Beginning Yoga Practitioners Should Take It Slow

Beginning Yoga pic When people begin practicing yoga, they may desire to push themselves harder than they really should. With phrases like “no pain, no gain” a part of common culture, beginners frequently look at more advanced students and attempt poses they are not ready to master. Doing so puts stress on the body and can cause real injury. In yoga, when the muscles begin to strain, the body should take that as a sign to stop. Slowly, beginning yogis will build the strength and flexibility needed to achieve more advanced poses. In yoga, it is important to listen to the body and respect its limits.

All yoga postures are integrated, making it imperative to master fundamental poses before attempting more difficult ones. The fundamental poses build the stability and flexibility needed for more complex poses.

For that reason, beginners should stick to introductory classes rather than taking whatever class fits their schedule. Practitioners can always talk to an instructor about their level and decide when they are ready to advance to intermediate classes. Taking an intermediate class too soon can encourage yogis to attempt poses that they are not ready for, especially when most other students in the class seem to flow into them without much of a struggle. This flow results from practice and dedication.


Bringing Mindfulness to Your Forward Fold

Forward Fold pic Standing forward fold, or uttanasana, is not a pose that we typically think much about. One of the first asanas of a typical sun salutation, this pose is often performed while on “auto-pilot.” In this article, we’ll break down how to bring a bit of mindfulness to your next forward fold.

Lead with the heart. Many of us developed poor “toe touching” habits thanks to years of youth sports team and P.E. warm-ups. In uttanasana, it’s important to dive forward with a flat black and to lead with the upper chest. This mindful movement will help you avoid rounding in the back and will provide you with a deeper stretch.

Activate your core. Don’t think about forward fold as an opportunity to just bend over and let gravity do the work in stretching out your hamstrings. Instead, engage your abdominal muscles and use them to help pull your heart closer to your shins and your hands flatter to the ground beside your feet.

Take a moment to look inward. While you’re settling into your forward fold, look up toward your belly button for just a second (but be careful not to round your back). This can help you connect visually with the powerful muscles you’re using to pull deeper into the pose.

The Benefits of Regular Yoga for Weightlifters

Restorative yoga pic Football players and other athletes who lift heavy weights and train frequently can benefit greatly from regular yoga practice. According to the Mayo Clinic, yoga aids the body in flushing excess lactic acid from muscles. Since lactic acid is primarily what leads to soreness and stiffness, yoga can alleviate a great deal of the pain sometimes associated with weightlifting. In addition, flushing lactic acid can make the next workout more effective, as the athlete will meet with less soreness, which can inhibit the ability to lift more weight. By pulling oxygen into muscles, yoga helps them perform better. Ultimately, yoga can help individuals become stronger.

Restorative yoga is designed to rejuvenate tired and sore muscles. More traditional forms of yoga can reduce the tension in athletes’ bodies. Even if weightlifters do not want to dedicate a significant amount of time to yoga practice, simply performing a few yoga stretches in between sets can have an immense impact on the session. When stretching, individuals should aim to hold a pose for a minute or more to maximize rest and repair time.

Brush Up on Your Sanskrit for Yoga

meditation pic If you practice any form of yoga, you have probably heard some of the basic Sanskrit words associated with the discipline, but do you know exactly what they mean? Many yoga instructors use both Sanskrit and English terms for poses and concepts, so if you’re new to yoga, you may be struggling to build your language skills at the same time you are learning a new routine. The definitions below may help both beginning and intermediate students become more comfortable with mixing one of the world’s ancient languages with their physical workouts.

To begin, there’s asana, which to most practitioners of hatha yoga means simply “pose” or “posture,” as in bhujangasana, or cobra pose. Literally, the word means “seat.”

Namaste is a word used as a respectful greeting, to begin and end a class. Usually said with the hands together at heart level with palms facing inward, it acknowledges the light and divinity that lives within each of us.

A mudra is a hand position, such as anjali mudra, the heart gesture. Mudra, which literally means “seal,” can also refer to a whole-body position.

The word prana refers to the energy or life force that flows through every living being. It can also refer to the breath as the physical manifestation of that life force. Pranayama is the practice of learning to control the breath by consciously inhaling, holding, and exhaling.

“Om” is the most commonly chanted mantra, used as a means of focusing the concentration and attention.

Ahimsa, yoga’s supreme doctrine of non-violence, refers to the practice of refusing to harm any living thing. According to the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, ahimsa means more than simply refraining from killing; it encompasses the notion of refusing to harm another through thoughts, words, or actions.

What Equipment Do You Need to Practice Yoga?

Yoga Equipment pic Yoga is among the simplest fitness disciplines around, in that it requires little or no investment in costly props, accessories, and equipment. Your own body and its capacity to stretch and relax, and your own mind’s ability to achieve a state of focus and calm, are at the center of any yoga practice. Yet that doesn’t mean you can’t use a few helpful items that can enable you to achieve your exercise goals.

Most yoga practitioners make use of some sort of mat. If you frequent a yoga studio with hard floors, this may be your most essential fitness prop. Avoid slips by getting one with a sticky rubber base that allows you to affix it securely to the floor’s surface. For around $20, you can get a good, all-purpose mat suitable for most situations. Or you could pay more and buy increased adhesiveness, resistance to sweat damage, or deeper cushioning. Eco-friendly models, made from biodegradable or sustainable materials, start at around $40.

You will also likely want a towel to absorb perspiration as you work out, or to serve as a rest for your head.

Foam wedges or blocks can assist you in aligning your body in better form. Some studios provide them, although you can purchase your own for about $10 each. Different sizes of blocks will assist you as you develop your flexibility; for example, if you can’t reach all the way to the floor at first, use a block as a handrest. And cotton straps can additionally be very helpful to secure your legs as you hold stretches. Expect to pay another $10 apiece, and if you are very tall, look for straps at least 8 feet in length.

Some yoga practitioners will want extra equipment for comfort or style, including sandbags for increasing stretches, or folding chairs that facilitate sitting meditation.

Cobra and Upward Facing Dog – Understanding the Differences

cobra pose pic Two extremely common poses, cobra and upward facing dog, are part of a typical sun salutation. Many teachers also invite students to engage in a “vinyasa,” or a linked sequence of poses, which often starts in plank and moves to chaturanga, then cobra or upward facing dog, and finally downward facing dog. Even in more advanced classes, students may begin their vinyasas with the less demanding cobra pose before substituting it with the deeper backbend and more active elements of upward facing dog. However, beginning students often find the differences between these two common and interchangeable poses difficult to grasp.

In cobra pose, the elbows remain bent and the thighs stay resting on the floor. Rather than using the hands to support the body weight, the hands should be pulling the chest forward and you should lift the upper body using the core. In fact, when in low cobra, you should be able to lift your hands off the ground.

In upward facing dog, the hands are situated directly below the shoulders and the arms are straight. The thighs and pelvis are lifted up off the floor, so that the body is suspended from the shoulders down through the tops of the feet. Mixing up these critical differences can do significant damage to your lower back, so be sure to pay close attention to your body positioning in your next sun salutation.

Adding Pyramid Pose to Your Practice

Pyramind Pose pic If pyramid pose is not a part of your normal yoga practice, it can be a potent addition if you are seeking a pose that simultaneously opens the backs of the legs, the side body, and the hips, all while improving balance. In Sanskrit, pyramid pose is called “parsvottanasana,” which translates literally as “intense side stretch pose.” This asana is relatively simple to get into: begin by placing the feet three to four feet apart with the front toes facing forward and the back left toes pointing at a 45-degree angle. Next, place the hands on the hips, pulling the front hip back and squaring the hips toward the front of your mat. Keeping the hips square, release the hands and begin to melt forward, leading with the heart, toward the front foot.

Remember to breathe in this pose, as the gentle pulse of the breath can help guide you deeper into the forward bend. In addition to a stretch along the side body and the backs of the legs, some practitioners may feel release in the muscles along the outside of the shin. Runners often experience tightness in these muscles, and few asanas stretch them as effectively as pyramid pose. If you don’t feel the stretch along the shin, try pulling the front hip back an extra inch, or consider backtracking and spending some more time opening the backs of the legs before returning to pyramid pose.