Ever thought of taking up YOGA but not sure if it's for you?
From beginners to advanced, there's a style of YOGA for everyone!
Where did it come from?
Yoga - The word originates from the Sanskrit word 'Yut', meaning 'to unite' and means to peacefully combine body, mind and soul in order to achieve a happy and balanced life.
The Yoga Sutras say that the ultimate aim of Yoga is for the student to reach 'kaivalya' meaning total freedom. It is said that one then becomes free of the ties to continual reincarnation and can then exist in complete peace and tranquility.
There are many styles of Yoga that focus on the various teachings, possibly the most well known being Ashtanga, Kundalini and Iyengar. Particular styles may be considered more effective than others but they all strive for the ultimate aim of achieving inner peace.
Practitioners are certainly not just super bendy, lycra clad, skinny creatures that are able to hook their feet behind their heads. Nor are they all hippies in harem pants who will go anywhere for an Om, a chant and a cup of ginger tea.
Maybe it's the resurection of Yoga amongst the celebrity crowd that has brought it back into fashion. The same happened with Pilates and the No Carb Diet. But then it never really went out of fashion among those in the know. Whatever it is that's happening, Yoga has definitely become more mainstream.
There are classes that are specifically tailored for pregnancy, post natal women, middle aged men, children and even babies. It's thought that everyone can benefit from the practise of Yoga to some degree.
What are you waiting for?
So my friends, let's have a look at how you too can become a student of Yoga.
Firstly, as with any other exercise programme, consult your doctor before commencing. Do this especially if you're pregnant, over 40, haven't exercised for a while or have an existing condition.
Get yourself kitted out with a comfortable pair of pants. Tracksuit type pants will do the job nicely but if you're not shy about showing lumps and bumps (or if you're lucky enough not to have any!), go for the custom yoga pants as these tend not to fall up to your knees when performing a pose that involves laying on your back with your legs in the air.
A comfortable top is also necessary. Find something that doesn't restrict your movement as you'll eventually be twisting your arms and legs at angles they've never been before.
Shoes are not a big deal as Yoga is always practised in bare feet. You'll find that shoes and socks are always left outside the doors of studios. It's usually ok to keep your socks on if it's especially cold! However, feeling your feet evenly on the ground and spreading your toes is an important part of some poses.
It's handy to have your own roll up 'sticky mat' and a light weight blanket although most studios will offer these free of charge.
Finding a Studio
If you live in a smaller town with only one Yoga studio then that's probably where you'll have to go. Ensure your teacher is trained and be sure to tell them of any illnesses or injuries you have, no matter how trivial you think they are. There may well be a pose or a particular inversion that you shouldn't perform.
If you live in a city with a choice of studios then good for you! Do a bit of research and choose a style that you think suits you. Or better still, take advantage of the fact that many studios offer the first class free so you can try before you buy. Talk to the instructors and see what they can offer you.
Yoga is a study of personal focus, on your body, your mind and your breathing. Therefore a good Yoga studio should be a peaceful retreat from your daily bustle, traffic, children, whatever makes your every day a frenetic one.
It's absolutely imperative that you work at your own pace. Yoga is not a competition with the person beside you. You must show respect for your fellow students by not staring and comparing. You can rest in the knowledge that they will be showing you the same respect.
General Yoga studio etiquette, apart from leaving your shoes at the door, is to ensure your cell phone is turned off, work privately, talk quietly and only when necessary - it's not a place for idle gossip and mindless chit-chat. Your teacher should be approachable and you should be able to ask him or her for help at any time during the class.
If you feel pain or strain during any movement, it generally means you're trying too hard. Ease off a little and take it slowly. You may feel some of the benefits early on but most benefits are longer term and won't be achieved immediately.
Yoga poses (asanas) are intended to stretch our muscles, ligaments and soft tissue surrounding the muscles, releasing the build up of lactic acid that causes our muscles to stiffen. Asanas also improve the range of motion and lubrication in our joints.
In the more powerful forms of Yoga such as Ashtanga, improvements in muscle tone as well as strength and flexibility will be gained.
Asanas such as Downward Dog, Upward Dog and Plank are excellent for building upper body strength, good for maintaining posture which is essential as we age. The various standing poses are helpful for building strength in the hamstrings, quadriceps as well as abdominal muscles. When performed correctly, almost all Yoga asanas will help to improve strength in the core abdominal muscles.
Yoga has been known to improve blood pressure and lower the heart rate, both conditions that arrive along with older age in many people. This is turn lowers the risk of stroke. Yoga has also been associated with improving the function of the immune system and lowering cholesterol levels.
In short, you are never too old, too unfit or too 'tight' to enjoy the beneficial effects of practising Yoga. So what are you waiting for?