I was first interested in yoga during the hype a few years ago and something I have promoted since I first tried it nearly ten years ago now. It offers many health benefits and it can be tailored to what you want to get out of your yoga practice. Whether you want to lose weight, beat stress, become more flexible or increase your strength and endurance there is a type of yoga out their for you.
Some people may dismiss yoga as something just for women, just for 'hippies', just for the flexible or maybe it is just something that isn't for them which is why I am writing this. I believe that everyone has something to gain from incorporating yoga practice into their life. You don't need to be flexible to begin, just a mat, comfortable clothes and a method to learn.
** What is Yoga **
Developed over thousands of years, yoga is the series of poses and movements (asanas) that aim to improve the mind, body and spirit. Indeed, the word yoga comes from the Sanskrit for 'union' and that is the aim of yoga: to unionise the mind, body and the spirit. Practice in the west is less focused on the spiritual side to yoga and instead focuses on the postures and movements but yoga is a varied practice and you will find instructors that incorporate a varying degree of the spiritual side to yoga as you wish.
Practice involves a series of postures and movements that move, stretch and challenge your body whether it is a forward/backward bend, side bend, balance or stretching there is always room to challenge and balance your body. With over 900 variations you do not need to experience the same practice twice and you will always have room for improvement. No matter how little or far you can reach in a posture there is always room to challenge yourself to move further. Which is what yoga is about - improving yourself. Without challenging yourself you don't move forward; you stay at the same place and stagnate. Just as you don't expect someone who lifts weights to keep lifting the same weights for years; you move forward.
** Who is Yoga for **
Everyone! Young, old, male, female, athletic, unfit, fat, thin, whatever and whoever you are you have something to gain from yoga. Whether you are searching for something to relax you, to get you moving, to increase flexibility or strength there are many benefits to doing yoga that you will find a practice that suits you.
There is a stereotype that yoga is for skinny women (just as weightlifting is just for men). It is also seen as simply bending and anyone can do that so why bother? But it is more than that; everyone can feel the benefits of yoga.
And if you have any doubts as to whether you can do yoga, the worlds oldest yoga teacher is 93 (search to see a video of this woman).
** Types of Yoga **
There are a lot of different styles of yoga. The three most commonly practiced are:
- Ashtanga: long holds to build up strength
- Hatha: What is commonly considered 'yoga'. It involves a range of poses and movements that promote strength and flexibility.
- Vinyasa: involes many transitions from pose to pose (including movements such as Sun Salutation). Improves agility.
Others that are commonly practiced/ discussed:
- Kundalini (poses, medidation and chants) - focues on the awakening of the energy from the spine.
- Bikram: yoga performed in heat. Usually follows a special 26 pose routine. Good for flexibility and strength.
- Power: a Western version of yoga. Focus on flexibility and self-discipline. Full body workout.
** Benefits of Yoga **
There are many benefits of yoga which make it perfect for everyone. Here are some of the benefits experienced through yoga:
- Flexibility - full body
- Improve hand-eye coordination
- Improved posture
- Increased endurance
- Improve the immune system
- Pulse rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure decreases
- Increases cardiovascular efficiency
- Physical and spiritual balance
- Strengthens muscles
- Normalises the function of body systems (gastrointestinal, excretory, endocrime, musculoskeletal)
- Improves mood and feeling of well-being
- Decrease in anxiety and depression
- Improves attention, memory and concentration
- Increases energy
- Improves sleep
- Improved cognitive function
** Problems of Yoga **
Of course, every exercise can be bad for you if you do it wrong. If you push yourself too far into a posture then it can lead to injury. You have to listen to your body to understand how far you can go into postures.
If you need to seek advice from your doctor regarding your physical activities then do so before starting your yoga practice.
** Where to do Yoga **
So now that you are thinking of giving yoga a go, where do you start? As a popular form of exercise/ relaxation there are yoga studios everywhere. Search for one near you that meets what you are looking to get out of your practice. Give a few places a trial and find an instructor that works for you. Just because you don't like one instructor doesn't mean you won't find another that you do like.
While it is good to get the advice from an instructor on your form, there is always the option of using DVD's or online videos. It can be easier to understand if a DVD is going to give you what you want out of practice but then you are limited to the variations of practice that you can gain so you may want a few DVDs untill you can create your own routine. It does have the added benefit of being able to exercise from home which is great if you are limited for time (or lifestyle reasons mean that going to a class at a fixed time is difficult. There is an issue with not having an instructor commenting on your form and receiving advice from DVD instructors that do not fully explain what you should be doing in a pose. Look out for well received DVDs and if you want to check your form you could record yourself during practice.
** But I don't have time! **
If you really want something you can find the time to do it. If you can't take even twenty/ thirty minutes out of your day a week then you need to reprioritise things. I understand that people have busy lives but you need time to relax, just for yourself.
People give out all sorts of excuses constantly as to why they don't do yoga/ any exercise. If it is something you really want you will find a way to do it. It may mean sacrificing something else but it will be worth it in the end.
** My Personal Experience **
I first tried yoga about seven years ago when there was somewhat of a craze. I was really looking for another workout that would help me acheive my ideal body. I continued on with my yoga journey. I tried many DVDs (unfortunately I didn't have any classes nearby and I was too young to travel far). I noticed that I felt so much more relaxed and better about myself, not just after practice but throughout the day and week. I was more mindful of my posture and moved with a lot more grace.
Since then I have had periods of doing lots of yoga and doing very little. Every time I come back to it I realise just how much it has been benefiting me. Flexibility is an important one, I go back and realise I cannot get as deep into a pose as I once could. So I just go as far as I can while still challenging myself.
My favourite poses are 'Tree' and 'Crow' but awkward chair and childs pose are my least favourite.
** Conclusion **
I cannot recommend yoga enough. Whether you are currently active in another mode of exercise or not, there is a way to make yoga work for you. I cannot stress enough that it is not just for skinny, young women or 'hippies'. It is for everyone and that is what makes it beautiful. From the physiological benefits such as flexibility and strength to the psychological benefits such as improved sleep, concentration and relaxation; everyone has room to benefit from practice.
Find a class or a DVD that works for you, do your homework and get into that 'down dog'.
This review will focus on my experiences of yoga during pregnancy.
The benefits of yoga on the body and mind are well documented. I have done different yoga classes before and when I found out I was pregnant knew I wanted to do this form of exercise as I find it very helpful and thought it would be a good mix with pregnancy as it is not too strenuous and I felt I could really benefit from the positions, stretching etc.
Yoga refers to traditional physical and mental disciplines originating in India. The word is associated with meditative practices in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Yoga in pregnancy is quite different from regular yoga practices as it focuses a lot more on breathing techniques( breath control (pranayama)) rather than the traditional poses which can be quite physically demanding.
A simple search on the internet brought up available yoga classes in my local area and so I contacted the teacher and found out all the details. My classes last for an hour and cost £8 each or £36 for 6 if you pay in advance. What's great is that it is just tailored for pregnant women so this has given me the chance to meet lots of women in the same position as me in my local area. We are all going to the same hospital as well so we've been able to swap stories, experiences etc and now meet up out of class which is really nice when you are in this somewhat scary but exciting time of your life.
What I really love about these classes is that they are very focused towards breathing and labour and how your breathing techniques can help you during labour. According to our teacher several of her students have given birth by just practising the breathing methods she has taught them without the need for harsh drugs, etc. This is my plan and I'm hoping it works out that way but who knows. The nice thing is that at least I have these tools and knowledge going into the experience which is something I would not have had without these classes. I have taken regular ante natal classes as well from my local health centre and I have to say I've learnt more about labour, what goes on during labour, how your body will react and what to do to combat certain problems or difficulties from these yoga classes than anything I have leant in the ante natal sessions.
I am now quoting from an article I read on the subject of ante natal yoga. "In addition to physical movement, most yoga approaches emphasise breath awareness. The breath is the doorway through labour. The student's own breathing pattern can be developed and integrated. If you are able to observe when you hold your breath in yoga class then that will carry over into labour. Once you are aware when you are holding your breath, you can consciously breathe and let go."
This is exactly what we learn in class. We do a number of postures, stretches to get our body moving which is nice, especially ones to help our hips, swollen feet etc. We also get into a lot of positions that are good for first and second stages of labour. These exercises are designed to help ease the pain of contractions in the beginning of labour and ones we can give birth in if we are feeling confident enough. We also do a lot of breathing exercises which I have found really help to calm my mind. I often find that now when I am waiting for a packed tube on the Northern Line on Monday mornings I often do these breathing exercises to calm me down and keep me feeling as light and stress free as possible. The class is low impact as we do a lot of work sitting down or leaning against a wall to support our bodies so I would really recommend it to people of all levels of fitness and you can do it right up until your due date (or past) which is great.
I would definitely do these classes again in future pregnancies. Who knows, when it comes to the actual labour maybe none of this will help me at all and I may be screaming for the drugs as soon as I get in there but in terms of keeping fit and healthy during my pregnancy they have been great and have also allowed me to meet some nice people. I will end with another quote from an article I read
"Anecdotal evidence will suggest that mothers who practiced yoga throughout their pregnancy are able to maintain not only their health and wellbeing, but also bring peace and freedom to the body, heart and mind of themselves and their child."
Increasingly people are coming under more and more pressure these days. This pressure manifests itself in many different ways such as the pressure to get into a top university, to get high grades, to integrate into the work place, to cope with many different biological and emotional changes and in some neighbourhoods to merely survive.
Yoga is a discipline and as such that discipline has some very real benefits for people of all ages not least in the fact that practicing yoga provides a routine and a structure for young people that can help in the structuring of other parts of their lives as well.
Constantly you will hear from those that teach and practice yoga that it harmonises body and mind, the mind is a wonderfully powerful tool and as such those disciplines that strengthen the mind also have health benefits for the body as well. I will break down the benefits into three broad areas.
From a fitness perspective yoga has a number of benefits. It is an excellent activity for increasing flexibility especially as it works on a wide range of muscle groups depending on different positions that can be developed, in addition it also works those muscle groups that do not often get stretched or exercised. In addition tendons and ligaments get a great work out and joints are lubricated and massaged.
The stretching of muscles also increases the blood supply to these parts of the body which not only provides greater energy levels but also helps flush out any toxins that are in the body so there is a detoxification process going on.
Practising yoga helps tone the body and this is ideal in those bodies which are still developing at a fast rate, this helps develop those muscles that have become under used and allows them to shed excess fat. Improving your outward body appearance has huge psychological benefits as well as increasing confidence levels.
Yoga is excellent for building core body strength, at times body weight is supported by particular muscle groups while the slow movement between positions also serves to build up strength.
Yoga is as much about meditation as it is about physical exercise, meditation helps clear the mind of clutter and is an excellent method for reducing stress levels, it is an important component in the aim to ensure that mind and body act as one. Stress has long term negative effects on a person's heath as it represents a store of negative energy for the future and as such yoga combined with meditation can play a valuable role in reducing stress levels.
The practice of yoga helps develop a state of calmness and this can develop relaxation techniques to help with the stresses of exam time or having to give a big presentation at work.
The increased flexibility and strength can help in the reduction of pain particularly in areas like the back and also in the joints; pain that has developed from sporting injuries can be alleviated through the stretching in yoga. Posture is also improved with yoga which can prevent the onset of such conditions in later life.
Yoga helps develop a deeper breathing pattern which gets more oxygen into the lungs and thus circulated around the body, this helps with relaxation but also provides greater energy levels as well. This all comes about as you become more aware of your body alignment and your breathing rate which you seek to control during exercise.
Finally yoga is one of those pursuits which can be practised alone or in groups which means that it can fit in with the lifestyles of even the busiest of people and as such it has great benefits for everyone.
What type of yoga that you practice is not important rather that yoga is seen as part of an exercise programme that provides increased flexibility, muscle toning and relaxation techniques that serve to aid the mind, body and soul.