Yoga 101: Basics, Benefits and how to Begin

Yoga 101: Basics, Benefits and how to Begin

Yoga has become almost a buzzword in today’s society. But what’s all the hype about? Is it an exercise routine? Just a bunch of stretching? Meditation? Or all of the above? Many tout the variety of benefits which include increasing strength, balance, flexibility, heart health, relaxation, as well as improving mood and sleep, and reducing pain and stress. However, looking past the fancy poses and flexibility, at its core yoga is a practice focused on a mind-body connection. But what does this all mean exactly? Let’s break it down.

Rooted in ancient Eastern philosophies, yoga was originally less about the physical practice and more about sitting in meditation, with the aim of calming the mind and deepening the breath. Overtime, practitioners incorporated a series of physical postures to rejuvenate the body and compliment the breath work and mental focus. In the West, yoga has become extremely popular as it adds balance and peace to busy, on-the-go lifestyles. Regardless of your goals, the physical and emotional benefits of a regular practice, makes yoga a powerful self-care tool for finding focus, fitness, relaxation, balance, and wellness. 

There’s a common misconception that to practice yoga you need to be uber flexible or ready to take on advanced postures. But yoga truly is for anybody and every body, no matter your age or physical ability. There’s always a modification or variation that will best suit you and make the practice accessible and enjoyable. Let’s break down the three focused areas of a practice; the physical body, the breath, and the mind. 


The physical portion of yoga is designed to build strength, develop balance and flexibility, improve posture and spinal alignment, and soften tense areas in the body. This physical practice is called ‘Asana’, and it’s demonstrated by a series of postures and transitions, which are linked by breath, designed to challenge the body and increase circulation and flexibility in the joints, muscles, and ligaments. Consistently moving and stretching this way has also been proven to help relieve chronic pain and rehabilitate injuries. Though these physical benefits are only one small part of yoga as a whole, the transformation one feels after a regular practice can be what initially hooks them.  

Sun Salutations is a great representation of the physical practice. It’s a standard set of repetitive movements that involves extending (opening) and flexing (rounding) the spine through a series of backbends, forward folds, and downward dog inversions. They work to warmup and tone the entire body and help cultivate a connection between movement, breath, and mental focus. 


In yoga, focusing on the breath is called ‘Pranayama’, practiced using different patterns and exercises that guide you through each inhale, hold of breath, and exhale. In the physical practice, breath is the driving force, linking each move of the sequence to the inhale or the exhale, creating a moving meditation. Paying attention to the breath is the number one key component to yoga, helping fill the body with fresh oxygen and promoting relaxation and focus. Here are the two most common breathing techniques and their unique benefits:

Diaphragmatic Breath (AKA ‘Belly Breath’): * The diaphragm is a muscle located at the base of the lungs. Diaphragmatic breathing involves expanding and engaging the abdominal muscles, allowing air to flow through the lower portion of the torso, filling the lungs more efficiently, and working to empty them completely. In addition to strengthening the diaphragm itself, this method of breathing is extremely relaxing and can lower blood pressure by bringing fresh oxygen into the blood.

Ujjayi Breath (AKA ‘Breath of Fire’): * Ujjayi breath is commonly used to build heat in the body and calm the nervous system. Try this; inhale deeply through your nose (filling the diaphragm). On the exhale, keep your mouth closed and slightly constricting the back of your throat. Use your abdominal muscles to slow the release of air, passing by your constricted throat, creating an audible, ‘ocean-like’ breath, as if you were fogging up a mirror. 

Both breathing techniques help ground your focus as well as calm the nervous system. As we search for techniques to take into everyday life, the focus on breath and its ability to calm the mind is perhaps the number one useful resource to take with you off the mat. 


Many approach yoga interested in the physical benefits, but quickly realize that the meditative mindfulness aspect is what keeps them coming back. But what does this word ‘mindfulness’ mean? Simply put, it’s the practice of focusing on the present moment through awareness of what’s going on in the physical body, with the breath, and with our “mental narrative” thought patterns. Mindfulness helps us connect to the now, allowing past and future thoughts to melt away. It’s about learning how to tune your attention and quiet the racing mind. Incorporating mindfulness into your life can be a transformative tool in coping with stress, anxiety, depression, and even chronic pain.

Though mindfulness is curated throughout the entire yoga practice, the best example of it is in the final resting shape called ‘Shavasana’. This is when you release the physical effort, let your breathing pattern return to normal, and shift your focus to the mind’s eye for a final meditation. For many, Shavasana is the most challenging part of a practice, since the distraction of movement and guidance disappears and you’re left only with your thoughts. This is where the real mindfulness practice begins.

Body Scan: Try this; as you get still, start at the feet and scan over the toes, ankles, calves, moving up the legs. Slowly attempt to soften and bring awareness to each area of the resting body. Continue this scan all the way to the crown of your head. This visualization helps focus thoughts and sensations on the present moment. 


You don’t need anything fancy to start a yoga practice, but consider investing in a good quality mat, like the Evoke Rubber Yoga Mat, that absorbs sweat, offers added cushion, and helps you grip through hands and feet. Also, you might want to explore yoga props, like the Evoke Cork Yoga Block, Tri-Colour 4” Yoga Block, or 3 Solid Colour Yoga Block, to help modify your practice. Additionally, a yoga strap, like, can extend your reach and depth making challenging shapes that much more accessible. 


Like any new wellness habit, building a regular routine that keeps you coming back is key. Set a realistic goal, as little as 15 minutes a day, where you can carve out time on your mat. Set an intention of sticking to this goal for at least 3-4 weeks, so you can start to notice the benefits that come from a consistent practice. Ready to really dive in? Try a class in your community. If you’re a beginner, you might want a Hatha style class, which is a gentle, slower paced practice. For higher energy flows try a Vinyasa class. If you’re looking for relaxation and more meditation, try a Restorative style. 

Remember, it’s called a practice for a reason. Just the act of coming to your mat with an open mind is half the battle. By doing so, you’ll discover that yoga is an exciting and beneficial addition to your fitness journey, one that taps into both the physical benefits, as well as mindfulness and awareness that’ll leave you feeling balanced and at ease.   

Author: Madison Fruitman, Certified Yoga Instructor 


Instagram: @madisonfruitmanyoga 

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Consult a physician prior to commencing an exercise program. If, at any time during exercise, you feel faint, dizzy, or experience pain, stop and consult your physician