you move through poses, your instructor might start calling out when to breathe and how to breathe, so that your flow is smooth and you’re making the most of your movements. 

While certain types of yoga might place a heavier emphasis on breathwork and how to breathe than others, a general rule of thumb is to time your inhales to be as long as your exhales. 

Try practicing it now: Inhale deeply through your nose for 4 counts, allowing your chest and your stomach to slowly expand as your lungs fill up. Hold for a moment, and then exhale for 4 counts, drawing your stomach in while pushing the air out through your mouth. This focus on breathing will help you access your mind and draw your attention to your body. Coordinating your inhales/exhales with your movements will allow for more fluidity and grace during your flow. 

When to Do Yoga

The best time to do yoga, as with all forms of exercise, is whenever you know it will work realistically within your schedule. But Aditi prefers to practice yoga first thing in the morning, saying it gives her the opportunity to start her day with intention. There is something highly motivating about choosing to begin your day with a relaxed mind and an energized body, moving through your yoga flow with purpose and positivity. 

Practicing yoga first thing in the morning will set the tone for your day, and may be easier to accomplish when the rest of your daily commitments and to-do lists don’t have the chance to get in the way. 

But, what if you’re not a morning person? For some people, a morning yoga flow is just not realistic. If that’s you, aim for an afternoon or an evening flow. There is something to be said for wrapping up your day—whether it was good, bad, or just ok—with a grounding and relaxing yoga routine. And the good news is there are bedtime yoga poses specifically designed to help your body and mind prepare for rest. 

Just remember that yoga is deeply effective and worth the effort no matter what time of day you practice it. 

How Often Should You Do Yoga?

Aditi says there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how often yoga should be practiced—it ultimately depends on your body and your goals. If you practice once a week, you’ll feel the positive effects; if you practice it every day, you’ll feel them even more. As with all fitness routines, the more you practice, the faster you will start experiencing the benefits of yoga for yourself. Since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic activity a week, you might use that as your starting point, and increase it from there if you’re enjoying it and experiencing positive changes to both your body and mind.  

If you need more inspiration or want to explore all the different types of yoga available to you, check out the Peloton App for on-demand classes with top yoga instructors, like Aditi Shah, devoted to bringing you a sustainable practice that can make a real difference. Sometimes all it takes to finally embrace a new form of fitness is a community of like-minded individuals who are taking the plunge with you and reaping the benefits.

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