Yoga for beginners: everything you need to kickstart your healthy new life

How Downward Dog and Warrior Stance can transform your health, stress levels and sex life

Yoga is more popular than ever with half a million Brits attending regular yoga lessons (Newcombe) and enjoying all its health benefits – but that still leaves millions of us who haven’t given it a go, because we think that we’re too stiff and creaky or that sitting cross-legged on the ground is only for primary school pupils. 

Yes, yoga terminology can be confusing, and pictures of social media influencers in impossible poses can be off putting, but that’s not the real picture at all.  

Group of women on yoga mats outside taking part in a yoga classCredit: Shutterstock / Sabrina Bracher
Yoga can be just as effective in a class or at home

We promise: yoga really is for everyone. No matter what your age, size, fitness or experience, it’s never too late to start yoga. 

We’ve spoken to multiple experts and our Experienced Voices panel to give you everything you need to know about yoga. No matter what your experience, you can transform your life from the comfort of your own home. 

And you can start right now… well, after you’ve read this article, of course. 


What is yoga?

Yoga means ‘join together’

Yoga originated in India more than 5,000 years ago and still uses Sanskrit, one of the oldest languages in the world, for its terminology.  

Yoga means to ‘join together’, and focuses on the joining together of mind, body and spirit through postures, breathing and meditation. 

Monks started to spread their knowledge of yoga in the West during the late 1890s, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that modern teaching started to become popular.  

Fast forward to now and it’s a global phenomenon – so you can partake, safe in the knowledge it’s far from a passing fad... 

Instructor performing yoga with group sat cross legged on yoga matsCredit: Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia
Yoga classes can differ greatly depending on the style being taught

Types of yoga

Find the right type of yoga for you

If you start looking up yoga classes, there are a bewildering array of exotic names for different sessions:  Ashtanga Yoga (the fastest and hardest form of yoga), Bikram Yoga (takes place in a room heated to 41 degrees), Nidra Yoga (a type of yogic sleep) and many others. 

There’s such a dizzying choice and a lot isn’t appealing to a beginner… so which type of yoga is best suited to you? 

With yoga for beginners, we suggest you look out for these styles: 

  • Hatha Yoga – This is an umbrella term to describe many of the most common forms of yoga. It utilizes slow movement with an emphasis on your breath. You move slowly and deliberately into different poses that should gently challenge your strength and flexibility but all the while focussing on relaxation and mindfulness.
  • Restorative Yoga – Calm and relaxed, you’ll hold passive stretches supported by props. It doesn’t put too much pressure on muscles and can help release tension. It’s a great bedtime yoga as it doesn’t fire up the cardiovascular system too heavily.
  • Yin Yoga – Another simple practice to begin with. You hold poses, often supported, for a minimum of three minutes to help the body relax and open.
  • Vinyasa Yoga – This is a step up from the first two. It’s more dynamic and you’ll hold each pose for a few breaths before moving onto the next. It’s great for strengthening and building fitness.
Group of people in a yoga with their hands in prayer position and eyes closedCredit: Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia
Many people find yoga incredibly relaxing

Benefits of yoga

Numerous health improvements 

A 2020 study by the University of Westminster of almost 2,500 people practising yoga found numerous reported health improvements.  

The study showed that more than 80 per cent of those taking part found yoga had improved their physical health, mental health, stress levels, strength and flexibility.  

More than half in the study said yoga improved their sleep, too – so it’s clearly an all-round benefit for anything you might be struggling with. 

Yoga can even spice up your sex life. A study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that yoga improves the sex life of women. In the programme, 40 women over 45 were enrolled in a 12-week yoga programme and they all reported improved desire, arousal and even orgasms by the end of the study thanks to the regular yoga practice. 

It works for men too. An Indian study showed yoga improves sexuality and can help ease sexual dysfunction problems. 

But before you get over-excited and dive straight into a wide-legged forward fold, you’ll need to know a couple of things before you get started. 

woman practicing advanced yoga Chair Pose or Utkatasana at homeCredit: Shutterstock / RealPeopleStudio
Yoga moves can be easily adapted to suit your body and ability

Is yoga for me?

Yoga moves can be adapted to suit you

Is yoga really for everyone? How could you possibly stretch and twist into postures, if like us, you groan when you try to get up out of a chair? 

Chris Taylor, from Nottingham, has been teaching yoga for 25 years, including working with Premier League football clubs and the Rugby Football Union.  

His mantra is: yoga should serve the student, meaning you’re able to take from it what you need, not have to match up to some unwritten standard.  

So whatever your age, shape or ability, yoga moves can be adapted to suit you.  

Taylor says: “People see some of these impossible poses online or on television and think that is what yoga is all about. 

“It might be for a very fit twentysomething, but not for someone later in life. As we age, our bodies naturally change, and we have to adapt to what serves us best. 

“The majority of my students are now over the age of 50 and they say they are moving better now than they have ever done because of yoga. 

“We can all breathe – which means we can all do yoga. Chair yoga is an option for some but most of us can get down onto the floor and take some breaths.  

“That is the most important pose of all for me and the beginnings of a yoga practice. If you can do that, then you can do yoga.” 

Head shot of yoga teacher Suzi GriffinCredit: Suzi Griffin

Suzi Griffin (pictured above), a yoga teacher and yoga therapist from Bristol, agrees: “Many of us feel that we should be taking it easy as we grow older, but that is actually what we shouldn’t do. Being inactive will cause more physical problems. 

“People obsess about flexibility but for me yoga improves our mobility – whether it’s being able to reach for something on a high shelf or improving our balance. As we get older these are benefits that can make a big difference to our quality of life.” 

Both Taylor and Griffin advise that if you have any injuries or health issues, speak to your doctor before starting any classes just to get the go-ahead. 

Get started

From in-person to online classes

The great thing about yoga is that you can get going today, whether you join a class local to your home, take part in a virtual class or follow a yoga video. 

Finding an instructor and class you love makes a big difference, so how do you find one that suits you? 

Men taking part in a yoga outsideCredit: Shutterstock / Dmytro Zinkevych
Some people prefer to practice yoga alongside others

Find an in-person yoga class

There are yoga classes all over the UK and, besides benefitting from the practice itself, it’s great to get out of the house and meet new people. 

To find a class, Taylor recommends asking friends and neighbours. 

He said: “The best recommendations are ones from people you know, but you can also search on the local pages of social media for recommended instructors.” 

Have a scroll through your phone book or social media to see if you’ve got any friends able to make a recommendation – but failing that, another option is the The British Wheel of Yoga which has a searchable database of its qualified instructors. 

But how do you ensure the class won’t be too advanced for you? 

Taylor adds: “Get in touch with the instructor and tell them about yourself. Your age, fitness and what you’d like to get out of the class. The instructor will want you to be happy, so they will recommend what option works best for you.” 

Griffin says to those nervous about starting: “You may want to start with a one-to-one session, just to get more confidence. Remember: yoga should be fun.  

“All postures can be modified to suit different abilities so don’t be afraid to speak up if something is difficult. Yoga should be a journey of self-care and self-acceptance.” 

Woman sat on the floor at home using a laptop to begin an online yoga classCredit: Shutterstock / shurkin_son
There’s an abundance of online classes available

Online yoga classes

Lots of people now practice yoga using online or virtual classes. The
most famous is Yoga with Adriene, which has more than 11
million subscribers worldwide, and one many members of our team use regularly.

But there are hundreds of different online classes and instructors to
choose from if Adriene’s style and demeanour isn’t right for you. InstructorLive  is one of the top on demand fitness platforms in the UK, and provides free videos for the NHS YouTube channel.

InstructorLive yoga instructor Jade Gooding (pictured below) told us: “Online classes can be a great way to start for a beginner, as you don’t feel as self-conscious as you might in a large group class. Practicing in the comfort of your own home can also allow you to feel safe, with no judgment from others.

“Beginners do raise concerns that they may get the postures wrong if
they don’t go to an in-person class, but in an online class I use verbal cues to explain in a lot of detail about what you should be doing, the alignment, placement and how each posture should feel.

Head shot of yoga and pilates instructor Jade GoodingCredit: Jade Gooding

“Yoga should be about how the movements make you feel physically and emotionally, not about how you look.  Everyone is unique and nobody will look the same during a practice. We must never compare ourselves to others because we are all different.” 
Gooding recommends trying different styles of yoga and instructors until you find one that really resonates with you. Her message is to be patient and don’t expect to be perfect straight away.  
She says: “If you can only do three out of five postures in the class, then be proud of those three. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do something and if you wobble in any of the balancing postures, then that is completely normal. 
“But while you don’t want a class to be too difficult, you do want to be pushed out of your comfort zone a little, because that’s how youll improve.”  


Think comfort and mobility

There’s no need to rush out and buy an expensive yoga outfit before you give it a go.  

All you need are some clothes that you feel comfortable in, which allow you to move freely. Avoid clothes with zips or fastenings which could dig into your front or back. 

Also try to avoid a really loose top or t-shirt as it could slip down over your head during a forward-leaning move like downward dog. Trust us.  

If your top is baggy, make sure you can tuck it into your waistband.  

Leggings are ideal for women and men often opt for tracksuit bottoms. 

The majority of people practise yoga barefoot to allow them to grip with their feet, but if that’s an issue for you, you can buy non-slip yoga socks.  

Accessories or props for yoga, pilates or fitness. Exercise lilac mat, two cork blocks and grey strap on wooden backgroundCredit: Shutterstock / vasanty
Yoga equipment can help to support your body


What equipment do I need?

If you want to try yoga at an in-person class, you can normally borrow a yoga mat from the teacher (it’s a good idea to check first) or if you fancy following an online class or YouTube video, you can get away with putting a towel on the floor for the first time. 

But if you want to continue, a grippy, cushioned yoga mat is the one piece of equipment you need to buy. 

To start with you could get an inexpensive mat from your local supermarket, but if you start doing yoga regularly it’s really worth taking time to choose the right yoga mat for you. 

Your instructor may suggest using additional props during a class, such as a strap to help you stretch or blocks which are useful to prop your hands on when you can’t reach the ground during a forward fold. 

Again, in a class you can likely borrow these. If you practice at home, get through a few sessions before deciding to invest.  

You could use a dressing gown belt or scarf as a strap, a book instead of a block and a pillow or blanket from your bed or sofa in the meantime – and when you do upgrade to something ‘proper’, you’ll really feel the benefit. 

Top view portrait of woman lying on floor with eyes closed while enjoying relaxation exerciseCredit: shutterstock / SeventyFour
Shavasana pose (pictured here) is an important and relaxing yoga exercise

Try a move right now

You know how to get started, so why wait? 

So, now you know how to get started in yoga, why wait?  

Taylor suggests this simple exercise if you’ve never tried yoga before and you can try it right now… although we’d suggest finding somewhere private if you’re reading this on a mobile device: 

“Get a towel or just lie on the carpet or a rug. Put a pillow under your head if that is more comfortable. Then just observe your breath, and as you exhale, feel the releasing of your body towards the ground. Are you tense anywhere, gripping in your neck, shoulders, arms or legs? Allow yourself to relax as you exhale and let yourself go.  

“Once you are comfortable doing that, try lifting one arm up and then gently lowering it back down again and then do the same with the other arm. Repeat it a few times.  

“Then draw your knees in to the chest, and let your legs slowly extend towards the ceiling, allowing the breath to be relaxed and undisturbed. Repeat a few times.  

“That’s it… You’re now doing yoga!”  

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her


Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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