Yoga for beginners: the best basic stretches to get you started

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Yoga stretches are great for everything from pain relief to stress relief, and they’re really easy to work into your day. Yoga instructor Donna Noble explains how.

Whether you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the constant coronavirus updates that keep coming our way, or are feeling sore from sitting at your desk for long hours throughout the working day, yoga can help to ease your woes and improve your quality of life.

Not everyone has the time to squeeze in a couple of classes every week, but being unable to do full 90-minute sessions doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all that yoga can do for you. In fact, just by working some basic stretches into your routine, you can start to feel all the physical and mental health benefits the practice has to offer.

Donna Noble is a yoga teacher and the founder of Curvesomeyoga, an organisation that aims to make yoga inclusive, diverse and accessible for all – and she is here to tell us exactly why we should start incorporating simple yoga stretches into our day-to-day lives, and which to try first. 

What are the benefits of yoga?

Yoga is a form of physical exercise that is fantastic for both your body and mind. According to Donna, some of the most obvious benefits come from the way it helps to “keep the body strong and supple”, as well as “increase flexibility” and “help with the realignment of the body”. All of these things can “help your body to achieve its full potential”, as well as protect it from injury when you’re engaging in other physical activities such as weight training and cardio.

While it is a form of exercise, though, yoga is also very calming, and as a result it can aid sleep and even help to alleviate insomnia. In fact, according to the Sleep Foundation, when insomniacs perform yoga daily, “they sleep for longer, fall asleep faster, and return to sleep more quickly if they wake up in the middle of the night”. As Donna goes on to explain, this can help to reduce sleep deprivation and restore energy and vitality.

A woman asleep in bed
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The calming effects that yoga has don’t just help with sleep – they can give your mental health a boost, too. Practising moves such as downward dog and warriror soothes and centres the nervous system, “which in turn helps to relieve stress and other associated issues”, such as low mood and anxiety. In addition, yoga helps you to get in touch with your body, teaching you to breathe fully, trust your body, and make you more mindful, Donna explains. All of this makes yoga a great thing to include “as part of your self-care practice”.

How often do you need to do yoga to feel the benefits?

The short answer is that “some yoga is better than no yoga”, says Donna, and so even if you only find time to do ten minutes of yoga stretches every day, you will still experience some of the benefits. In the short-term, yoga stretches may offer you a way to relax after a busy day, wind down before bed when you’re feeling stressed, or stretch out your aching muscles following an intense gym session.

Because of its huge calming effect, there’s no better time to practice some simple postures than during your work day, when stress levels are peaking. As part of Stylist magazine’s Work It Out campaign, Strong Women are encouraging everyone to take their Work 5-a-day, five scientifically-backed breaks from your computer, with at least one break focusing on moving your body. So, try walking away from your desk for five minutes of gentle stretching and see how you feel. 

Donna does note that if you want to really feel the full benefits, or you have mental or physical health concerns that yoga could help you to manage, you could try “doing yoga at least twice a week”. 

The best yoga poses for beginners

If you want to start working yoga into your schedule, Donna has a few simple poses and stretches that are great for beginners to try. 

Child’s pose

Child’s pose stretches “the thighs, hips and ankles”, and it “is often performed to rest in between poses”, says Donna. To complete the stretch, start out on all fours on the floor, and then “take your knees out as wide as your mat”. From here, sit back so that your bum is resting on your heels, and “stretch your arms forward, lower your forehead to the floor, and let your entire body release”. This stretch is great for helping to “relax the body and the mind”, and so Donna suggests staying in position for as long as you like.

Mountain pose

“This forms the foundation of all standing poses”, according to Donna, making it a great pose for beginners. Mountain pose is really easy to do, too. Simply start by standing up straight with your feet either together or apart, your arms by your side and your palms facing forwards. Then, press your weight into your feet and toes, and spread the toes wide. Make sure you engage your quads and abdominal muscles, lift your chest, and keep your shoulders back – you should “feel the shoulder blades coming down towards each other, opening up the chest”. Hold this pose for between five and eight breaths.

Downward dog

Even if you don’t know much about yoga, you’ve probably heard of downward dog. Known and loved for its simplicity and the way it “strengthens and stretches the entire body”, it is one of Donna’s go-to postures, and in fact “is used in most yoga practices and classes”. 

Yoga: the downward dog “strengthens and stretches the entire body”

Start on all fours, keeping your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Then, tucking your toes and pressing through your palms, “lift your hips up off the floor as you pull them up and back towards your heels”. You also need to “draw the navel towards the spine and keep engaging your legs, to keep the torso moving back towards the thighs”. Aim to get your heels down to the floor and your legs straight, although “you can keep your knees slightly bent if you have tight hamstrings”. Hold this position for five to eight breaths, “before dropping back to your hands and knees to rest”. 

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Images: Getty

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