Begin with understanding what Yoga means. What it is and what it isn’t.
The best yoga for beginners shows the beginner at the outset the method and process for the achievement of their own personal goals, as well as the overarching goal of the path of Yoga itself. Read here for more on what the sages say in this regard.
If someone with no knowledge of Yoga approached me, a traditionalist, a yogi of classical lineage, and asked me how to become a yogi, or what is the best yoga for a beginner, I would first recommend a reading list including works like Tantraloka to go through before embarking on the path. I would discourage this person from embarking on a path like my own, a path that took me into the Himalayas to find my Guru and my tribe, until unless it became evident that this person had such a burning desire to realize the most sublime truths of this existence that there left little choice but to investigate and experience the Way of Yoga in earnest.
Ask one-hundred people what the best approach to yoga is and ninety-nine will answer with some version of studio asana. Bikram is the hottest; Vinyasa’s got the flow. Shivananda! No Sattyananda! It reminds me of the old martial arts movies. “My kung fu is better than yours! Crouching Tiger! Praying Mantis! Drunken Monkey!” But few had really achieved the essence of Kung Fu, right? Kung Fu, like Yog, is the equanimous condition of Inner Truth. It’s the mark of self-mastery.
If a beginner approached me with this question I’d want to know whether that person was predisposed to mastery, whether that was the aim. If it weren’t, I would suggest they visit their local gym or studio. For if self-mastery or self-realization is not the goal, absolutely any studio will do. Any yoga will do. What’s the goal? If it’s body-oriented, then you need a body shop, and they’re a dime a dozen. Most will tune you up. Some even offer detailing.
Read. Autobiography of a Yogi is a lovely, easy, poetic read. It will give a romantic accounting of one man’s search for truth, how he approached the path and what were his findings. Read the Yoga Sutras. Understand what the sages said about which poses and why they were recommended. Read the Bhagavad Gita. Understand the meaning of Yoga from a philosophical or metaphysical perspective. And although a life devoted to the pursuit of Advaita is not necessarily a bad thing, it can be mind-boggling for a beginner. Buddhism’s Middle Way would be better suited to offer an easy inroad to the Path of self-mastery.
What is the beginner’s disposition? The practices of Gyana Yoga are best suited to the analytical mind while the practices of Bhakti, Karma or Hatha are best suited for others. One can never go wrong with mindfulness and meditation, unless they can! Some people just can’t slow down enough to start with meditation and might be better off beginning in the style of Ashtangha with ethical pursuits.
Is it possible for a beginner to go to the heart of the matter immediately? To obtain knowledge of Self and the Supreme Reality? To go beyond, all the way beyond – immediately? Possibly. It depends on the level of interest and that person’s proclivities and inclinations.
If a beginner came to me and asked what is the best yoga to begin with, I would tell them to sit next to my fire and look at the dancing flames. I would tell them to get some water from the well and teach them to make a cup of tea. I would show them how to feed an offering into the fire and encourage them to get comfortable in a sitting position while allowing their mind to relax in the warmth and safety of the current circumstance. I would empower them with the ability to be still and let go of all of this and that which has lead them to my fire temporarily, allow them to experience directly a temporary peace of mind not distracted by the hurries and worries of what comes next. Talk would turn to God and the miracle of being, the great good fortune to be born as a human, the infinite potential of our conscious awareness and how to approach training for the development of the same.
But if the beginner in question is just looking to get fit, just looking for a teacher’s license to start a business, just looking for a pass-time or a place to meet people, then all of the above is neither here nor there. A Vipassana retreat will be lovely if you can do without your morning coffee. You may even unwittingly stumble upon yourself with a bit of guided inquiry.
…is a Saiva Tantrika, Gyana Yogi and founder of Uma Maheshwara Yoga & Ayurveda. David has an MA in Semiotics, lives in Japan with his family and works as a coach in L & D, devoting his time to developing science-based tools and programs that help people reach the fullest potential of the human condition.