Is Yoga for You?
Yoga is a physical activity that helps develop flexibility and strength, while offering the participant mental, emotional and spiritual benefits as well. Its intensity and poses vary greatly within the different types of yoga, ranging from gentle breathing and stretching exercises to balancing and holding challenging positions for minutes at a time. Generally speaking, Viniyoga, Kripalu and Ananda yoga are more geared for the beginner, while Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga are for more advanced participants.
Growing evidence shows that yoga practice impacts the sympathetic nervous system and benefits both physical and mental health. Researchers at the School of Nursing at the University of Maryland found that yoga participants experienced reduced stress, declines in fasting glucose, and better remission of menopausal symptoms.
Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard medical School in Boston observed 20 participants with chronic insomnia for 10 weeks. By the end of the study all aspects of the subjects’ sleep had improved significantly compared to pretreatment measures.
Sounds great, but selecting a yoga class that is right for you may require a bit of research. (First, though, be sure to ask your doctor if it’s OK for you to start doing it!) If you are new to the practice of yoga, find a class that is 30-45 minutes if possible. Call the facility or speak with the instructor to find out if the class is recommended for beginners. If you have any physical limitations or feel like your current fitness level is low, make sure to mention that to the instructor. In many instances there are variations to the moves and poses that allow beginners and advanced participants to pick the position that is best for their bodies.
Find out about your instructor’s certification and background. There are many different instructor training programs out there. You want to find an instructor who is committed to the safety and well-being of the participants. The instructor should be aware of the students and make suggestions for variations if people are struggling with the poses. He should encourage you to breathe and relax-not push you to do more or to force or strain your body.
When participating in a yoga class, it is important to pay attention to the alignment of your body. Focus on the instructions for each pose, and once you are in the pose, breathe and notice what you are feeling and where. You should never feel pain. Notice if you have limitations in your movement. Your limitations could be for a variety of different reasons-age, dehydration, injury, to name somepossibilities. Sometimes it takes a few seconds to settle into a position-don’t rush and don’t push yourself until you have been in five or more classes and know what to expect. Give your body a day or two between classes so it has time to adjust to the workout.
In the past several years a lot of good quality studies have been emerging showing the benefits of yoga on various conditions such as back pain, osteoarthritis, ADD, anxiety, depression and irritable bowel syndrome. Until this research is completed, we at least know this: yoga can help people physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. If you have never tried it, it is worth your time to try two to three classes. You may sleep better, de-stress better and feel stronger and more flexible than ever!
Sheila Clancy, MS, CHES, is a 20-year veteran of the corporate fitness industry and currently works for Health Fitness Corporation as a Fitness Center Director and Wellness Coordinator. Sheila was the 2006 Health Fitness President's Award recipient and the 2007 Health Fitness Site of the Year recipient. She has written articles for “Muscle and Fitness”, “HERS” and “Personal Fitness Professional."