What is Yoga?
Yoga is quickly becoming one of the most popular, if not the most popular, workout regime among those who are looking to gain flexibility, strength and even lose weight. It can be done from the privacy of your home or in a classroom. Yoga is great for reducing stress and allowing for greater relaxation. Once you get into Yoga though, you learn that it is so much more than just a way to workout and keep in shape. It is a philosophy, a passion and a way of life for many of those involved in Yoga. While you may be getting into yoga for the exercise, you may soon find yourself wrapped in the philosophy and spirituality that Yoga brings a long with it.
Where Did Yoga Come From?
Yoga is said to have originated in India during the Golden Age, nearly 26,000 years ago. The actual Sanskrit word, when broken down, means "to control", "to yoke" or "to unite". The word has also been translated to mean "joining", "uniting" and "union". The union is made between the self and the spirit. Yoga is a major part of the Hindu religion as it embodies their natural state of being and spiritual enlightenment. As a part of Hinduism, Yoga belongs to one of the six Hindu schools of philospy. If you dig deeper, you can read about how yoga is used in conjunction with meditation. Yoga is also a major part of Buddhism as a part of their meditation practices. It has even been linked to Islam and early Chritianity.
Yoga today has become increasingly popular, not so much for the spiritual benefits as for the physical advantages. You can take a yoga class at your local gym, a yoga studio or from the privacy of your own home through a personal instructor or yoga dvd. From popular musicians embracing Yoga to magazines filled with yoga ads, you simply cannot get away from Yoga and the influence it has had physically and mentally for a lot of people.
Yoga can do a lot for the human body, although it won't cure every ailment. Yoga can be worked into virtually any lifestyle or schedule. Yoga has been proven to increase health and body awareness allowing yoga participants to better control their bodies. From flexibility increases to better body alignment, Yoga can help with a variety of ailments.
Physical Benefits of Yoga
- Increased Flexibility
- Increased Strength
- Improved Balance
- Increased Stamina
- Improved Body Alignment (reduces joint pain)
Mental Benefits of Yoga
- Stress Reduction
- Body Awareness
- Better Sleep
- Improve self-confidence
There are many more physical and mental benefits, but these are the major ones. Those who suffer from certain conditions can also benefit from yoga. Women who are pregnant or who are planning on becoming pregnant can benefit greatly from yoga.
What You Need to Get Started
In order to get started, you need to first find a place to practice. You have a few decisions to make first: 1). Do you want to practice in Private or Public and 2). What is your yoga budget. Both of these questions will determine where you should practice yoga.
Places Your Can Go
- Yoga Studio or Class
- Local gym if you have a membership already
- Private Instruction in your home or other location
- Outdoors location such as the beach, local park, etc
Costs & Things to Consider
- Yoga Studios cost money, but you will save on supplies if the instructor provides them
- Does your gym offer classes? If they do you may be able to do yoga for free
- To practice at home, you will need to purchase all the equipment necessary
- 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
Yoga Clothing & Yoga Gear
There are a few basic things you will need for yoga and depending on where you practice, you may not need all of these things. This will seem foreign to you at first, but after awhile, you will start to gain a preference for certain mats, clothing and gear just like you do for other daily activities.
Picking a yoga mat can be very simple, you just have to narrow down your choices. If you are not over 6 feet, then a standard 68" mat will work find. They range in thickness, so if you have joint problems or feel that you need extra cushioning, pick up a thick yoga mat. Starting out, you don't need anything super fancy or expensive. The gym of class you workout in may provide mats for you, but it is recommended that you pick up your own for sanitary reasons.
Yoga Clothing & Footwear
Yoga Clothing is comprised of a few basic essentials - Tops & Pants. As a general rule, you want your clothing to be form fitting and comfortable. However, there are extra goodies you can pick up such as socks & shoes that can be beneficial to your practice. Keep in mind that you don't always have to buy something new, but there are lines of clothing specificially designed for yoga.
- Yoga Pants - when choosing pants, choose somethig that fits with restricting movement. If you are buying a new pair, try them out before going to the studio to ensure that you can move freely. You can also use capris or shorts, just make sure you can move in them. You want to be comfortable.
- Yoga Tops - Choose a top that you are comfortable in. If you are going to wear a shirt, wear something longer that will keep your body covered. For women, wear proper undergarments. A shirt that is form fitting is best so it doesn't slid up or down during poses.
- Shoes - while most people do not wear shoes while doing yoga, there are brand and styles out there that protect your feet while allowing for free motion. They come in the form of sandals or barefoot technology shoes.
- Socks - there are brands of yoga socks out there that protect your feet and act as a barrier between your feet and your mat. They can also help with traction and grip. Use only yoga socks because they are designed for yoga mat use.
Yoga towels are important to have because you will get sweaty and perspire while doing 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 is also important for sanitary purposes.
Yoga Props are fantastic for beginners and are highly recommended. Props can help a beginning yoga student who is not flexible enough yet or to ensure that you have proper body alignment. Some styles of yoga also require the use of props so if you are starting out, it doesn't hurt to ask. The following is a list of common yoga props that you may see or need:
- Straps - are great for reaching parts of your body you might not be flexible enough to reach or to hold harder positions. Straps are specifically designed for beginners because it can be very difficult to do yoga when you are not flexible.
- Blocks & Bricks - designed for doing extensions when you can't reach the floor. Again, this goes back to flexibility. The blocks and bricks act as an extension of your limbs while ensuring proper body alignment and increasing stability while holding yoga positions.
- Blankets - used primarily for hip elevation while in the seated or laying down positions. The blankets are also used for covering the body during the cool down phase of class.
- Yoga Balls - these are purely optional and are not typically used, but they might be. The come in 3 sizes depending on your height. The yoga balls can help with stability, balance and strength.
- Bolsters - if you need extra support, especially when doing restorative yoga, bolsters are a must have. They are also great for prenancy yoga.
What to Expect Your First Day
These guidelines are mostly for those who are taking a yoga class, at home practice does not require as much etiquette because you will be doing all of your yoga solo.
- Do you need to bring your own equipment or is it provided? (i.e. mats, towels)
- What time does the class start and how early should you arrive? You should also find out how long the class is to plan accordingly. Yoga should not be rushed, but they do offer classes for busy people.
- Clothing. Ask what you should wear, but typically you can pick up yoga clothes or if you are on a budget use something you have that is comfortable and you can move freely in.
Typical Class Routine
- Pre-yoga Stretching
- Breathing Exercises to get the body relaxed and focused
- Warm-up Positions
- Workout yoga positions
- Relaxation Cool-down period
For the most part, each class will be structured this way, but may vary depending on the type/style of yoga you have chosen. Keep in mind that your first few sessions may cause your body to become sore or stiff. This is normal and will subside if you continue your classes. If you feel your flexibility is not where it should be, you may consider stretching at home to loosen up before class.
- Take off your shoes before entering the workout area
- Power off all electronic devices, the last thing you want is your cell phone going off during class
- Be on time or early
- Try to do the poses, if you can't, do one you can do and hold it
- Never leave class early, it disrupts others and you'll miss your final relaxation