OK, I have to admit that I never thought I would be writing a column promoting yoga as a viable exercise medium and a restorative way to improve your health and wellbeing. Like most things, you must study the subject with an open mind to fully understand something before passing judgment. What I once thought was only for hippies or mystical/spiritual individuals; yoga provides numerous physical, mental and emotional benefits.
As a competitor I am continually looking for ways to improve my performance and yoga provides just that. Who would have thought that poses with names like “Downward Dog, Angry Cat, and Cobra” would actually be more than a creative petting zoo? It was not until I tried these poses that I learn just how inflexible I really was and just how wonderful these and other yoga poses can be for your flexibility and your mind.
What was once thought merely a trend; yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years with close to 11 million Americans enjoying its health benefits according to webmd. “Yoga is a healing system of theory and practice. The purpose of yoga is to create strength, awareness, and harmony both and the mind and body, “explains Dr. Natalie Nevins, DO and Medical Director of Amrit Davaa Wellness Center in California.
In the West most yoga classes focus on physical poses but may also add some breathing and meditation techniques as well. The beautiful thing about yoga is a wide offering of classes for almost everyone. While some classes focus only on relaxation and stress relief, others are more physical as a form of exercise that enables you to develop your flexibility, balance and strength. Other benefits include improved respiration and energy, weight reduction, cardio and circulatory health, improved athletic performance and protection from injury.
For all its benefits, like other exercise it’s not without risk. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the most common yoga related injuries involve overstretching and strain from repetition to the neck, shoulders, spine, legs and knees. Individuals that are pregnant have osteoporosis or problems with their spine should consult their physician before beginning yoga.
Here are some tips to help you reduce your risk of injury from and enjoy yoga:
Don’t try learning yoga on your own. Most fitness clubs have certified yoga instructors that will provide you a quality experience.
Start slowly and stay within your limits. You will NOT be as flexible when you start as your instructor. Take it slow and over time you will improve your flexibility.
Warm up properly before each session. Muscles stretch best when warm and are also less prone to strain.
Ask questions. If you don’t understand a pose, ask your instructor for some assistance. Performing poses wrong can be dangerous.
Stay hydrated. Hydration is important for all exercise and yoga, but especially if you are practicing “hot” yoga.
Pay attention to what your body is telling you. Yoga is not supposed to be painful but enjoyable. If you feel pain, stop or back off your pose.
Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and exercise and endurance enthusiast. He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.