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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