Embark on a transformative journey into the world of yoga with our guide. What is it? What is it good for? From its ancient origins to modern benefits, this post provides a concise introduction to the art and science of yoga practice.
Yoga is a multifaceted practice that transcends physical exercise, encompassing a holistic approach to well-being for both the body and the mind. Rooted in ancient Indian philosophy, yoga is a union of various elements aimed at achieving harmony within yourself and with the surrounding world. At its core, the practice combines physical postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), meditation, and ethical principles to cultivate a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
Yoga traces its origins back to ancient India, where it emerged as a multifaceted philosophy and practice thousands of years ago. Rooted in the sacred Hindu texts of the Vedas and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yoga was initially conceived as a path to spiritual insight and self-realization. Over time, its diverse elements, including physical postures, breath control, meditation, and ethical principles, evolved to encompass a comprehensive approach to holistic well-being. It has become a timeless and profound system that continues to inspire and transform lives worldwide.
Incorporating yoga practice into your regular training can have significant benefits. Assisting with greater flexibility and joint mobility, enhancing posture and reducing the risk of injury. The controlled breathing techniques practiced in yoga seamlessly complement cardio workouts, optimizing endurance and cultivating mindful focus amidst exertion.
In the realm of sports, yoga practice can assist in improving agility, balance, and mental acuity. This translates into improved on-field performance. Its meditative aspects contribute to resilience, helping athletes maintain composure during intense scenarios. Beyond structured training, yoga permeates everyday life by alleviating muscular imbalances and chronic discomfort, fostering comfort during daily activities. The stress-relieving dimensions of yoga also bolster emotional well-being and mental clarity, equipping practitioners to navigate life’s challenges with balance and equanimity.
Where to start?
An introduction to Yoga practice. So you have decided that Yoga is for you and have decided to give it a go? See benefits of Yoga practice Starting out anything new can be tricky, and it’s always best to do a bit of research to see what you are getting into. This article aims to provide you with an introduction to Yoga practice to give you a head start!
Something for everybody
First off, there are many different styles of Yoga to choose from today. Therefore choosing one based on your level and ability would be the smart move. For instance, it would not be great if you were entirely new to Yoga to turn up at a fast-paced Vinyasa class expecting the class to wait for you to catch up.
With regards to the different styles of Yoga available, although all of the styles are based on similar physical postures, each has a particular emphasis. Below is a quick reference to some of the more popular types of yoga on offer.
Hatha Yoga: Hatha is usually slow-paced and gentle yoga. It is a good introduction for those new to basic yoga poses.
Vinyasa Yoga: Vinyasa is usually a more vigorous style with faster transitions between poses. The emphasis in classes is for practitioners to perform a series of poses called ‘Sun Salutations’ where their movement is matched to breathing.
Bikram Yoga (aka Hot Yoga): Bikram is practised in an artificially heated room of around 95-100 degrees. The idea being the loosening of tight muscles and cleaning of the body (via profuse sweating). Bikram consists of a series of 26 poses and sequence of two breathing exercises.
Ashtanga Yoga (Power Yoga): Ashtanga is a fast-paced, active and athletic style of Yoga, where a set series of poses is usually performed in the same order (there is Mysore Ashtanga Yoga also where practitioners work at there own pace). Ashtanga practise is very physically demanding, because of the constant movement from one pose to the next.
Iyengar Yoga: This style of practice is most concerned with bodily alignment and the precise way your body is positioned in each pose to optimise its benefits. There is a greater concern with correct technique and the avoidance of injury. With the use of props such as blocks, blankets, straps, chairs and bolsters to help the practitioners during difficult transitions. Iyengar practise involves longer transitions between poses compared to the rapid transition between poses found in other Yoga styles.
Yin: a quiet, meditative yoga practice, also called Taoist yoga. Practising Yin yoga enables the release of tension in key joints: ankles, knees, hips, the whole back, neck, and shoulders.
Prenatal yoga: yoga postures carefully adapted for people within all stages of pregnancy. It also supports people in getting back into shape after pregnancy.
Which Type to Choose?
Undertaking any of the above yoga disciplines will help build strength since holding poses requires much isometric muscle contraction. However, many people feel that slower types don’t raise the heart rate enough for effective weight loss purposes. Some very vigorous types of yoga practice (Ashtanga and ‘Power Yoga’) could be classed as cardiovascular exercise. As such they might be the most beneficial for practice if weight loss is a goal.
If you are new to yoga, you might initially take some Hatha Yoga classes to learn the basic poses. Many people may find Hatha Yoga too slow-paced. For people who prefer faster, more dynamic types of training, Hatha Yoga might not be what you are looking for.
Try not to dismiss Hatha outright, however. Even if you are very fit, consider beginners’ classes and learn the poses can avoid injury and spare your blushes. Trust me on this one! (sigh). Furthermore, Hatha Yoga is great for those who feel they are too old, too stiff, or too out of shape. It’s a good starting point.
Where to find a class
- Yoga Studio or Class.
- Local gym if you have a membership already.
- Private Instruction in your home or other location.
- Outdoors locations (such as the beach, local park, etc).
Costs & Considerations
- Yoga studios can be costly, but you will save on supplies if the instructor provides them. Also many have cost-effective membership plans.
- Your local gym may run classes. If they do you might be able to do yoga for free as part of a membership. Others may incur a cost.
- To practice at home, you will need basic equipment, a DVD or book or app outlining the session.
- Private instructors change hourly but may offer discounted rates if you buy in bulk or pay in advance.
- Outdoors locations will require equipment and prior planning.
NB: Practising at home might be more time and cost-effective. As mentioned above, there are many great yoga books, apps, YouTube videos available. However, bear in mind that there is no substitute for learning directly from a good teacher in a yoga class. It is always good to get instruction where possible. It will help with correct technique and advancing your practice (instructors can scale up or down the difficulty of a pose). A mix of practising in classes and at home is a good trade-off.
There are a few basic things you will need for yoga. Keeping it simple is always best, although that said I do not have to worry personally about hair ties or sports bras.
The right clothing
For yoga practice, light breathable clothing is certainly recommended (especially in hot yoga sessions!). Consider clothing made from stretchier breathable materials such as nylon, polyester, bamboo, spandex and polypropylene. These materials will allow your skin to breathe and not soak up the sweat. Avoid cotton at all costs, it will leave you drenched as though you’ve just emerged from a pond.
As well as breathable, consider tighter fitting clothing that stays in place and isn’t too revealing. This is important as some of the positions required may leave you exposed! If tighter pants or shorts aren’t your thing, look for jogging pants with elastic around the ankles. The ankle elastic will ensure they stay in place throughout your practice.
An easy choice for all with yoga wear is shorts and a light top. Very popular with the ladies are the tights, shorts pants, leggings and tank tops. These allow the movements required, stay in place during transitions between poses and allow the skin to breathe.
Special considerations for ladies. Sports bras, while yoga tends to be a low-impact activity, a decent sports bra can help make practice more comfortable. Whether you’re a man or woman, if you have long hair, you’ll need to secure it in place. Make sure you do this before you start the class to prevent it from falling into your eyes and face. A basic hair tie or headband should sort this problem. Popular brands for Yoga practitioners include Lululemon and Yogarebel.
Unless you are over 6 feet, then a standard yoga mat will be fine. They do range in thickness. So if you have joint problems or are sensitive and need extra cushioning, shop around for a thicker Yoga mat. The gym or class you workout in may provide mats for you. However, it is recommended that you pick up your own for sanitary reasons.
Yoga towels are important to have because of the amount of sweat you can generate during yoga. Your towel can be used to wipe the sweat from your body as well as the sweat on your mat. If your mat gets wet, it can be very slippery so keeping a towel handy is a good idea. Wiping your mat down after yoga with antibacterial also important for sanitary purposes.
Straps and blocks (for assistance with reaching), and blankets (to keep warm during cooldown) are advocated by many. This is down to the practitioner’s personal preferences as well as where they are practising. Some people feel the cold much more than others, particularly when cooling down. So be aware of that.
- Take off your shoes before entering the workout area.
- Turn off all electronic devices, phones, watches, anything that could disrupt the session!! Don’t be that person…
- Be on time or early (again don’t disrupt the session) Don’t be that person either…
- Try to do the poses, if you can’t, do one you can do and hold it. The teachers will know if you are struggling and help you scale the exercise and find your level.
- Try not to leave class early, it disrupts others and you are missing out. You crazy fool!!
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