As a yoga instructor at a local gym I get asked many questions. Most people seem apprehensive about coming to a yoga class because they are intimidated by poses they have seen demonstrated on magazine covers. What most people need to realize is that everyone has to start somewhere. Yoga is a practice that builds on itself. You aren’t going to be able to twist yourself into a pretzel on your first try. Well, unless you were born double-jointed. The yoga that I teach at the gym is very basic, simple yoga with advanced modifications for those who have been coming to my class for two years.
The number one question I get is, “How does yoga benefit my body?” I usually tell people that it depends on your current state of fitness. Are you currently exercising? If so, what kind of exercise are you doing? If not, do you have any injuries or physical limitations that would hinder you exercising? In most cases I tell people that it doesn’t matter what your fitness level really is. What matters is what they want to get out of the class. Most people want to come to class to relax but to also get in some strength training and muscle sculpting. Some just want to stretch their tired muscles after a long day. Yoga can be all those things and more. I tell folks that as you practice yoga you’ll see a difference after every class. If you keep at it on a regular basis your muscles will lengthen and your body will become more fit and toned. I also tell them that yoga does not replace other exercise they might be doing. It enhances and complements those practices by toning the muscles of the body and strengthening the core of the body while improving spinal alignment. In yoga, posture is stressed in all poses. Having proper body alignment is essential to a successful yoga practice. In the case of most average people, though, they shouldn’t expect to be able to sit up perfectly straight on their first try. Our bodies remember how we hunched over our computers. Or how we bend down improperly to pick something up from off the floor.
There are five health related components of physical fitness namely: muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. Yoga promotes whole body fitness and works for top athletes as well as for people who are new to exercising. Yoga is considered low impact offering poses that can improve balance, flexibility, and muscular strength and endurance. Where else can you find a class that involves all those components with minimal impact to the body?
Let’s take a look at the skills related to overall fitness. They include balance, coordination, agility, power, and speed. Yoga balance postures can be the most fun in class and the most dramatic. Students will improve their coordination and sense of grounding. Balance is a “use it or lose it” proposition. We lose our ability to balance as we age if we don’t take the time for it during our workouts. Think about children playing as an example. They play all sorts of games and sports that involve balance but as we get older, we often stop using this skill. Many elderly persons are injured due to falls which may have been avoided with good balance. Balance poses in yoga are designed to work the balance receptors in the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders.
Flexibility also seems to get tossed by the wayside in people’s fitness routines. A flexible body is more resistant to injury and yoga can stabilize joints while increasing muscle strength as stretches are held in class. As we age, it is more important to keep joints moving freely to help avoid injury. How many of us have seen people hurt themselves because of improper exercise techniques? Yoga is a fantastic way to aid in proper muscle and joint conditioning.
Other benefits that come from practicing yoga are internal. It is believed to tone organs, increase energy, improve digestion, and promote a sense of well-being. Many people say it decreases stress and improves their concentration by learning relaxation and breathing techniques. I feel calm just writing about it!
Anybody can do yoga. People with short arms can use a prop such as a yoga strap. People who have back injuries can use a block to support the lower back in any forward bending position. Older persons can use a chair or a wall for support in balance poses or seated stretches. Children can do yoga, as well. As with any exercise practice it is always wise to consult a physician before attending exercise classes of any kind. The next time you go to the gym and see a yoga class offered, don’t pass it up. Give it a try and you just might be pleasantly surprised. You may even come out of class feeling an inch taller than when you went in!