A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga

  • March 22, 2021

By Melissa Jones
JRN 217: Journalistic Reporting and Writing

During Corinne Frattini’s tough second pregnancy in 2016, her body constantly ached. A friend suggested trying out yoga, and Frattini quickly fell in love with its benefits. She  is now a certified yoga instructor at the Buddha Barn in Massapequa, New York. 

Derived from the sanskrit word “yuji,” meaning yoke or union, yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices originating in India. Today’s common practice of yoga has evolved into a pose-based physical fitness activity and stress reliever. Yoga is inclusive to all fitness levels, and science supports many health benefits of yoga.

At first, starting yoga and joining the yogi community was a bit intimidating. “I didn’t want to seem like some sort of poser, pun intended,” Frattini said. “I knew nothing about yoga.” But with a baby on the way and back pain, she knew she needed to try it out. 

The first thing she did was watch some YouTube videos on beginner poses, set up a mat in her living room, shut the blinds and get started. 

“At first I felt dumb,” she recalled. “I didn’t know if I was doing them right. Even after a week of doing beginner poses, I was flexible afterwards, and just felt good.”

Farzhana Ahsan, 68, a family physician from Shirley, New York, recommends yoga to people of all ages. She began yoga when she was in college and stressed about big exams. “Yoga builds strength, activates muscle groups you maybe normally wouldn’t, and is a stress reliever,” Ahsan said. Almost all poses in yoga can be modified to an easier level so “whether you’re a couch potato or a professional athlete, you can do it.”

Though yoga is a low-impact and low-intensity fitness activity, many high-intensity athletes practice yoga for the benefits, including the Stony Brook University football team. Lineman Keith Winfrey, 20, said the team does yoga approximately four times a month. 

“It feels good when I’m sore from a tough workout or game the day before and need something to slow to just stretch my muscles out,” he said. “I think the deep breathing techniques [involved in yoga] help calm me down from stress.” 

You can practice yoga anywhere, as long as you have a mat and comfortable clothes. Some beginner poses to try are the cat and cow poses, which “kind of go hand-in-hand,” according to Frattini. 

To do the cat pose, position yourself on your hands and knees in a “tabletop” position, look down at the floor and round your spine towards the ceiling as you exhale. Hold the pose for around a minute, or however long you can. 

To perform the cow pose, start in the tabletop position again. Your head should be in a neutral position looking forward. Arch your back down as you inhale, letting your belly sink towards the floor. 

“The cat and cow poses are really good for warming up your spine and getting you used to holding a position you normally wouldn’t in your day-to-day life,” Frattini said.

The next pose Frattini recommended is called the mountain pose. At first glance this pose seems so simple. It looks like you are standing straight, not doing yoga at all. However, this pose practices perfect posture, standing up straight and tall, feet together, toes spread apart. Your arms should hang down, slightly engaged, with your palms facing forward and your fingers spread apart. Frattini says the most important yet often overlooked thing about this pose is that you should lift your kneecaps, because that way, your thigh muscles are engaged. 

“The mountain pose is the basic building block for all standing poses,” Ahsan said. “It’s from this posture position that you build upwards.” 

Another beginner-friendly pose is the bridge pose. For this pose, start by lying on your back, bending your knees and bringing your heels as close to your butt as possible. Exhale, and using your inner feet and your arms against  the floor, press down on the mat and lift your pelvis up toward the ceiling. After holding the pose, slowly roll the spine back down onto the floor. 

In yoga, the poses are fluid from one to the next, and you should try to move smoothly, without sudden, fast muscle movements. “I like how yoga doesn’t value being explosive,” Winfrey, the football player, said. “It’s really different than our normal practices.” 

College students Ashley Forestal, 19, and Courtney Connele, 20, used to attend yoga classes on the beach when the weather was warmer. Connele started yoga to increase her flexibility and help improve her performance on her college lacrosse team. 

“Yoga helped me stay in shape during the off season,” she said. “Plus, it was encouraging to see how I got a little better each class, and more comfortable doing the poses that were hard for me at first.” 

Forestal joined the yoga classes as a way to get in shape during the pandemic. “All the gyms were closed, I couldn’t join a sports team, and I felt like I needed in-person instruction and encouragement to get in shape,” she said. “I’m not the type of person to be able to give something my 100% if no one is watching. The classes on the beach were safe and socially distanced… [And] the beach was a calming atmosphere.”

 Although the weather got cooler and the beach classes they were attending won’t begin again until spring, both students say they still do yoga almost every day, and neither one plans on stopping any time soon. 

The many physical and mental benefits of yoga, paired with its inclusiveness and low intensity, makes yoga the perfect fitness activity to take up if you’re just getting started in a fitness journey or don’t have much workout equipment at home during the pandemic. “It just makes me feel good after,”  Winfrey said.