Yoga: A Beginner's Guide

By PEERtrainer Health and Fitness Team
Yoga is one of the most popular ways to get and stay fit .  You'll often find Jennifer Aniston crediting Yoga for her fit and trim physique and Gwenyth Paltrow is often seen with her yoga mat.  It’s no wonder why- yoga acts as both a form of exercise and a tool for stress relief.  If you haven't tried yoga because you think it's too ‘easy’, you won’t get a good workout, or you lack flexibility, it's time to try.

The practice of yoga involves putting the body through a series of postures, or poses, while practicing controlled breathing. Poses can range from gentle to contortionist-like in difficulty. Poses will challenge your body in a variety of way as properly executing any yoga pose requires a high degree of balance, strength and flexibility.  There are many different ‘schools’ or types of yoga, and you can choose one dependent upon the type of workout you want to get.

Yoga offers a low-impact whole body workout that will increase your balance, flexibility and strength. If you push yourself while doing yoga, you will feel sore, even after a ‘gentle’ session, because all of the poses require concentration on body control to maintain. In the beginning, you might find yourself unable to stay with a pose for very long, and may need to stop and go back into the pose.   While practicing poses, you will also be learning to breathe correctly, filling your lungs from the diaphragm up. It is difficult, but important, to keep from holding your breath.

If you prefer a workout that offers more cardiovascular benefits, try a power yoga (also called Ashtanga) class. An ashtanga session will not only move through demanding poses, the workout is quick paced with little rest in between poses.  You're likely  to leave your first session feeling like you just went on a five mile run while holding ten-pound dumbbells!

If you find the poses difficult at the beginning, don't give up.   Just keep at it and you’ll learn the poses in no time. One great thing about yoga is that it is consistently challenging. As you get stronger, you'll move ‘deeper’ into the poses, adding another level of difficulty. 

Before you commit yourself to a regular yoga workout, be sure to take the time to learn about proper form to avoid injury. There are many good books, DVDs and classes that can give you tips on how to tell if you are doing a pose correctly. The importance of proper form cannot be overstated. Sam Dworkis, Master Yoga Teacher with more than 30 years of experience notes that, “Yoga, when appropriately practiced, facilitates movement toward balance and reduces soft tissue contraction. But when inappropriately practiced, yoga can further exacerbate imbalance and contraction.” 

Yoga is not an easy practice; one could actually spend an entire lifetime trying to master it. But the results are well worth taking it up as a part of your fitness routine.

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