Yoga is exercise that involves stretching the body in certain poses to create balance, strength and flexibility. This low-impact exercise not only makes you feel great, but each pose has specific physical and mental benefits.
The word yoga means ‘union’ in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India where yoga originated. The meaning of union to them is between mind, body and spirit. Yoga, in India, is part of a practice of spiritual enlightenment as well as physical health. In keeping with this, some yoga centers not only practice the yoga poses, but include delving into the spiritual side with chanting, meditation or an inspirational reading by the teacher. Typically, a yoga class at a gym will be more focused on the physical benefits of stretching to gain strength and flexibility.
Health Benefits of Yoga
Strength: Some yoga poses call for you balance on one leg or support yourself with your arms which increases your strength by supporting the weight of your body in new ways.
Flexibility: The tightness in your body can be stretched in new ways that will help you to become more flexible. This will bring greater range of motion to joints and muscles, such as back, shoulders, hips and hamstrings.
Improved Breathing: Pranayama, yoga breathing exercises, center attention on the breath and will teach you how to better use your lungs, and this in turn will benefit your entire body. Most of us breathe shallowly, but pranayama will help you to breathe more deeply. This can benefit you by clearing the nasal passages and calm the central nervous system.
Some types of chronic back pain are caused by sitting at a computer for long periods, or other kinds of job-related stress. Tightness and spinal compression caused by these can be relieved and even prevented by yoga poses that strengthen back muscles. Yoga also helps improve your body alignment which can prevent many other types of pain.
Muscle Tone: You’ll not only feel good, but will look good. With practice, you will see increased muscle tone. Yoga helps shape long, lean muscles.
Stress Reduction: Yoga places emphasis on being ‘in the moment’ and requires concentration of the poses. This helps you relieve stress.
Mental Calmness: Yoga teaches you how to breathe and disengage from your thoughts, and also meditation techniques. These all help to calm your mind.
Body Awareness: The precise and concentrated poses of yoga help you to align your body which leads to improved posture and greater self-confidence.
How to Get Started
There are many types of yoga classes out there, so if you are a beginner, you might try one of the basic styles like Hatha or Vinyasa classes.
To find classes in your area, check out places like your community center, YMCA, or your local colleges. They often offer basic as well as intermediate classes on a regular basis. You can also check the internet by searching ‘yoga’ and the name of your town.
You may need to bring your own yoga mat to class, or some places provide these. Other than that, comfortable, breathable clothing is usually all that’s required for a beginning class.
Typically, the teacher will have you do warm-up poses, then more vigorous poses, then stretches and the final relaxation. You may be a little sore the next day, but this is normal.
If you don’t have access to yoga classes, there are many videos and yoga books.
Tips for beginners:
Don’t have a big meal right before class or your routine.
Have some water before and after class, but not during.
Wear socks during the class.
Go to several classes before deciding whether it is for you.
Have fun and grow healthier!