If you’ve always wanted to get started with yoga but just need a little helping hand, fear not!
Our expert, Ali Henderson, first published this advice in our Feel-good Special. For International Yoga Day, we’re reproducing it here.
Following a period of many COVID-19 restrictions, we are now realising more and more that time spent outdoors is such a delightful privilege.
It’s a fact that our bodies need sunshine — vitamin D is essential to our wellbeing and is actually produced when we are exposed to UV light.
Physical activity is vital to keep us healthy and happy, too. Our bodies create the feel-good hormone serotonin when we exercise.
Perhaps isolation has left you nervous of joining group activities and you fear, as a bit of a stiffy, you don’t know where to start.
Stop there! You can begin a gentle routine that helps to strengthen the body and lift the spirits, venturing no further than your own back garden.
If you don’t have your own space, find a secluded nook in your local park or just sit in a sunny spot by your window.
There are lots of preconceptions about yoga – that you have to be bendy to do it, get into scary positions you could get stuck in or that it’s only for the rigidly disciplined.
If you can breathe, you can do yoga
They are all nonsense; if you can breathe, you can do yoga.
Some of the simplest poses are the most effective, and as well as improving your physical fitness, the practice has a sneaky way of short-circuiting the physical responses of stress and anxiety.
Yoga brings calmness and serenity and doing it outdoors adds the wonder of nature. What a magic formula!
How do you learn? I’ve put together a simple series of poses for you to try. These can be done at any time, but
I always feel that yoga is a fabulous way to start your day.
What could be nicer than embracing a beautiful morning with your new yoga routine?
This mini-sequence should take about 10 to 15 minutes.
I love to practise in the same spot every day, often starting in my summerhouse with the doors open so I can hear the birds sing and feel the sun on my face.
Yoga is actually like giving yourself a relaxing massage from the inside out – so enjoy!
What you need to get started with yoga
Use a yoga mat and make sure you have a bottle of water to sip as you practise.
A yoga mat is a tool to stop you slipping so doesn’t need to cost a fortune; you can buy a good one for less than £10 in Home Bargains or TK Maxx.
Breathing is our most useful tool in feeling calm and happy, yet often we breathe in the shallow, unhelpful mode of the seriously stressed.
Set an intention to breathe gently and deeply when you hold the poses and always breathe through your nose to preserve your prana, or life force.
Yoga should be done barefoot. We have meridian points in the feet which are stimulated by the poses.
We also have the least risk of injury practising barefoot, so cast off your socks!
Sit cross-legged and gently close your eyes. If crossed legs are not for you, you can spread them out or stretch them in front of you.
Rest your hands on your knees and take your attention away from the external and on to you.
Be aware of any tension in the body. Don’t try to fight it – merely observe any areas where you might be holding stress. Common places are the shoulders and neck.
Now observe your breath. Don’t try to slow it down, just be aware of your chest gently rising and falling.
Pose of a child
Stretch forward on to the knees and widen them.
Bring the head down towards the ground and just come as far forward as feels comfortable; if it doesn’t suit to bring the head all the way down, it’s fine to come part of the way.
The act of bringing the space between the eyes – what yogis call “the third eye” – towards the ground signifies to the brain that it’s time to relax.
Cat to cow
Kneel with knees apart under the hip bones, arms under the shoulders. Pop a cushion under the knees to make yourself more comfortable if necessary.
Exhale as you hump over like an angry cat.
Now inhale as you open the heart and chest, looking forward and up. Be slow and smooth, avoiding speed.
This is a super exercise for a niggly back.
Standing forward fold
Stand with feet apart under the hip bones, no wider. Exhale as you lower towards the toes.
Full pose is to grab the ankles, but never force anything. Just stretch as far as feels good.
Hold the pose and breathe – breathing makes you bendy as it heats up the core.
If you have high blood pressure, or any condition that means you are dizzy when you lower and lift, just take the hands to the knees and practise by a tree or fence to stabilise yourself if necessary.
Warrior poses are really powerful in that they make you feel strong in mind and body. Right foot faces the front, with right knee bent, left foot slightly to the side, left leg straight.
Align the arms and take the gaze to the middle finger of the right hand. Visualise the breath going to tips of fingers and tips of toes, cleansing the body.
In Warrior 2 the front arm faces the future, whilst the back arm points to the past, aiding and supporting the body to be in the present moment, which is the best place to live and be at peace.
Ali has also recorded a video on how to get started with yoga for us, which you can view here.