Yoga. It's the perfect workout for mind, body and soul, but it's not always easy to know where to start. To celebrate International Yoga Day, we asked Gemma Mullins, YMCA's MindBody Teacher of the Year, to give us her top 5 tips to help beginners get into yoga.

Find a good teacher
There are lots of yoga teachers out there, so it's important to find someone that you enjoy practising with. It's also important to find someone who has been well trained in the anatomy of the body.

A yoga teacher should understand skeletal variations, and communicate that not every pose will be accessible to everybody. Instead your yoga teacher should give appropriate options suitable for you. This is a surprise to many people who believe if you practice long enough and hard enough that you’ll get there, but that’s not always the case. There may be a need to modify postures and, for your safety, comfort should never be compromised for the sake of a pose.

Don’t compare
Let go of comparing yourself to others. And let go of comparing how your body feels or looks in a pose from one day to the next. Come to the mat every time likes it’s the first time you have ever practised: with curiosity and innocence and with no expectations or judgement. Experience the practice truly in the present moment.

Remember: It’s not about the pose
Yoga is often thought of as exercises to manipulate the body into pretzel-type shapes. This could not be further from the truth. Yes, the physical practice is hugely beneficial with an array of wonderful physical benefits such as improved immunity, digestion, breathing, hormonal function, strength, endurance and flexibility, but all that is just the beginning.

The real magic starts to happen when we realise that we are not the body, but the eternal consciousness witnessing the body experiencing the postures. Yoga is a practice for cultivating self awareness, and this benefits every area of your life. So instead of forcing your body into poses, start to notice things like the mind’s reaction to being in the pose, or how a pose affected you emotionally.

Ask for help
Yoga is about dissolving the ego, and the quickest way to do that is to ask for help. Don’t suffer or struggle through a pose that feels inherently wrong for your body. The teacher can look for signs of misalignment or discomfort, but they don’t have x-ray vision and they can’t read your mind. Be sure to communicate about your experience so you can work together as a team. With your feedback and a teacher’s input you can expect to get much more out of your yoga practice.

Have fun
Yoga is a great way to learn to not take yourself and life too seriously. How you deal with falling out of a balancing pose exactly mirrors the way you deal with life when it throws you a curve ball. So learn to laugh at yourself, be playful and enjoy this opportunity to re-inhabit your body in a child-like way.

Try yoga at the YMCA

To celebrate International Yoga Day, the YMCA is putting on a yoga events across Auckland:

Yoga marathon at YMCA Ellerslie Leisure Centre
Saturday 23 June, different sessions from 9am to 2pm
Check out the Facebook event page for details

Yoga Day at YMCA Massey Leisure Centre
Saturday 23 June, one hour classes from 9:30am to 1:30pm
Check out the Facebook event page for details