Yoga is a fantastic form of exercise for those looking to improve their health and well-being in a relaxing environment. It doesn't just exercise the body, but also helps to focus and calm the mind and is associated with spirituality. It was once thought of as something only practised by hippies, but in recent years a wide range of people in all walks of life have discovered the benefits.
What is Yoga?
Yoga originated in India and is very closely linked with Hindu religion and was formed of a series of spiritual, mental and physical disciplines, including meditation. It has since been introduced into western society and whilst some people still practice it in its original forms. There are many western spin-off versions of yoga as simply a form of exercise. The physical side focuses on a series of poses, movements and breathing exercises, designed to increase flexibility, strength and balance. In this blog, we'll focus on how to perform some of the basic poses to get you started, the spiritual and mental elements are best taught in person.
What are the Benefits of Yoga?
There are several benefits to yoga, some are speculated, but the following benefits are well known and evidence-based:
Improved Flexibility - This is probably the most obvious benefit of yoga. When you start yoga, some of the poses may seem impossible, but as your flexibility improves you'll unlock even more potential. If you already participate in any sports then this is fantastic for improving performance and helping to reduce the chance of injuries.
Improved Balance - For many sports, balance is critical. Good balance can often be the difference between success and failure. Several yoga positions are performed with one leg on the ground so your balance is worked regularly.
Decreased Stress - Yoga is well known for its benefit in reducing stress. One study followed 24 women, who had pre-existing mental stress, over a period of three months and reported significant reductions in their stress measurements at the end of the study.
Relieves Anxiety - Many people use yoga as a method for coping with anxiety. Again this has been studied and shown to have scientific standing. One study followed 64 women, who were suffering from PTSD and again it found a reduction in the symptoms similar to what can be seen in patients undergoing drug treatment.
There are many other benefits, but we may discuss these fully in a dedicated blog article in the future.
How to Start Yoga as Beginner
Find a comfortable, quiet place that is free from distractions. If you're doing it at home, tell whoever you live with that you'll being doing yoga for some time and that you don't want to be disturbed. Turn off or get away from devices that could distract you.
Using a yoga mat, pillows and blankets can help you to get comfortable for certain poses. Whilst you can do yoga without any equipment at all, it certainly makes things more comfortable. Yoga blocks are useful for some standing and bending poses.
Wear some really comfortable clothing, such as loose, light gym gear. Yoga pants are obviously ideal. Again specialist clothing isn't essential, but will make you more comfortable and can make poses easier.
- Stay hydrated by having a bottle of water ready, before you start so you don't need to get up and get water. Even if you're not thirsty this is recommended as it can help with flushing toxins from your body.
Practice Yoga breathing
Adopt a comfortable position. You can try sitting in the lotus position (sat with your legs crossed, back straight, arms relaxed), lying on your back on a yoga mat, or even sat with in a comfortable yet supportive chair.
Inward Breath. Most people like to close their eyes to relax, breathe in through your nose and focus on breathing into your abdomen, so your belly expands first, then your rip cage.
Pause. Hold the breath for a few seconds, whilst you focus on relaxing every part of your body. If you sense any tense areas, really allow them to de-stress.
Exhale. When you are ready, exhale to a count of four, using your abdominal muscles to push all of the air out of your lungs through your mouth until you have fully exhaled.
- Repeat. This breathing exercise is excellent for preparing the body for positional work. So repeat the breathing cycle for around 20 to 30 breaths, or until you feel fully relaxed and have a clear mind.
Practice some simple poses
There's over 300 poses in the physical yoga practice, but don't let this put you off. To start with, aim to learn a few key poses that you can use to improve your posture, balance, flexibility and breathing. Most people like to start learning the basic poses by watching a full YouTube tutorial, or taking some beginner classes so they have the basics. Here's a great video that covers the 10 most important beginner poses to get you started:
Don't be disheartened if you are struggling with any of these poses to start with, the important thing is to start your yoga journey with patience. Remember everything worth doing takes time. Try not to push yourself too much, as you can easily injure yourself by over-stretching, especially when you're new to yoga. Take your time, enjoy the true relaxing nature of yoga, the breathing and the calm environment you have created for yourself. It can be very empowering to take a break from your everyday business and stresses with even 15 minutes of yoga a day you'll find yourself developing a new reserve of energy and inner strength.
If you start your yoga journey and decide on getting yourself a yoga mat, we currently have a fantastic clearance deal on the below mat: