Have you always wanted to try yoga but have been too nervous to get started? Are you unsure if yoga is for you? In my view, yoga is for everyone, but of course I am biased!
One of the biggest misconceptions about yoga is that it is all about the asanas (postures). In fact, the asanas are just the stepping stones to being able to sit and meditate comfortably. They are one small part of yoga and how it can benefit not only the physical self but the mental and spiritual self.
One of the most common reasons people tell me they haven’t tried yoga is because they are not ‘flexible enough’. I can understand why people have this concern, however, one of the biggest benefits of yoga is to obtain flexibility. You don’t need it at the start, and in fact, for people who are naturally flexible they often must work harder to utilise their muscles in yoga rather than relying on their joints to get them into the poses.
How do you know if yoga is for you?
Do you want to improve your flexibility?
As you age your flexibility decreases and reduced flexibility means an increased risk of sustaining injuries to your joints or straining muscles. By practising yoga you are creating space in your joints, lengthening your muscles and allowing movement through your body which is so important, particularly if you work in a sedentary job or undertake a lot of physical activity such as running.
Try this simple stretch to get you started:
Uttanasana – a nice way to lengthen and stretch through the spine.
- Stand upright with your feet together, or hip width apart if you have lower back issues
- Bend forward folding at the hips and with the knees bent bring your finger tips to the floor. Bend your knees as much as you need to bring the fingertips to the floor. If you are unable to reach use a pillow or blankets to place your hands on
- Bring your weight out of your heels so it is even across your feet
- Round through your spine and tuck your chin into your chest
- If you feel comfortable, start to straighten your knees (always keep a bend in your knees if you have lower back issues)
Stay here for 5 – 10 breaths.
Do you want to build strength?
Maintaining your strength is also important as you age. Weight bearing exercises and resistance training are both helpful for maintaining bone density and stability. By practising yoga you are building strength by using the weight of your body to maintain the asanas as well as moving through the various sequences during the practice with stability.
Try this simple strength building asana:
Ukatasana – a great way to build strength and stamina, particularly in your ankles and legs
- Stand upright with your feet hip width apart
- Raise your arms above your head, palms facing toward each other but not touching
- Move the shoulders downwards away from the ears and bend the knees sitting back into an imaginary chair
- Tuck your tailbone under to lengthen the spine and bend a little further
Stay here for 5 breaths
Are you often stressed or unwell?
Yoga is not just about the asanas, it is also about pranayama (yogic breathing) and meditation. Joining a yoga class that incorporates both elements is a great way to reduce your stress levels and improve your general well-being.
Pranayama incorporates several breathing practices that move the energy of the breath through the body in a structure and controlled way. It helps to rejuvenate the body and relax the mind.
Meditation aims to calm the nervous system and clear the mind. Meditation is becoming a well-respected technique to improve health outcomes for many conditions including stress, hypertension and chronic illness with new research emerging all the time. Even without the research, it is a practice that has been used for thousands of years as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Try this simple meditation practice to get you started
- Sit in a comfortable cross legged position. If you are not comfortable sitting, then lie down on your back on a flat surface and relax your body
- Become aware of your breath as you inhale in through the nose and out through your nose
- Notice if your inhale is longer or shorter than your exhale, or is it even?
- See if you can start to make your inhale and your exhale the same length. Don’t force it, just take your time as your body and mind start to relax your breathing will also relax
- If your mind starts to wander just bring your awareness back to your breath, the way it feels as it moves through your nostrils and expands into your lungs, and the way it feels as it leaves your body, emptying your lungs
- Continue with this awareness for as long as you are comfortable.
Want to give Yoga a go?
There are so many benefits to practising yoga, hence why it has become so popular. There are many different styles to choose from, however don’t be concerned with choosing the right type of yoga to start with, just find a class and a teacher you are comfortable with.
If you are new to yoga I would recommend a small class size to ensure you get individual attention from the teacher and they can guide you through each asana safely. Smaller class sizes mean more opportunity for you to be adjusted as you go so you can get a feel for each of the positions and makes it easier for you to practise at home if you choose.
I would always recommend to choose a class that also incorporates some relaxation as that is truly the best bit of a yoga practice!