First introduced to the western world around the 1940s from its native India, yoga is now loved by millions of people the world over. People use it for relaxation, fitness, emotional or physical pain or spiritual practice. Although not a religion, yoga does have its roots in the Hindu tradition. So some religions often say it should not be practiced. But it’s interesting that in England (as a more tolerant lot) we (unlike US preachers) often have priests and vicars who hire out halls to yoga teachers, to help pay for the church roof! ‘Banning yoga’ as some evangelists do on the grounds that it comes from Indian Hindu traditions, is like banning cups of tea!
So what is yoga? In fact, the physical poses (asanas) are only just one of 8 ways of living. The other seven are not pretty bad either – things like avoiding violence, greed and lying, and ‘ahimsa’ (not harming living beings’). All you need to practice yoga is a floor with a rug or mat, bare feet (take off jewellery), a few hours of waiting after a large meal and yourself!
Some poses are not safe for everyone, so train with a qualified teacher if you are pregnant or have heart or any other medical conditions (inverted poses, looking up at your hand and certain floor poses may need avoiding). Avoid inversions during menstruation.
A good yoga teacher should have trained at least a couple of years, and know how to adapt poses for pregnancy, medical conditions etc. The British Wheel of Yoga is a good place to find qualified teachers. They may not release DVDs or be celebrities, but what you get is safe and effective. Many of these teachers offer affordable classes in local church and community halls, over swanky over-priced gyms or yoga studios.
Do You Need a Yoga Mat?
In theory, no. Indians often practice yoga on the bare floor, but a nice rug or blanket is good. Yoga mats are good in that they offer support and grip, and some styles of yoga prefer you to use blocks and bolsters, which help you to get into ‘restorative yoga’ poses that are especially good for anxiety.
Complete Unity Yoga makes gorgeous mats made from jute (a biodegradable material that gives jobs to women in India and Bangladesh, often used for eco carpets and bags). These are more expensive than PVC mats (that actually are also quite expensive). But these are the best, with no peeling or flaking, and will inspire you to practice daily. One reviewer had tried mats over 11 years, and says these are the best yet!
The company also makes jute and cotton yoga props like bolsters (good to avoid strain on your back, especially for pregnancy yoga), blocks (good for poses when you can’t reach the floor) and straps (these give extra length, if your arms don’t yet reach your toes!) The company offers a lovely beginner yoga set (eco mat, carry bag, 2 cork block and a cotton strap).
Cork yoga mats are expensive, but they give better grip the more you sweat (no trees are chopped down to make cork, the industry actually helps to preserve trees in the Mediterranean in a world of plastic wine corks, which in turns supports native wildlife). A portion of profits from this company is given to help women escape human trafficking in India.
Do You Need Special Yoga Clothing?
No. The problem with the modern brands of yoga clothing (along with swimwear) made with recycled plastic bottles, is that it breaks microplastics off into the washing machine, when laundered. Just wear your favourite organic casual clothing. If you do use recycled plastic yogawear, then use a microplastic catch bag when laundering.
The Best Yoga Books for Beginners
if you visit WH Smith or any mainstream bookstore, you’ll be very uninspired. They tend to offer the celebrity books or ones doled out by the main publishers. Try these for size instead!
Yoga Where You Are welcomes readers of all backgrounds, body sizes and abilities. Build a custom yoga practice to support you where you are now, and at every stage of life’s journey. Introducing elements like breathwork and meditation, find tips on alignment for real bodies and photos of a range of yoga practitioners, to deepen your practice with clarity and confidence.
Chair Yoga is a nice guide for accessible yoga sequences, to help people be comfortable and fit, if you have physical restrictions due to age, a health condition, limited space etc. Find a quick primer on the benefits of chair yoga, and learn how to create your own practice. There are 4 complete sequences to warm up your body, move while seated, incorporate more dynamic movement, and unwind or relax.
You can then find 10 and 20 minute programs, with variations for each pose, so you can tailor your practice to your needs and schedule. This progressive approach builds up strength and flexibility safely and comfortably, with exercises that slowly increase in difficulty.
Restorative Yoga for Beginners is a lovely book for people who have severe anxiety. These poses that use props allow you to ‘sink into’ poses and allows you to truly relax. The poses are also held for much longer, minutes usually for each one (yin yoga). Learn how to get in and out of each pose safely and comfortably, and find simple suggestions for 36 poses to turn into one of 20 healing sequences.
Yoga Books for Children
Dinosaur Yoga is by children’s yoga teacher Mariam Gates, combining yoga poses and a fun educational romp through prehistory. Children are encouraged to follow along as triceratops, pterodactyls and tyrannosaurs set aside their differences, and engage in a lively yoga session. The book features a parents’ guide to the depicted postures and a glossary of dinosaurs. With Dinosaur Yoga, children can stomp, stretch and snort their way to skills, to serve them for a lifetime.
Ten Little Yoga Frogs will have children trying all the different poses, alongside their new frog friends. A bright colourful story introduces children to ten basic poses, and doubles as the perfect first counting book. Can you count the different frogs, and try out all the poses?
This Moment Is Your Life is a fun and engaging guide to yoga, meditation and mindfulness, it’s packed with simple exercises and endearing art with chapters for you to pick and choose what to try. Five-day challenges map out ways to pull techniques together.
Nurturing Your Family with Yoga shows how yoga can be a real part of everyday family life, and bring harmony and happiness to the home. Illustrated with beautiful inspiring photographs of children and adults practicing yoga together, the book includes clear concise explanations and a guide to 26 classic postures. Also includes visualisations to reduce anxiety, and a Yoga in Bed sequence, to help children settle and sleep.
Om the Yoga Dog (and his friends Prana the frog and Moksha the elephant) guide young readers through simple yoga poses and calming breathing exercises. Each technique comes with simple illustrations to help children big and small to become focused, strong and have unlimited fun.