Yoga Basics for Beginners (and Experienced Yogis Too)

yoga basics

So, you love yoga! Maybe you just took your first class and fell in love with the practice right away. Maybe you’ve been practicing for years or returned to yoga after some time. No matter how long you’ve practiced, thinking about yoga basics from time to time is a good idea.

As you grow and become more experienced, yoga basics will take on new meanings for you. You’ll understand yoga a bit better each time you consider all that it encompasses. (Hint: it’s not just about the physical exercise, though that is important and awesome!)

Yoga Basics: What is Yoga?

How often have you asked yourself this question? How many different answers have you heard if you’ve asked someone else? In short, yoga is union. But there’s more.

Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual system for living in harmony with the universe. The idea is to build a strong body and mind, and connect with something greater than you. The first lesson when considering yoga basics is learning that there are eight limbs in classical yoga. One of these eight is the physical postures you do on your mat.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

A complete yoga practice involves the following eight aspects:

  1. The Yamas – moral principles
  2. The Niyamas – personal conduct
  3. Asana – the physical exercises
  4. Pranayama – breathing exercises
  5. Pratyahara – control of the senses
  6. Dharana – one-pointed focus or meditation
  7. Dhyana – devotion
  8. Samadhai – union with a higher power

When you first study yoga basics, you will see this list often, though perhaps not in your weekly classes. Occasionally, yoga teachers mention that yoga has eight limbs. They may give a short talk on one of the yamas or niyamas. They may decide to emphasize breathing practices or meditation. But it’s difficult to cover all of yoga’s limbs unless you go well beyond the basics.

For example, some yoga studios offer book groups or in-depth workshops that give students opportunities to study yogic philosophy in more depth. You might attend a pranayama (breathing) workshop or study the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, for example. You may study different forms of meditation, chanting, and mantras—all tools for deepening your yoga practice.

What You Should Know about Yoga Basics and Beyond

The purpose of yoga is to connect the practitioner to his or her higher self. The word “yoga” means yoke. It’s a great practice for accomplishing any of the following:

  • Physical fitness
  • Building strength and flexibility
  • Getting grounded emotionally
  • Facing and overcoming fear
  • Learning to be more grateful
  • Freeing yourself of anxiety, pain, or depression
  • Learning to be in the present moment
  • Finding inner peace
  • Becoming enlightened

Is yoga a religion?

The short answer (I believe) is no. Yoga is not a religion. It does, however, have roots in the ancient Hindu culture of India. Many of the original yogis were Hindus, and sometimes the sacred texts of Hinduism are studied within the context of yoga. However, anyone of any religion can be a yogi. And that’s the beauty of this practice, whether you’re just beginning to dabble in yoga basics or have practiced for decades and want to go even deeper into all of yoga’s limbs.

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Maria Kuzmiak

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