By Carolina Sanchez
The American Council on Exercise recently studied the physical benefits of yoga and found that “the regular practice of Hatha yoga significantly improved the subjects’ flexibility, muscular strength and endurance, and balance, lowered blood pressure and reduced cortisol levels.”
Yoga’s emphasis on breathing and the mind/body/spirit connection also yields strong emotional benefits. People who practice yoga frequently report that they sleep better and feel less stressed. It helps you learn not to concentrate on things you can’t control, but to live in the present. It seeps into the rest your life. You’ll notice you’re handling a stressful event more easily, whether it’s family or work.
If you’re finally ready to give yoga a try, here’s how to get started:
Move Past the Myths – First give up all the preconceptions that are holding you back. First big myth: you have to be flexible to do yoga. People who aren’t flexible will actually see results faster. Because yoga is a practice geared to helping you become aware of your own highly individual mind/body connection, it’s perfectly suited to all levels.
Take a Beginner’s Class – Look for classes that specify they are for beginners or are “open” classes, which are for all levels. Because there are so many different styles of yoga, you may want to try a few different types of classes until you find what you like best. Hatha yoga is one of the most flowing and gentle options, making it a good starting point; Vinyasa is more athletic; and Yin concentrates on flexibility. The only type that I wouldn’t recommend for beginners is Bikram, or “over 90 degrees” yoga.
Don’t Worry About Whether You’re Doing It ‘Right’ – It’s not about doing it better or worse than someone else, it’s about how you feel each stretch in your own body. The only test, according to lifelong yoga practitioners, is how relaxed you can allow yourself to feel.
Listen to Your Body – Yoga is a deeply personal practice and no two people can or should hold a pose in exactly the same way. It’s important to work at your own level of flexibility, one that makes you feel challenged but not overwhelmed. Your body will warn you if you are about to get hurt. The key is to listen to your body, push the limits gently, but don’t let yourself be overcome by ego. Allow your body to guide you and be your friend.
Concentrate on Your Breath – The goal of yoga is to marry the breath to movement. Most teachers will tell you when to inhale and exhale as you work through poses. Breathe through your nose only, this keeps heat in the body and keeps the mind focused. Concentrating on your breath is the key to yoga for stress management, as it helps you let go of external thoughts and anxiety. The easiest way to bring yourself into the present moment is to focus on your breath. Feel how it goes down your nose and into your body. It helps you let go of the worrying thoughts.
Play Dead – Every yoga class ends with corpse pose, a pose designed for deep relaxation. Simply lie on your back with your arms at your side and your eyes closed, breathing deeply. See how easy it is – you’ve learned a yoga pose already.
Carolina Sanchez is the owner of Weston Yoga and Wellness Center. It is located at 2600 Glades Circle, Suite 400. The studio will host a Stress Management Workshop on September 9th and 10th from 1-6pm. For more information or to schedule an appointment for wellness services, please call 954-349-6868 or visit www.westonyoga.com.