1. Study first.
Learn the basic poses from an expert instructor before beginning your own practice. Classes develop a sense of community and they're motivating. Plus, your instructors can make hands-on corrections if you're doing something wrong.
2. Plan wisely.
Choose a time and place where you won't be disturbed. This might be in the morning, when your mind is quiet and receptive, or in the evening, when your body isn't so stiff. It doesn't matter when, as long as you do it consistently.
3. Equip yourself.
The only equipment you really need is a sticky mat, comfortable clothing and your bare feet. Props like blankets, blocks and straps can ease you into more difficult poses, but your focus in the beginning should simply be on mastering the basics.
4. Get warm.
It's important to start with a warm-up to get movement and flow going. This will prepare your body for tougher postures that require more strength and stability to perform. Your warm-up should take between five and 10 minutes, but it's more important to observe how your body feels than to watch a clock.
5. Start slow.
When you're beginning a practice on your own, one hour of yoga can feel overwhelming. Keep it simple so that you want to continue. Start with a few poses you know and feel confident doing. When you're finished, lie in a corpse pose—on your back, letting feet fall open, arms relaxed at sides, palms up—for five minutes. Repeat this routine for two weeks, paying attention to how your body feels. Gradually add new poses and hold them a little longer.
6. Always breathe.
In yoga, pranayama, or breath control, is essential. The breath is used in a variety of ways—to energize, to relax or to connect one pose to another. First, inhale, filling belly, rib cage and finally lungs, then exhale in the reverse order. Don't rush; keep both inhale and exhale even and equal in time.
7. Get a leg up. Because leg strength is the key to many yoga poses, make sure to work from the legs. Do standing postures first, then twists, then forward bends and finally backbends. Following this sequence will allow you to prepare your arms, shoulders and spine for more-intense poses.
8. Stop, look and listen. Your home practice is an opportunity to take note of how your body and mind feel and to make the yoga truly your own. Tune in to how you're feeling as you practice, and pay attention to the instructions you're giving to yourself—the attention you're paying to your breathing, posture and strength. Essentially, listen to the voice of the teacher inside yourself.
9. Don't push it. Save poses you don't feel confident doing for class, when you can be supervised. For instance, a headstand, done incorrectly, can lead to serious neck and shoulder injuries and shouldn't be practiced by anyone without the requisite experience.
10. Cool down. You may be tempted to skip a cool-down when pressed for time. Don't. Always end with corpse pose—even if it's only for a few minutes.
Tools for at-home asanas
After a few weeks, your at-home practice will begin to take shape. At that point, your greatest challenge will probably be adding new poses. Don't worry; there are plenty of resources to help your yoga practice grow.
Get a note from your teacher. Ask your instructor to write down some of the poses you did in class, or to recommend a sequence for you to do at home. As you practice the sequence at home, try to remember the points your teacher made.
Pin it up. You can buy a poster that shows all 440 poses in the Ashtanga primary series. Mount it on the wall where you practice for easy reference as you go, whether you plan to practice five poses or 50.
Make a deal. A deck of yoga cards is a terrific way to mix up a new series of poses for each workout, and you can lay them out right next to your mat. Some decks also come with suggested sequences.
Book it. Almost every yoga book features sample workouts, but the most beneficial are those that show photos of the poses.
View and vary. Yoga videos and DVDs are valuable because instructors demonstrate each posture—but once you become accustomed to yoga, you'll definitely want some variety in your repertoire. To keep you from
getting stuck in a rut, try a subscription service such as NetFlix.
What's your yoga style?
There are a lot of different types of yoga. Hatha yoga, under which many other types are grouped, is the most widely practiced, fundamental form in the United States. Ashtanga (on which "power yoga" is based) is a popular hatha derivative that comprises a fast-paced series of very challenging poses. Viniyoga's style focuses on developing a personal practice based on flowing postures chosen to suit each student's abilities. Iyengar emphasizes precise form; poses are held for longer periods and accomplished with the help of props like chairs, straps and blocks. Bikram, also known as "hot yoga," encompasses a demanding sequence
in an 85°F-plus heated room (so you obviously won't be able to do this at home!). Meanwhile, forms such as kundalini and tantra have stronger spiritual components and emphasize mastering and focusing mental energy rather than performing postures.