By Malinda Gosvig
Every month, it appears, brings news of more studies demonstrating the health benefits of yoga. Most recently, some of the studies we have reported on here at YogaTherapyweb.com show yoga to bring relief for people suffering from heart failure, diabetes, and more.
Naturally, however, if you have the choice, it’s a lot smarter to use yoga to stay healthy, rather than to turn to yoga as therapy after a disease condition has developed. And, here’s the good news: yoga is for every body, not just for the young and flexible. So, to help you stay healthy in 2010, here are some tips for beginning yoga.
1. Throw out the idea that yoga is only for people of a certain age. While calendars and DVD covers may show us pictures of the young and the beautiful entwined in pretzel-asanas, the truth is that yoga is not about the physical expression, but the internal process of transformation. Any yoga pose, no matter how simple, if done with mindfulness and awareness will offer benefits.
For example, senior adults can often find relief from stiffness, arthritis aches, and lower back pain through a simple yoga therapy routine targeted to seniors. There are many stories of people, 65+ and above, who have transitioned from a place of “barely able to get out of bed in the morning” to a place of limberness that leaves them feeling like they’ve turned back the clock. And yoga’s beneficial effects on blood pressure, sleep patterns, and weight add to the mix as well. As many yoga teachers have noticed, senior students who practice yoga often look younger than their age.
2. Forget about having to look thin and fit. For people struggling with obesity or being overweight, yoga not only provides physical conditioning to help shed pounds, it also cultivates a level of awareness that serves as a foundation for better dietary and lifestyle habits over the long-run. However, there’s no reason to think you already have to be in shape in order to get in shape—that’s just nonsense.
People of all weights can enjoy weight-control and other health benefits of yoga by modifying poses to accommodate their level of ability. With regular practice, yoga students will find they are developing a greater degree of strength and flexibility, as well as shedding unwanted pounds. Also, those who cope with excess weight shouldn’t feel shy enrolling in a yoga class: classes are designed to be self-referral, so that students remained focused on their own bodies alone. For students who nonetheless prefer to practice at home, a wide variety of yoga DVDs are available.
Over time, regular yoga can help practitioners shed weight, gain strength and flexibility, and look and feel younger. But by no means are students expected to already display yoga’s benefits when they first sign up for classes!
3. Try an introductory class. Many studios offer free first-time classes, so if you’re not sure what you think of yoga, you can try it risk-free. Even those who already have some level of physical conditioning may be surprised at the benefits they’ll experience from just one class. Athletes, for example, have found that yoga can improve their strength, flexibility, and balance. Several USM sports teams have seen greater success on the playing field due to yoga.
Even for those who have worked with a DVD before, trying a class with a live instructor can provide important benefits. It’s possible to practice poses incorrectly while working with a book or yoga video, but a certified yoga teacher will come around and help you find a level of the pose that holds your body in proper alignment.
4. Don’t strain. Many times, new yoga students will assume the approach of “more is better.” In yoga, this statement is only true if “more” applies to relaxation, balance, and awareness. It is important not to strain the body in yoga; the purpose of the practice is to learn how to work with your physiology, not against it. Accept your body’s limitations—gently stretch them, but don’t strain. Pushing and rushing the practice can lead to injury. This is another reason why many students benefit best from working with an instructor who can help pace them, as opposed to working with a book or yoga DVD at home.
5. Shop around. Not all yoga classes are made equal, and even the most excellent classes will offer different benefits for different people. Take a few introductory classes with different studios to find out which class style best suits your personal needs. You may find one you love, or you may find a couple you enjoy switching between. Working with different instructors, even within the same style of yoga, can help develop different aspects of body awareness, since each yoga teacher has his or her own, unique method of approach.
6. Be safe. If you are pregnant or if you suffer from chronic health problems, it’s best to consult with your doctor before beginning any type of new exercise, including yoga. Also, it’s possible your doctor may know of yoga programs in the area that can help target certain health concerns you may have.
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