I’m Kaitlyn, a writer, editor, traveller, and serial exercise dabbler. Over the past three months, I’ve gone from complete yoga novice to nurturing a daily practice. In this seven-part series, I review the best resources, tips, apps, and gear to help even the most stressed-out and stiff-backed desk workers start a healthy, holistic, and life-changing yoga practice.
Here’s what I’ve written about so far:
- How to start and sustain a healthy and holistic practice, in which I try yoga for 15 minutes a day, focusing on creating a habit-forming feedback loop.
- How to choose your first yoga studio, instructor, and class, when online videos just don’t cut it.
Today, I’ll share the resources I found as I started my first foray into yoga. Some were more helpful than others, but all of them were free.
Too busy to read the whole article? [2300 words, an 11-minute read] Here are the takeaways:
- There is so much free yoga online.
- DoYouYoga offers a great 30-day intro to yoga, but I found that the flows were too short for me to get the benefits of meditation.
- Do Yoga with Me was my favorite resource. It offers a wide range of video lengths and styles and a beginner’s plan.
- Yoga Journal has shorter videos, but 360 degree video explorations of different poses are incredibly useful.
- There’s always YouTube, but searching “Beginner’s Yoga” gets overwhelming. I recommend a few videos and share my search technique.
- If you like to do your research before jumping into things, look up Sun Salutations12 and Vinyasa (breath control). I found these concepts extremely helpful as I sustained my practice.
After two weeks using the 30-Day Yoga Challenge to create my habit, I started checking out other free online yoga. The biggest problem I had with the 30-Day Yoga Challenge was the fact that the short routines didn’t give me enough time to meditate and reflect. I also wanted to build my understanding of yoga, my confidence to keep going, and my physical ability to do the poses.
So I was looking for:
- Videos about an hour long. Since many studio classes are about an hour long, this seemed like a good place to start.
- Good routines for relaxation.
- Good routines for an athletic challenge.
- A breakdown of basics to improve my foundation.
I checked out a handful of resources recommended to me by friends who had experience with learning or teaching yoga. These were my favorite resources.
But search YouTube for beginner’s yoga and you’ll find 370,000 results. It’s boggling.
I did find a few good beginner videos:
- Beginning Yoga for Dummies is a combination of a gentle routine and a documentary on yoga.
- How to do Yoga with Dr. Melissa West: Namaste Yoga Episode 101 is personable, and while I wouldn’t consider it a workout, a lot of her explanations are the best I’ve heard. If you like this instructor, her channel has 326 videos.
With that being said, I wouldn’t recommend randomly searching YouTube as a beginner. Instead, try one of the other beginner’s program I write about below, then come back to YouTube when you know what you want.
Example good yoga videos on YouTube:
- a 30-minute weight loss routine.
- a 60-minute power yoga weight loss flow.
- a 30-minute flow for sore athletes.
- a 17-minute flow to boost energy levels.
- or a quick beginner’s restorative practice.
That’s just a tiny sampling of the videos out there. Obviously, some are better than others—choosing the right video is a combination of being familiar with a particular instructor and knowing the exact type of flow you want.
I spent about a week with the videos from DoYogawithMe. The site displays each video’s length, average rating, and a few lines of summary before you click through, so it’s easy to quickly find what you want. Reviews from other beginners are under each video, which is helpful with videos like Beginner Basics in Flow which some viewers found very challenging. They also offer donation-based curated routines.
- Burnout to Bliss is a nicely paced, hour long beginner’s routine. Great transition from the 30 Day Yoga challenge.
- Seated Whole Body Hatha Yoga Flow is a series of gentle stretches that can become quite powerful and leave long-lasting warmth and looseness in your body. The instructor here goes really deep—you probably won’t be able to, so don’t feel pressure.
I spent the next week with Yoga Journal’s video resources. These were harder to choose from, since you have to click through to see video length and there are no reviews. Their routines are generally more technical, more likely to use Sanskrit terms, and more athletically challenging than those on DoYogaWithMe. Plus, most of Yoga Journal’s routines were shorter than an hour, which is less time than I needed to get into a meditative, head-clearing state.
With that being said, I did find a few of their videos useful:
- The Morning and Evening sequences are short, gentle, and meant to be done twice a day (one in the morning and one in the evening—duh?).
- Strengthen your Core was the opposite: this athletic, dynamic routine with some arm balance will tire you out. I think it’s best suited for someone who is already in good shape but is looking to try some yoga. For this flow you really need two blocks to put your hands on so you can jump your body through your arms. Blocks can stabilize you in poses where one hand is on the ground, or improve your alignment. Until I got a great set of heavy cork blocks (more about that in a future article), I used a big, heavy book instead.
While it was tough to find the routine I wanted on Yoga Journal, I came back to the site for their invaluable 360-degree video explanations of different poses. I returned to these over and over while learning the basics of a Sun Salutation, the basis for many modern yoga routines.
Learning basic postures (asanas) will quickly make you more comfortable. You’ll pick them up as you go, but if you prefer to study ahead of time, you can use Yoga Journal to learn these poses:
- Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
- Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)
- Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
- Plank Pose
- Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)
- Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose)
- Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Other sites I looked at
Some yoga teachers host videos on their websites, such as Yoga with Adriene. If you find a teacher you like on another a video site, try Googling their name and seeing if they have a personal site with free videos.
My Free Yoga and Free Yoga Videos both host hundreds of free videos. But they weren’t as easy to navigate as DoYogaWithMe and their videos didn’t feel as curated. These sites have more videos because users can upload their own, of varying quality. I liked sites with more oversight, even if it meant fewer videos to choose from.
Some other websites offer free yoga classes, but these are part of a free trial or restricted to a small portion of all their videos. I’ll talk more about the limited free trials for paid sites in a later article (link will be updated here when it’s posted).
The Limits of Free: Injury and Asking for Help
While doing all of this yoga, my body felt great—until it didn’t. One major downside to practicing from videos vs. learning from a teacher is that it’s easier for a beginner to injure themselves. I was really into my new practice, but I pushed it too hard and had to learn to practice more safely.
I’m naturally flexible, so I tend to like stretchy routines. I realized, though, that I had hurt myself because I was doing too much stretching and not enough strengthening.
I started feeling weird popping noises around my left knee and aching at the base of my neck. With any new exercise, it’s normal to feel some new aches and pains while your muscles adjust.3 When you release tight muscles as you start doing yoga, it impacts your overall posture and muscles in unexpected places across your body, which might make you sore. Since I’m a desk worker, I wasn’t surprised that waking up neglected neck muscles was uncomfortable—they always get sore when I exercise my upper body, and the sensation was familiar.
But, according to instructor Laurence Gilliot,4 any sharp pain means you should slow down and come out of the pose that caused the pain.
My knee stayed sore when I was resting, with sharp pains around my kneecap and the back of the joint. When I couldn’t sleep one night because my knee hurt, I knew something was really wrong. I worried I was feeling a symptom of misalignment—when doing a pose incorrectly and repeatedly harms your body.
Then I asked Laurence about what I was feeling and went to a couple of beginner’s classes. We’ll talk more about classroom lessons next time, but I found that in-person classes were the quickest way to check my alignment and make sure I practiced correctly from the beginning.5
In class, teachers are there to help you. If you are experiencing pain, ask for an adjustment. One caveat: beware that aggressive adjustments from a teacher can sometimes worsen injuries,6 so it’s important to listen to your body and take responsibility for your own safety—more on this next time.
Sustaining the Practice and Next Steps
I’ve often heard that it takes 21 days to cement a new habit (even though some evidence suggests otherwise7). Regardless, at three weeks into my (nearly) daily yoga practice, I felt great. I had more energy and less stress. I was even waking up early to do yoga each morning, and I hate waking up early. I had either stuck the habit or just caught beginner’s enthusiasm—either way, I was happy.
This was also when I began to see—not just feel—changes in my body. It wasn’t dramatic, but I noticed more definition in my arms, shoulders, and legs, which was surprising because I was intentionally leaving the rest of my lifestyle unchanged. While bodyweight exercises and weightlifting have given me much more dramatic results more quickly, the benefit of yoga was that I wasn’t forcing myself through difficult routines and I always finished up feeling energized and relaxed instead of sore.
By the sixth week my practice felt, well, stable. I wasn’t as excited by the novelty of yoga, but it was something I did steadily. I spent more time thinking about what kind of practice I wanted when selecting videos, and I had picked several favorite video I kept going back to. I wasn’t necessarily doing an hour every day, but I usually managed more than 45 minutes five times a week.
And I finally found the peace of mind I was looking for.
I learned to keep my movement attuned to my breath. This is called Vinyasa.8 It was tricky for me, but it’s become one of the most important physical aspects of my yoga practice.
Mindful Vinyasa is a major part of how yoga helps your mind, and provides helps to relieve stress.9 In my opinion, Vinyasa and breathing exercises like Pranayama10 are part of what makes yoga a more holistic practice than just stretching or resistance training alone.
Your Next Action: Try a Few Videos
- I still think DoYouYoga’s 30-day plan is a good way to get started. Try a few of their videos.
- Next, head over to DoYogaWithMe and try their Burnout to Bliss or the Morning and Evening sequences.
- Keep exploring or, if you like structure, sign up for DoYogaWithMe’s beginner program.
- If you’re not following a curated plan, be sure to vary your routine. We tend to like to do what we are already good at. If you try different routines and styles you’ll find some surprises, and developing strength, flexibility, and balance will keep your body safe.
- Try some Vinyasa routines. It’s fine if you can’t do it the entire time, but you want to bring your attention back to your breath when your mind wanders. This practice will help you get the most from Yoga.
- If you have the time and ability, go to a couple of beginner’s classes. Even if you want to do the majority of your practice at home, it’s important to check in occasionally with a teacher so you don’t teach yourself bad habits. We’ll talk more about how to choose a class in my next article.
- Wikihow, How to do the Sun Salute ↩
- The Art of Living, How to Do Surya Namaskar ↩
- Eliza Martinez, Sore Muscles After Yoga. azcentral. ↩
- Laurence Gilliot, Interview. With six years’ dedicated practice of yoga with a wide variety of styles and gifted teachers, Laurence’s classes are inspired by Anusara, Vinyasa, Restorative yoga, Yin yoga and Ayurveda. Laurence has also studied Buddhist mindfulness meditation on several retreats with Zen-master Thich Nhat Hanh, co-facilitates a weekly meditation group and combines the Eastern practice of Buddhist psychology with the Western practice of Non-Violent Communication to coach both individuals and groups towards more fulfilled and joyful lives. ↩
- In addition, Laurence recommended keeping my quads engaged during forward folds to protect my knees, and after reading up I now practice forward folds and some other stretches with a small bend in my knees to protect my hamstrings. ↩
- Ivy Markaity, Good Pain vs. Bad Pain? How to Protect Yourself in Yoga Class. HealthCentral. ↩
- Ben Gardner, Busting the 21 Days Habit Formation Myth. Health Chatter: The University College London Health Behaviour Research Blog. ↩
- You’ll see some yoga routines described as a “Vinyasa flow,” which means you’re expected to transition between poses according to your breathing. ↩
- Alex Korb, Yoga: Changing the Brain’s Stressful Habits. Psychology Today. ↩
- Alisa Bauman, Is Yoga Enough to Keep You Fit? Yoga Journal. ↩