This article is from the Alternative Medicine Therapies guide.
Hatha yoga can be learned from books or videotapes, and easily lends itself to practice at home. However, beginners initially will be better served by taking classes with a trained yoga teacher. A good teacher can help you learn proper breathing and meditation techniques and specific postures, and can help you address your particular needs and physical limitations. Classes generally last 60 to 90 minutes, and beginners usually take one or two classes weekly.
A Hatha yoga class may begin with a period of quiet. The teacher will then take you through gentle warm-up exercises and into a series of postures, which are each held anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. As your abilities improve, you will be taught progressively more difficult postures. Movement throughout the class should always be gentle, never painful.
Proper breathing, through the nostrils, is emphasized throughout the classes, and the teacher may suggest that you focus on exhaling during certain postures and on inhaling during others. A class generally ends with a period of deep relaxation, with students lying comfortably on the floor.
Whether you attend classes or practice yoga at home, it is important to work in a warm, quiet room. Be sure to wear loose, comfortable clothing so you can move easily. While classes often provide a special "sticky mat," which helps prevent slipping, you can use a blanket or towel for the same purpose. It is also recommended that you practice yoga barefoot.
There are no hard and fast rules about how often to do yoga, but regular practice will help you achieve the full benefits. Many teachers recommend a 20- to 30-minute routine every day. For comfort's sake, always practice on an empty stomach. Many people prefer a yoga session upon awakening in the morning; others find that doing yoga before bed helps them to fall asleep.