Intimidated by yoga? 3 easy ways to get started

Don't want to bend in the shape of a pretzel? Think you aren't flexible? Do you fear the downward dog? Don't worry — yoga is about more than contorting your body into strange shapes. And that means anyone can try it.

By Jamie L. Friend

When I meet new yoga students, they often say something like this:

"Are you going to make me to bend into that pretzel shape? Because that is not happening in this body!"

"I have zero flexibility, so I can't do that dog pose or whatever you call it."

Thinking that you need to be flexible is a common misconception about yoga. The truth is, yoga is an ancient practice that encompasses many different elements beyond the poses you may be familiar with. Most yoga practices also focus on your breath, mindset and overall well-being. That makes yoga a practice that can truly benefit anybody — no matter how old you are, what shape you're in or what physical challenges you have.

Start with the breath

The foundation of yoga is deep, steady breathing. The reason: Your breath connects your mind and body. Here's an example of how it works: Let's say you're sitting in a work meeting, and it's not going well. Maybe deadlines aren't being met or you don't have enough resources. You feel your neck and shoulders tensing up, and that tension may move into your jaw or trigger a headache. This is the perfect moment to practice yoga — just by breathing.

Take a few moments while you're sitting in your meeting to observe your breath. Maybe you're breathing rapidly or holding your breath. Try to gently lengthen the breath on each inhale and exhale. It may help to count silently to four when you inhale and count down from four when you exhale.

Gradually lengthen your breaths to a count of five on the inhale and exhale. This will tell your body, "Hey, everything's OK here — you can relax." Your heart rate will slow, and your neck, shoulders and jaw will start to relax.

Go back to basics

When you see photos and videos of yoga, you're probably seeing the most complicated poses performed by experienced yoga teachers. But the beauty of yoga is in the basics. Establish a strong base of movements that you can do with steadiness and ease. Some basic poses to start with include child's pose, cat and cow pose, mountain pose, warrior two pose, bridge pose and tree pose.

As you try the yoga poses, remember to incorporate your breath practice. It should be easy for you to breathe while you do the poses. If you can breathe well, you know you're in the best position for you. As you challenge yourself, see what benefits you notice — physical, mental or emotional.

Dec. 01, 2016 See more In-depth