Monday, August 27, 2012

Explore Yoga

Since the June Yoga Challenge, I've been going on and on and on about yoga, so I thought it might be time to go over the basics and (maybe) then I'll shut up about it.  If you're new to fitness, yoga is a great way to start moving your body, and if you're a seasoned athlete, yoga is often just what your body needs to really stretch, reduce injury, and gain extra balance.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient Indian practice through which a person integrates the body, mind, and spirit in order to be in harmony with himself and his environment.  Exercise, breathing, and meditation are the structures through which one attains balance in life.

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Namaste is the recognition of others. "I bow to you," is what it means.  It's about two individuals connecting, spiritually.  "The light in me honors the light in you."

Namaste
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Why Practice Yoga?

There are many health benefits to incorporating yoga into your life.  The most well-known might be increased flexibility.  With every session, you'll find yourself able to reach just a little bit further, and you'll also learn to reach from the right places (your hips) rather than straining your limbs.

Another commonly predictable benefit of practicing yoga is improved posture and balance.  You'll be amazed when, by the end of your first class, you're already sitting straighter than when you started.

What perk you might not have anticipated: Strength and toning.  As you progress from simple moves to more advanced poses, the increased difficulty will challenge your muscles, and you'll watch them grow.

Other benefits include improved circulation, abdominal organ stimulation, better sleep, boosted libido, lessened back pain (through improved posture and strengthened muscles), reduced anxiety, and, according to Harvard Health Publications, improved mood and functioning, even in the face of stress, depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

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"But I'm not flexible..."  Do not let this excuse stop you from starting!  Flexibility is NOT a prerequisite for practicing yoga.  You'll never improve if you don't TRY.  My BF is a great example.  He was self-proclaimed completely inflexible, but in January, he began his new year's resolution to do yoga.  He began going once a week, and despite being incredible sore after his first session, he returned over and over.  Everyone can benefit.

If you don't believe his story, take it from SHAPE Magazine: Why Yoga Isn't About Being Flexible.

What to Expect: Guide to your First Yoga Class

First, what to choose?  Vinyasa, Hatha, Bikram... Need help deciding which type of yoga is for you?  Check out Your Essential Guide to Yoga or learn about the six branches of yoga.  In my personal opinion, I would NOT begin with bikram or hot yoga; they're incredibly intense and you should probably master the basics and get comfortable with your yoga practice before upping the ante.  Hatha is a great place to start for beginners, focusing on holding poses in conjunction with your breathing.  Vinyasa, which goes through series of poses and repeats, is also an excellent yoga practice; that's probably my favorite. 

Whichever form you choose, inform the instructor that you are new.  This way, they can be sure to describe each pose rather than assuming the regulars know it, and can assist you when necessary. Situate yourself in the front of the class so you can see, and so s/he can see and help if you need assistance.  Know that most poses have multiple levels to them, and it's okay to stay at whichever level you're at. You'll work your way up over time.  Also, although feeling a stretch is great, stop if you feel sharp pain. 

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What to wear?  You'll want comfortable, fitted clothing.  There's a lot of movement and stretching, so you certainly want clothing designed to give in workouts.  You don't want baggy items that will hang down over your face if you're in an inversion, nor do you want too-revealing clothing that might slip and give your mat neighbors a free show.  See FitSugar's advice for What Not To Wear To Yoga Class.

Also, if you plan on sticking with it for a while, definitely invest in your own yoga mat.  Whether you're at a gym or a studio, those shared mats are covered in germs.  Many different parts of your body--including, potentially, your face--will be touching that mat, so be aware and get your own. I recommend something a little thicker (1/4-inch thick) so your joints (for me, it's my knees) get enough cushioning.

Check out The Well Daily's guide to your first class 

First-time testimonials:

Hot Yoga testimonials:
Once you're ready to take your practice to the next level, consider trying 
Hot Yoga!  I'm a fan, but it's not for everyone, and, as always the case with group classes, it depends on the instructor.  

Other tips:

Already an old pro?  If you ever find yourself in a yoga rut, try these tips from FitSugar to get your yoga groove back.

You can also take your yoga to new levels with Greatist's "Yoga on the Road" infographic on integrating yoga poses into your airtime.

As always, consult your doctor before engaging in physical activity, and alert your instructor to any injuries you have.  Yoga, like all forms of exercise, comes with risk of injury, so be careful: use proper form, ask for help when you need it, and revert to downward dog or child's pose when you need a rest or can't quite make it.  No pressure.  You'll improve with time.

Yoga at Home: I'd personally recommend starting off in a class, so you can see how the poses are properly done and an instructor can help get you there, but if you're shy, already experienced, or don't belong to a gym or studio, there are also many great resources to guide your yoga practice at home.

That's all she wrote!  Any questions?  Comments?  I dare you to give yoga a try.  Even if you don't love it, you'll likely see benefits after a bit of practice.  One class won't change your life, but regular yoga just might.

Do you do yoga?  How did you get started?  
What websites and DVDs do you recommend for at-home yoga?

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41 comments:

  1. Awesome Awesome Awesome! You cover everything!!!

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  2. Bookmarking and coming back in the morning to check out all of these wonderful sounding posts! Thanks for including me!

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  3. this is so so so very timely for me.
    IM FINALLY GETTING BACK TO MY PRACTICE.

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  4. I do yoga several times a week and often times even when it's not on my training plan. The relaxation is wonderful.

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  5. Yoga is a wonderful thing. I love your post.

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  6. I love yoga! I try to get in a little something every day.

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    1. Yep! I always do some basic stretching at minimum, more when I can. It's amazing what a little (and a lot of!) yoga can do

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  7. I really want to get more into yoga. I sometimes do yoga videos from yogadownload.com at home, but not very often. I've been meaning to go to an actual yoga class all summer and I still haven't gotten around to it! :P

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    1. At home videos are great. Glad you finally got a post-run session in today :)

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  8. Wow, this post was so thought-out and well-developed! It looks like you put a lot of work into it. :) I started yoga a few weeks ago. I really do like hot yoga but I also like vinyasa for just calming my mind and stretching out. :)

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    1. Thanks! And me too; love doing yoga just for some quality stretching and zoning out.

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  9. This is a great guide! Nice job including everything and being so comprehensive in it, Meredith!

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  10. I've never been to an actual yoga class, but loving doing yoga DVDs at home. I love yoga for weight loss by Suzanne Deason. It's my all-time fav. I had the VHS, lol.

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    1. Haha VHS is the real deal! I'll have to look into that one. Right now I'm trying Jillian's ;)

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  11. Awesome post! I wish we had a great yoga studio closer. I need to get back to a practice.

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  12. I have been practicing yoga for over a decade now. I love everything about it, so good for the soul, mind and body!!!

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  13. I love yoga, and I've definitely been doing more in the last couple of weeks. It's a nice alternative to the treadmill/bike/whatever. I enjoy stretchiiiiiiing out :) and I love Yoga Meltdown! She's such a toughie!

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    1. Agreed - yoga is a nice complement to any fitness regimen. And yes, the meltdown is no relaxing yoga session lol

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  14. I'm a pilates person but I think they go hand in hand with similar benefits. Thanks for writing this post, I learned a lot!

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  15. I do yoga but only in the comfort of my own home. :) Great post! I too think I usually prefer vinyasa.

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    1. Same here; I think I like vinyasa best. And I've recently enjoyed doing yoga in my PJs, sans studio.

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  16. The hang down in your face clothing tip is great advice for beginners!

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  17. I do love me some yoga!! It definitely took awhile for my runner brain to understand the benefits, but now I try to do a few poses daily and at least one long session each week. Hopefully more post marathon!

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    1. Yep! After my long runs, I always do at least 10 minutes of yoga stretching. Yoga and running can really go nicely together! A good rest day activity.

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  18. GREAT post! Never done hot yoga but I'm a big fan of having a regular yoga class in my training rotations.

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  19. Fantastic share... I never knew what namaste meant... nice.

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    1. Thanks! Glad you learned something new :)

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  20. I love hot yoga, as you know! It's been so good for my whole being :) Thanks for including me in this wonderful post! #fitfluential #love

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    1. Well said -- it's definitely good for the *Whole Being*

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  21. Love this post! I am sharing this with my readers. Thank you for including me!

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  22. I have a love/hate relationship with yoga. I see the benefit of it, but I never really feel challenged like I do in HIIT. It could be the instructor though or I'm just that damn flexible ;) I do love how it relaxes you though and n the class I took they read a poem at the end which was always nice and motivational!

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    1. What a novel idea -- finishing with a poem! I've only experienced that once in a class I attended in Brooklyn. Sounds nice

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  23. I looooove yoga! I fell in love with power yoga after having my daugher. I start my teacher training in 2 weeks!

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  24. going to give this a try!! :) I am doing C25K and i need something to stretch my calves especially.

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  25. This is very nice read and you defined yoga very nicely and all of its various aspects too.
    Intensive yoga teacher training

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  26. I just got the first yoga class, it was wonderful!

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  27. Great yoga article give me new ideas and suggestions :) Nice :)

    Stretching exercises with pictures

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