Perhaps signing up for yoga classes was one of your healthy New Year's resolutions? I have found that yoga can be practiced by anyone at any age and it does a body good . . . both inside and out. And contrary to popular belief, yoga is so much more than just stretching — it's a union of the mind, body, and spirit. Here are some tips I've learned after years of practice that should help you get started.
- Inhale and exhale: Breathing is an integral part of yoga. It's easy to become so focused on achieving a particular pose that we tense up and forget to breathe. Proper breathing in yoga keeps you mindful of your practice and aware of each movement. Once connected to your breath, balance improves, muscles relax, and you're less prone to injury — hello, oxygen! The best way to breathe during yoga is deep down in your diaphragm (the large muscle right below your lungs). Slowly expand the lungs, pressing down the diaphragm, and causing your abdomen to expand as your lungs fill with air.
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- Learn to let go: Yoga should never be about mastering certain poses. Try to enjoy the journey, not the destination. Make sure you are doing poses with the correct alignment to the best of your ability, let your body relax, and go with the flow; some of the most difficult postures can be achieved when you allow your muscles relax. Once you stop striving for perfection, you'll surprise yourself at how bendable you can be.
- Hold that pose: How long you hold a pose often depends on which type of yoga you're practicing. Typically, poses are held for 20 seconds but can go up to a minute or even longer. To increase the intensity of a pose, try holding it a little longer, going a bit deeper, and reaching further while listening to your body to prevent injury.
- Arrive on time: Being late for a yoga class disrupts the rest of the class and the harmony of your own practice by bringing the stress of being late to your mat. Arrive to class early and do mild stretches to quiet your mind. And don't skip out on corpse pose (savasana) — it's the perfect way to end class. Savasana allows your blood flow and circulation to return to normal, which relaxes your entire body.
- Commit to class: Be realistic with your yoga practice schedule. Can you commit to two classes a week? Perhaps three? It's best to start off with a manageable number, rather than tell yourself you'll be at the Bikram studio every day. Once you decide what works best for you, prepay for a set amount of classes to hold yourself accountable. Or join with a friend . . . whatever motivates you to practice. Remember: "the hardest part is just showing up."