Author: Maryann Vicari, UMC Physical Therapist
In honor of September being National Yoga Awareness month, we wanted to shed some light on the practice of yoga and the many benefits it has for those who partake in it.
Yoga, a series of stretches and poses associated with breathing techniques, offers the powerful gains of exercise. Some yoga styles are intense and vigorous while others are relaxing and meditative. No matter which type you choose, yoga is a great way to stretch and strengthen your body, focus your mind, and relax your spirit.
Yoga can aid in strength and flexibility, as well as allow you to feel more focused and alert. In addition, a regular yoga practice (3-4 days/week) can improve functional mobility in activities of daily living (ADLs) and decrease fall risk. Moreover, yoga has been found to help improve these specific conditions:
- Poor blood circulation
- High blood pressure
- Limited mobility
- Lower back pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Tension or stress
Yoga’s gentle movements are a one of the main reasons for its growing popularity.
Yoga is great for people who have not been active for some time. It is also helpful for people who have certain health conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis because it does not require your joints to move through their full range, which can sometime be painful. Most importantly, you can modify the exercises/poses to fit your needs/abilities. At the same time, yoga is also great if you’re already fit and want a more challenging workout. As you become stronger and more flexible, it’s easier to do other kinds of exercises/activities like dancing, walking, or swimming.
Yoga can help:
- Reduce your risk for injury. Each yoga pose targets specific muscles. This helps you increase your flexibility and reduce your risk for injury.
- Reduce stress and increase concentration. Yoga can help soothe/focus the mind and lower stress levels. It does this by encouraging you to tune into your breathing which helps to focus your mind on the moment and poses.
- Understand the mind and body connection. Yoga requires you to focus all your energy on each movement or pose exactly. This can help you tap into the connection between your mind and body.
- Gain strength and stamina. More vigorous styles of yoga promote strength and stamina.
- Improve balance and stability. Balancing poses require you to use your core muscles. This can help you improve your overall stability and decrease risk of falls.
- Improve posture. Yoga poses strengthen and open tight areas of the body like the shoulders and muscles of the upper back. This can help you keep good posture throughout your day.
- Develop body awareness. Yoga requires you to contract or relax specific muscles as you stretch into each pose. This can help you become more aware of your body’s strengths and weaknesses.
How Do I Start?
It’s easy to find a variety of yoga classes. You can check with your local community centers, such as the Y or look at nearby gyms, dance studios, and health clubs. There are numerous yoga studios in the greater New Orleans area, many of which, offer specials (Groupon, etc) for new students. Finally, you can look up Yoga Journal’s Yoga Teacher Directory to see regional and national lists of yoga teachers and associations.
It is important to find the right yoga style for you and a teacher you like. It’s hard to know what a class is like until you attend it. Even when two teachers use the same terms to describe their classes, the classes may be quite different, so feel free to experiment with different types of classes at different studios.
As always, be sure to talk with your health care provider before you begin yoga or any other kind of exercise. It’s a good idea to take a class with an experienced teacher. Let the teacher know about any health conditions you may have like high blood pressure or arthritis. Tell him or her about any injuries or physical problems. A good teacher will know which exercises are best for you and tell you which poses to avoid.
Give It a Try!
Yoga can help you get fit for life. It helps you deal with stress, pick up your child, control your dog, carry groceries, or work in your garden. It also can help to prevent or ease back pain and muscle or joint injury and give you self-reliance and self-esteem.
Most important to keep in mind, the yoga routine is more than just physical — it involves the quieting of the mind. The bottom line is learning to pay attention. You fine-tune your attention, beginning with the body, and then moving to the mind. As you get deeper into your practice over the years, you start to see the mental and spiritual benefits. Namaste!
I have a personal soft spot for yoga, as I have been practicing it consistently for the past two years. I recently became certified to teach yoga this past spring because I wanted to deepen my personal yoga experience and help bring awareness of yoga to my patients and others in the community. I’m currently teaching classes at Balance Yoga and Wellness Studio, and I sometimes lead my coworkers at lunch when we have time. Yoga has had a profound effect on my life, both physically and mentally, as well as spiritually. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a new exercise routine or a way to improve functional mobility and general quality of life.