Yoga

By Amy Winter

December 3, 2010 5 min read

Need a way to become healthier while reducing stress? Yoga is a great fitness option. Sonya Klepper, assistant director at Yoga Basics, says that yoga helps improve body, mind and spirit. The best part is that anyone at any physical level can participate in yoga classes; poses can be adapted to fit your fitness ability.

"The practice of yoga is a deeply individual thing," Klepper says. "It's not a competition. The perception that a person has to be flexible, young (and) in perfect health is misleading. It truly is a system for whole-body health."

If you want to try yoga, start with a basic class. Dayna Macy, communications director for Yoga Journal, says to begin slowly and to maintain patience. It is more about learning the poses than it is about being flexible enough to touch your toes. Ann Pizer, the yoga writer at About.com, recommends beginning with a few hatha yoga classes to practice the fundamental poses. To prevent injuries and learn the basics, even those in excellent physical shape should start in a class for beginners.

There are many types of yoga, but Pizer suggests choosing a class based on your personality, likes and dislikes, and physical abilities. Macy lists the top yoga classes as Anusara (an energetic workout that opens the heart), Iyengar (focuses on anatomical accuracy), power (a physical challenge), vinyasa (a flow practice) and ashtanga (a set of poses that work on flowing movement and breathing). If you describe yourself as a "free spirit," you most likely will prefer vinyasa yoga. If you are very flexible, Pizer suggests ashtanga. If you have suffered from an injury, Iyengar is probably the best choice.

Classes differ, depending on the type of yoga and the instructor. Certain yoga sessions contain meditation, chanting, mudras and certain asanas, according to Klepper. Bikram yoga teaches participants in rooms with temperatures higher than 85. Some classes have live music, whereas other sessions contain no music. Terri Seiden, marketing director at YogaWorks, says that time and location play a role in selecting the right class. You can find a yoga studio near your house, or gyms usually offer certain yoga classes.

"I always encourage people to test out and try a variety of classes so they can find what really resonates on a deeper level," Klepper says. "How you feel once a class is over is a good gauge as to whether that class is for you."

When attending a class, remember to wear comfortable and breathable clothing. You don't have to worry about shoes because most classes are taught barefoot. Seiden says most studios have mats to rent, but you may want to buy your own mat. Studios usually provide props, such as blocks or straps, in order to make you feel more relaxed and to aid with your alignment for poses.

The typical yoga class begins with the teacher chanting "om" three times and a breathing exercise or brief meditation, according to Pizer. Then the teacher demonstrates warm-up poses, more strenuous poses, stretches and final relaxation. If you need a break during the session, Pizer recommends getting into the Balasana, or child's pose. Ask the teacher for assistance and observe other students if you need to see the proper way to do a pose.

Yoga provides many health benefits to participants, including increased muscle tone and strength, pain prevention, and better posture, breathing and sleep. Klepper also stresses yoga's mental benefits, including mental focus, clarity, peace, stress relief and body awareness, which lead to weight loss and improved body health. If you have a better sense of your body, you most likely will make healthier food choices.

And yoga is not just for women. Although more women than men participate in yoga classes, yoga also benefits men's health. Many athletes have turned to yoga when healing from an injury. And several poses are more suited for men because the positions require upper-body strength, according to Pizer.

"Body, soul and mind are all connected, and we forget this in our daily busy lives," Klepper says. "When you feel changes in your body, you feel changes in your mental outlook and in the very nature of who you are (your spirit) and vice versa."

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