The world of fitness has been notoriously dominated by a certain class of people for many years – The tanned, vascular, meat-head yelling at a guy in his mid-40s comes to mind. Fitness and wellness are really something for every man, woman, and child and the more people begin to take their health into their own hands, the less negative impact these otherwise unhealthy individuals will have on society, themselves, and their loved ones. While some people just appear healthy (key word being “appear”) others really have to work at it. It may all boil down to the genetic lottery, but that is a whole other article in and of itself. So where does Yoga come into this?
Yoga has become a new craze in the Western fitness world with certification boards, yoga studios, freelance yogis, and even yoga therapists popping up all over the place. One might wonder:
- Why is Yoga suddenly so popular if it has been around for more than 1500 years?
- What can Yoga deliver to me that another fitness program cannot?
- How can I get started in Yoga?
Well, the answers are right here…
Breaking the mold of what fitness can be
Not only does the classic Yogi break the mold of what a fitness instructor is, it breaks the mold of what fitness class can be. Yoga is one of the most inclusive forms of the exercise out there. Whether you are young, old, male, female, able bodied or otherwise, yoga has something to offer. It does not necessarily need to have such high intensity and a barrage of different distractors going on whether it be music, machines, or screaming fitness professionals.
Yoga proves that an exercise class can be slow while still being intense. It can be mindful and calming, and it can be available to everyone no matter where an individual is starting from. If you are already doing other forms of exercise like Pilates, Floor Barre, Aerobics, Suspension Training you might wonder if yoga will still benefit you.
The answer is yes!
The impact yoga makes on your mind
One of the key facets of Yoga is the mental aspect. Yoga delivers something that many exercise programs attempt to force: mental toughness. It is demanding and incredibly rigorous to complete an hour long spin class, no one would dare argue that, but the real question isn’t about the exercise class itself, it is about the participants in that exercise class. How many of those drained, sweaty, dead-legged fitness enthusiasts are going to take the mental strength they just developed in their class, into their life?
The answer is: not enough.
Yoga as a philosophy and practice, aside from just the postures and asana, truly motivates its students to take their practice of mindfulness and meditation into their own lives and make it their own. Yoga wants you to take the practice into your life!
Some key aspects of Yoga as a philosophy that carry into one’s life include not over indulging, concentration, withdrawal of stimulation, balance in all senses of the word and not grasping for that with which you do not have.
The yoga poses
Yoga poses are caleed “Asanas”. Asana, translates to “posture” in Sanskrit, an archaic language that has fallen out of conversation much like Latin.
Here are some introductory asanas for you to get started with…
1) Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Mountain pose might just look like standing, but it is so much more. Mountain pose has some very key areas that will make you rethink how you are standing not only in yoga, but in your daily life. Some key points for you to think about in this pose include balancing your weight between your heels and balls of your feet, distributing the pressure off your knees by flexing your quadriceps, aligning your spine and taking a comfortable and linear posture, and tucking your pelvis up and forward which will align your legs correctly. You also want a relaxed neck, strong gaze, and deep breathing as with all poses. This is a great place to feel your body and notice any soreness or imbalances you may have.
2. Standing Forward Bend Pose (Uttanasana)
This is a classic yoga pose and one that every yogi aspires to perform with the greatest flexibility. It is important to have the knees extended and not bent, as to stretch the hamstrings primarily. Of course, you also do not want to hyperextend the knees, so it is important to ensure the flexion is coming from the hips and not stressing the knees. When bending down into the pose, keep a straight back for as long as possible, then once you are at your edge, release your vertebrae and collapse into gravity. Relax your neck, maybe even twist your neck left and right to relieve your cervical spine. Touch your hands to the floor and if you aren’t there yet, keep at it!
3. Four Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga)
If you want to flow into this pose, you can jump back into it from your Standing Forward Bend. Once you are here, keep your wrists near 90 degrees and your elbows less than 90 degrees. Get as close to the ground as you possibly can without allowing your body to touch the floor and really feel your arms support you. Keep your elbows in tight to ensure your triceps are supporting you and not put undue pressure on your shoulders. You want to keep your gaze forward, but don’t extend your neck too far as you’ll end up cramping and no one likes that. You will really need to keep your abs tight and focus on keeping your body parallel to the floor. This will ensure you get those toned yogi arms!
4. Upward Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
This is a beautiful pose in terms of getting a nice strong spine and releasing tension in the chest and abs. You would be surprised how much this pose can stretch your abs, something most people never do. We spend most of our lives hunched over looking at phones, books, driving, walking, or whatever else. With this pose, release your neck back and extend your spine back as far as you comfortably can. You want to bring your hips off the ground and keep your arms strong to lift your chest towards the ceiling and really open your heart. You will see great improvement from where you start in a short period of time and this is a nice pose to hold for a few minutes, as opposed to the previous poses which might be held for just seconds.
5. Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
This is probably one of the most popular poses in the world of yoga, and for good reason! This pose lengthens the calves especially and I promise you will feel it. You want to pull back from Upward Facing Dog by rolling over your toes, rooting your heels into the ground, sitting back on your femurs, and really putting most of your weight on your legs as opposed to your arms. You want to relax your neck and look through your legs. You can bring up one heel and press the other into the ground if it helps you lengthen the calve muscles. You can drop your chest toward the ground to get more out of this pose, but only after really refining the rest of the pose. You will really begin to love being in this pose once you feel all the benefits it has to offer.
Incorporate yoga into your daily exercise routine and some yoga poses to get started, there is nothing stopping you from going full yogi! You can do all of these poses anywhere, whether it is in your bedroom, your favorite gym, the office, the grassy lawn in between nibbling on ears of corn off the barbecue, or you might even join a yoga studio if this tickles your fancy!
What are your favorite yoga poses?