If you’ve dipped even a toe into the yoga world lately, you’ve perhaps noticed controversies raging from East to West about the Hindu practice of meditative postures (āsanas). Is yoga religious? If so, does practicing it in schools violate religious freedoms; does the Indian government’s endorsement of yoga slight Indian Muslims? Is yoga an ancient spiritual practice or modern invention? Is Western yoga “cultural appropriation,” as both campus groups and Hindu groups allege? Is there such a thing as “Real Yoga” and is “McYoga” killing it?
These questions and more get debated on a daily basis online, on campus, and in statehouses and councils. No one is likely to find resolution any time soon. However, you may have also heard about the health benefits of yoga, trumpeted everywhere, including Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic, and you can safely ignore the politics, and learn the physical practice in any number of ways.
Like millions of other people, you may find that it helps you “fight stress and find serenity” as Mayo writes; or become a “mindful eater,” boost “weight loss and maintenance,” enhance fitness, and improve cardiovascular health, according to Harvard.
Various teachers and schools will make other claims about yoga’s practical and spiritual effects. These you are free to take on faith, experience yourself, or check against scientific sources. And when you’re ready to get out of your head and connect your mind and body, try a yoga class. Skip the gym and Lululemon. You don’t even have to leave your home or get out your wallet. We have several free online yoga classes represented here, from reputable, experienced teachers offering poses for beginners and for experienced yogis, and for all sorts of ailments and types of physical training.
The first, Yoga with Adriene, opens things up gently with “Yoga for Complete Beginners,” at the top, a 20 minute “home yoga workout” that requires no special props or prior experience. From here, you can browse Adriene’s Youtube channel and find playlists like the 38-video “Foundations of Yoga” and 10-video “Yoga for Runners” sequence, further down. You can also read a profile of Adriene in The New York Times.
Should Adriene’s approach strike you as too casual with the yogic tradition, you might find the instruction of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois more to your liking. His one-hour “Primary Series Ashtanga” video, above, opens with this disclaimer: “The following video is NOT an Exercise Video. It is intended for educational, artistic, and spiritual purposes only.” The text also warns that Master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ yoga practice is taught “to six highly experienced students,” as will become clear when you watch his video.
Other courses—from yoga video series by Kino Yoga and Yoga Journal—gesture to both ends of the purely fitness-based and purely spiritual-based spectrum, and both have beginner series, above and below. It’s up to you to decide where you stand in the yoga wars, if anywhere. You’ll find, if you look, no shortage of reportage, think pieces, academic articles, and rants to fill you in. But if you want to learn the physical practice of yoga, you needn’t look far to get started. In addition to the resources here, take a look at some curated lists of online yoga classes from New York Magazine, Huffington Post, and Elle UK. Thanks go to our Twitter followers, who gave us some helpful hints. If you have your own tips/favorites, please drop them in the comments section below.