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Exercise & Relaxation - A Beginners Guide to Yoga

As a relatively safe, non-aerobic form of exercising and stretching the muscles in the body, Yoga is a widespread practice across the world. In fact, there are more than 11 million people practicing at least one style of Yoga in the United States alone. That's a lot of Yoga poses! For many people, especially those who are limited in the physical activities they can achieve without pain, Yoga is the perfect solution. That being said, it's still important to observe basic safety practices, and you should never start trying to learn any Yoga pose without speaking with your doctor first.

What is Yoga?

While many people dismiss Yoga as a simple fad, it goes back much farther than taking classes at the YMCA. In fact, it can be traced back 5,000 years to be exact. In the simplest terms, Yoga is a way of training the body to incorporate deep, mindful breathing exercises with stretches and other core training movements. The main focus of many Yoga styles is meditation.

Benefits of Yoga

Two of the most apparent benefits of practicing Yoga are the mental and physical relaxation that accompanies it. Physically, Yoga poses strengthen the core muscle, which improves posture and decreases body pains. Since many of the poses revolve around syncing deep breathing with body movement, it also has the potential to help increase the lung capacity. Additionally, many people choose to practice Yoga because sticking with it long term increases flexibility.

Styles of Yoga

There are sixteen styles of Yoga that are still practiced today. Some of the most popular are outlined below:

Bikram: Also known as hot yoga, this is a form of yoga that is practiced in 100 plus degree heat and humidity.

Ashtanga: An advanced type of yoga, also known as power yoga, best suited for ex-athletes or non-beginners.

Hatha: A type of yoga with slow, gentle moments, great for winding down and for beginners.

Kundalini: A form of yoga that works your “core” area with a focus on the lower spine.

Prenatal: A type of yoga for expectant mothers which helps in developing good breathing habits for labor and delivery.

Iyengar: A style of yoga that emphasizes precision and alignment in posture; the most widely taught form of yoga in the US.


Yoga Equipment

One of the best things about practicing Yoga is that the necessary equipment is very minimal. In order to get started, you will need comfortable clothing, a floor mat, and a Yoga block for standing positions. There is other optional equipment, as well – like a Yoga strap, bolster, and other props for making seating and standing positions more comfortable. However, they are not required to start doing basic poses. Additionally, you are also encouraged to choose music that will help you focus during your session. 


Practicing Yoga

Although a Yoga session will vary according to the style that you are practicing, they all begin the same way. You will first start out practicing deep breathing because it is an essential part of all the poses. Then, you will move on to a short session of meditation to calm and relax the mind so that you can focus entirely on your poses and what your body is trying to tell you. After you have finished meditating, you will then move on to your sequence of poses, holding them for the desired time frame. At the end of a session, it is necessary to allow the body to slowly relax again – this is called Shavasana, or the Relaxation Pose.


Beginning Poses

In general, seated Yoga poses are the easiest for beginners to master. This is because a seated pose does not require as much coordination and strength as a standing, inverted, or backbend pose. The Butterfly is one of the most common beginner poses that people learn, followed closely by the Seated, One Leg Forward Bend. Both poses are usually suitable for a wide range of people, regardless of age. Some standing poses, like the Low Lunge, are also ideal for beginners.


Advanced Poses

Once you have mastered the basic poses, you are ready to move on to positions that require more balance and core strength to maintain. Arm balances, which include the Crane Pose, are among this category, as are inversions – like the Supported Shoulderstand. The Firefly and the Peacock Pose are also usually reserved for those with an advanced skill set. Some of these poses are not suitable for people with certain medical conditions, so make sure you always ask your doctor for permission prior to practicing them.


By Matthew Pearson

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