Key Facts
  • Yoga is a practice that combines physical postures, breathing, relaxation, and meditation.
  • There are many different types of yoga.
  • Yoga may have health benefits.
  • Esta guía en Español
  • Young men's version of this guide

yoga-poseYoga has been practiced for several thousands of years, and it has recently become very popular with teens. Yoga classes are now offered at gyms, studios, community centers, schools, and even online.

What is yoga?

Yoga practice combines physical postures, breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, and meditation. There are different types of yoga. Some are more physically demanding and some are more relaxing. All forms of yoga can help you learn how to deal with stress and stay calm, and improve your concentration and sense of wellbeing. Yoga practice is individual and is not meant to be competitive. This means you should not compare yourself with the person on the mat next to you in class or anyone else. It’s normal to feel “in the zone” one day and struggle during yoga practice on another day. As you practice yoga, you’ll learn that every day, every teacher, and every class can be a little bit different. Letting go of expectations is a key principle of yoga. The goal is to tune in to how you feel and what you are experiencing in the moment, without any judgment.

What does “Namaste” mean?

The individual practicing yoga is called “the student”. The instructor is usually called the “teacher”. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, both roles share equal respect. In fact, one of the most common words you hear in yoga is ‘Namaste’. This Sanskrit word is used as a welcoming and to show appreciation. Namaste means honor and respect for the teacher, yourself, and all things. Interpretation: You learn from everything around you.

There are several styles of yoga and many types of classes. You might need to try more than one style to find the right fit. See the list of styles below for a brief description.

What are the most common styles of yoga practiced today?

  • Bikram: This style is frequently called “hot yoga”. Bikram yoga is taught in a very hot room. The temperature is 100-110° and the class is about 90 minutes long. A series of 26 postures along with breathing exercises are done. Both the instruction and style requires discipline because it is both a physically and mentally challenging style of yoga. If you ever take a Bikram class, most likely you will find the students wearing light swim-suit like clothing because it gets really hot.
  • Iyengar: This style of yoga focuses on exact physical alignment. Iyengar uses blocks, straps or props making it adaptable to all levels.
  • Kripalu: This style has 3 stages. The first stage includes learning the postures and how to coordinate breathing with movement. The second stage is about including meditation techniques with the postures are held for a longer time. During the third stage, the postures can become spontaneous and unstructured often called “meditation in motion”.
  • Vinyasa: This style, also known as “flow yoga”, involves connecting movement with breath, balance, and intention. Vinyasa yoga is unique in the fact that the instructor has more freedom to create a series of postures, often drawing upon different styles.
  • Yin yoga: This style may also be called “restorative yoga”. Yin yoga uses a series of postures that help to relax muscles (rather than poses that cause muscles to tighten). Most of the postures are on the floor, focusing on deep stretching combined with breathing. Postures are often held for 3-5 minutes. This style of yoga is used to help manage stress.

What’s the connection between yoga and breathing?

Controlled breathing is really the foundation of yoga practice. Most classes start with some form of breathing exercises. Different styles of yoga teach differing techniques; however, the goals are ultimately the same. Breath regulation is a tool. When you practice yoga regularly, you gain more control over your breathing. Observing your breath is a great way to remain focused during class. It may also help you improve your concentration or reduce stress outside of class.

What’s the relationship between yoga and meditation?

Yoga and meditation are closely related. Just as you’ll see there are many styles of yoga, there are different forms of meditation and all forms have a slightly different meaning. Meditating is very individualized. It may mean practicing relaxation techniques or learning the skills to concentrate on a specific object. For some, it may be a spiritual practice. The most common form of meditation in yoga is through focus on the breath. Another form of meditation may include a focused gaze on a physical location. In fact, research in teens has found that practicing yoga along with breathing and meditation exercises may help improve relaxation and focus.

Overall, what are the benefits of yoga?

Different styles of yoga can help you increase your:

  • Endurance and strength
  • Balance and flexibility
  • Ability to deal with negative situations
  • Concentration and a calm mind
  • Self-awareness and joy

What are the most common postures practiced?

  • Warm-up/flow postures
  • Balancing/standing postures
  • Deep stretching postures
  • Restorative/relaxation postures

What about “yoga therapy”?

Yoga therapy is a form of mind-body medicine, which can help ease or lessen symptoms for some people with certain conditions. Unfortunately, most of the research on yoga has been in adults so the health benefits for teens are not as well studied.

Some early research in teens suggests that yoga may help with the following conditions:

Why choose a class over a DVD or online program?

Learning how to practice yoga is very different from learning how to do other activities such as riding a bike or playing a sport. It requires you to move in new and different ways. If you learn the basics including the proper positions from a certified yoga instructor, you will decrease the chance of hurting yourself.

What do I need to do before going to a yoga class?

  1. Talk to your health care provider about the style of yoga you would like to learn and find out if this would be a good type of exercise for you. Be sure to tell your yoga instructor if you have any injuries.
  2. Make sure that your yoga instructor is qualified. What are the instructor’s qualifications and training? Is the instructor certified to teach yoga? Make sure the instructor has been certified in a Yoga Alliance, an approved yoga instruction program. What styles of yoga is the instructor certified to teach? Is the instructor insured? What experience does the instructor have teaching teens? Hint: Check out the instructor’s teaching bio.
  3. What should you know about the yoga class or studio? Is the class geared toward beginners? If you are interested, you can ask to observe before signing up. Does the studio offer any deals for beginners? Maybe the class will be free! What’s the style and focus of the class? Studios usually offer a variety of styles and levels of yoga. It’s best to start with beginner classes and build a strong foundation. Show up 15 minutes before class starts. This way you can meet the teacher and find a spot in the studio or classroom and fill out the paperwork (such as a consent form).

What should I bring to class and what should I wear?

All you’ll need is a water bottle and a towel. If you have a yoga mat, bring that too. Most studios have mats that you can rent. Yoga mats are not very expensive to buy, so if you plan to go to more than 3 classes it’s probably best just to buy one. Yoga is practiced barefoot, so you’ll need to take off your shoes and socks before entering the class. Wear comfortable clothing that will stretch when you move.

What’s important to keep in mind during yoga class?

  1. Yoga should never hurt! Listen to what your body tells you! If it hurts, get out of the posture. Make sure to talk to the instructor. You may learn modifications for the postures. Don’t force anything that doesn’t feel right. It’s common to feel a bit uncomfortable when you learn new exercises. You’ll know when it’s okay to stick with a posture and when you should take a break.
  2. It’s all about the practice. Try attending 3-4 classes in the first couple of weeks. This gives you a chance to learn the postures accurately and really get the most of a yoga class. Then if you want to cut back 1-2 times per week, that’s just fine to keep your practice going. Practice! If you don’t like yoga the first time you try it, that’s common. Before deciding to quit, try it at least 2 more times.
  3. Different postures, different classes, different benefits. Standing postures can help to strengthen your body and energize you. Restorative, passive and deep stretching postures (such as forward folds) may relax you.
Regardless of the class you take, try it with an open mind. Yoga is a practice. Remember to talk to your health care provider before starting a class. Have fun!