Why try yoga?
Yoga is an age-old practice with proven health benefits, but when you take in all the trends, varieties and advice out there, you might wonder where to start. Occupational therapist and adaptive yoga instructor Amanda Maddrey explained what to know if you want to give this popular form of exercise a try.
What are the health benefits of yoga?
“Yoga helps improve overall quality of life,” Maddrey said. “Specifically, it has been shown to increase strength and flexibility, improve body awareness and strengthen the mind-body connection. Yoga has many mental health benefits, including decreasing stress and anxiety. Plus, anyone can do it, regardless of body type, age or ability.”
What are the different types of yoga?
Variations range from gentle flows to hot power yoga. Some examples of the different types include Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Power, Bikram and Kundalini. Each type offers a different benefit, so one is not superior to another.
“If you’re looking for a practice that focuses strongly on breathwork and pairing breath to movement, you should lean toward a Vinyasa style,” Maddrey said. “If you’re looking for more vigorous physical activity, you should consider taking a Power yoga or Bikram class, and if you want to focus on alignment, consider taking an Iyengar class.”
The type of yoga Maddrey is most passionate about is adaptive yoga. This is a growing type that considers all bodies and abilities. With adaptive yoga, props are used, including chairs, blocks, straps and mats, and special considerations are taken for what positions the postures would be performed in to ensure safety and accessibility.
What do you need to properly do yoga?
For a traditional practice, you will need a mat and possibly some props such as blocks, straps, a bolster and yoga blanket, which can help you adapt your posture.
You can even use these household items as props:
- Mat – Carpeted floor, large towel or blanket secured on the ends
- Blocks – Books, water bottles, large cans
- Straps – Belt or scarf
- Bolster – Firm pillow, couch cushion, tightly rolled towel
- Blanket – Blanket or towel
“Mats and props are great, but you can integrate yoga into your day without them,” Maddrey said. “Simply complete a few postures at your desk or beside your bed.”
If you choose to do yoga in a chair, an armless chair is best.
Do you have to take a class to learn yoga?
Practicing in a class setting is beneficial because it allows you to experience yoga in a community and you are guided by an in-person teacher who can offer hands-on assistance. But you can also use videos.
“The good news is yoga can be done anywhere,” Maddrey said. “You can perform poses seated in a chair at your desk, you can practice at home in the living room – you can even do yoga outside. Your yoga practice is for you and should align with your needs and your life.”
What are some simple yoga techniques?
Easy ways to integrate yoga into your day can include practicing breathwork and performing simple seated postures at your desk or a few poses right before bed. Each time you practice, you become centered and present in the moment.
A simple breathing technique you can do is belly breathing. Start by getting in a comfortable position. Place one hand on your belly. As you inhale, feel your belly rise and expand, like you’re filling up a balloon with air. As you exhale fully, feel your belly relax. Repeat this at least five times or more.
A few simple yoga postures you can do at your desk or seated in a chair are neck stretches, cat/cow and gentle twist. Maddrey explained how to perform these techniques:
- Neck stretch: Inhale and lift your head up toward the sky, then exhale and drop your right ear to your right shoulder. Stay here or gently turn your head, looking down toward the ground and then up toward the sky, breathing while you move. Inhale again, returning your head back to the center, and exhale. Repeat on the left side.
- Cat/Cow: For cow, begin with your hands on your lap. Inhale and send your elbows behind you squeezing the shoulder blades together as you arch your back and expand your chest, lift your head up towards the sky. For cat, begin with your hands on your lap. Exhale and slide your hands forward. Round your back, bringing your belly button toward your spine and tuck your chin into your chest. Repeat this at least three times.
- Gentle twist: Inhale and sit up straight, lengthening through your spine. Drop the shoulders away from the ears. Exhale and twist gently toward the left. Inhale back to center. Repeat on the right side. Repeat this at least three times.
What should you keep in mind if you’re starting yoga?
“The biggest tip I have for someone looking to start is to go into this journey with an open mind knowing that it may take time for you to find the right type of practice or studio for you,” Maddrey said. “Do not worry about what yoga should ‘look like.’ Focus more on the experience, the present moment, and strengthening the mind-body connection.”
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