Yoga 101: Exercise Perfected
When it comes to the gym, there are usually two goals in mind.
1. Lift something heavy
2. Run on a treadmill to get the heart rate up.
Often times, we skip (or skimp) on another important aspect of fitness....stretching our muscles after we work-out.
If you are looking for a well-rounded work-out and want to get the most bang for your buck, then on option worth exploring is yoga. Depending on the type of class you choose, you may be able to combine weight training (using your own body weight), cardio (flow) and stretching in a single class.
There are many types of yoga to fit the need of every budding yogini. If you believe adding yoga to your work-out regimen would benefit your body, here are descriptions of some of the more popular types of yoga, so that you can find the right one for you. Keep in mind that every posture can be modified, so with a few exceptions, no matter your level of fitness, you can experience great results in most classes.
Ashtanga is a vinyasa flow class (""vinyasa,"" among other things, generally means the sequence of poses you hold). You often move fairly quickly through the poses, which helps work up a sweat. The breath should be linked with the movement. Years ago, there was a belief that Americans didn't understand Ashtanga yoga, so ""Power Yoga"" was created. It operates under the same theory, however.
Iyengar yoga, named for its creator, encourages reaching a deeper level of flexibility by holding poses longer and using props. Alignment is extremely important and adjustments are encouraged due to the extended length of time the poses are held.
Vin yoga or viniyoga is gentle and restorative. Sometimes used post-injury, this type of yoga still syncs the breath with the movement but will rarely cause you to work up a sweat.
Bikram yoga is performed in a room heated to over 100 degrees. It is designed to be a 90-minute class performing 26 specific poses. The theory is that the heat helps your body rid itself of toxins. Some believe the heat also allows the body to reach a deeper stretch. Some critics claim working out in high temperatures can be dangerous and sometimes the body may over-stretch due to the heat.
Hatha yoga is generally a mix of various types of yoga. You often may not be able to tell how vigorous the class is just by looking at the schedule, so you may want to inquire as to the instructor's chosen yoga techniques.
YOGA POSES 101
One pose common to every yoga practice is downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Downward dog is such a great pose all by itself (provided your wrists are not giving you trouble). The weight placed on the arms and shoulders helps build upper body strength, it can help ease back pain and loosen stiff hamstrings. Gentler options include dolphin pose or child's pose. For most vigorous yoga classes, this is your resting pose. Keep in mind if you have high blood pressure, going upside down may not be appropriate for your yoga practice.
A lot of people complain of hip and back pain. That can sometimes mean that you are plagued by a tight psoas muscle. One-Legged King Pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana), even modified, is the perfect pose to stretch that muscle. Want to build strong legs? The Warrior pose series (Virabhadrasana I, II, and III) is where you want to head. Need to loosen your hips? Happy baby pose (Ananda Balasana) is a good starting place. Tight lower back? Cobra pose (Bhujangasana) can help you there.
You may be tempted to miss the final few minutes of class, usually reserved for savasana (corpse pose). We often rush through our days, taking little time for ourselves. As challenging as it can be to quiet our mind, savasana helps you reach complete relaxation and is a very important part of yoga practice. It allows our mind, body and spirit to realign. If you are new to yoga, you may not succeed in completely clearing your mind the first few times. However, with practice, this pose may become one of your favorites.
As class carefully rolls out of savasana, many yoga instructors end with chanting or thoughts-of-the-day. Typically, the final word spoken is “Namaste” as hands are brought to heart center and instructor and class bow to each other as a sign of respect. Namaste does literally mean “I bow to you,” however, many instructors explain that it also means that the light in her or him is recognizing the light in each of their students.
Yoga could possibly be the perfect exercise. Most cities and towns have multiple yoga studios with classes for every level. Certainly, you could do any of these poses on your own, but joining a yoga class with an excellent instructor could mean the difference between getting a good work-out and just doing a few stretches. Challenge yourself: take yoga classes three times a week for a month and see if and how it changes your life.
Is yoga part of your exercise regimen? If not, take a class and come back to tell us about it. Please feel free to comment below with your yoga stories!