Yoga for Wellness: How to Begin

Shifting gears to some mind-body-soul stuff today, because September is National Yoga Month. Better late than never!

(Though, if you ask me, every month should be yoga month.)

We live in a turbo-charged society that puts productivity on a pedestal. That’s not to say hard work and accomplishment shouldn’t be rewarded. I only want to emphasize how important it is that we periodically hit pause, slow down, and prioritize self-care. It’s all too easily brushed aside in our race to the finish, and in doing so, we run the risk of burnout.

In combination with healthy eating, adequate rest, and positive relationships, yoga is a fantastic addition to the self-care line-up, for both physical fitness and personal well-being. To list a few* of the many benefits:

  • enhances energy levels, improves posture, reduces muscle tension, and allows oxygen to flood into the body;
  • improves mental clarity and brain function, lifts your mood, and stimulates creativity;
  • increases flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, physical strength and muscle tone;
  • creates moments of peace, reflection and relaxation;
  • promotes quicker recovery for runners and those who regularly do high-intensity workouts;
  • alleviates and helps prevent many common pregnancy discomforts, such as swelling (edema), cramping in thighs/calves, back aches, morning sickness, and constipation + also great for post-partum women (babies/toddlers, too!);
  • strengthens the mind-body connection and self-awareness, improves confidence, and can help conquer body image dissatisfaction.

[*This is by no means exhaustive, as the list continues to grow with more research.]

Yoga mat_patio

With its focus on breathing, balance and stretching, yoga is like a literal sigh of relief. It helps me greet the morning in a calm, positive way, and leaves me inspired to tackle my long to-do list. If at any point during the day I feel stressed or overworked, yoga gives me respite from the incessant thoughts swirling in my mind. That stillness and relaxation helps me refocus and re-energize. It dramatically improves my mood and sanity amid an otherwise stressful routine.

I personally enjoy practicing from the comfort of my home office with my feline spotter, or on the patio with the birds and a beautiful sunrise. (Free and convenient!) My typical routine is a series of Vinyasa-flow poses that I strung together over the years, adding new poses and venturing into new styles sporadically for spice. On the days when my mind and body need encouragement, or my balance feels wacky, I take it down a notch with Hatha.

Which yoga style is right for you?

There are so many, which is fantastic since all bodies are different, and each of us has a unique set of weaknesses and strengths.

My advice is to sample a few of the different styles based on your needs. Then you can stick to the one you enjoy most, or continue with a variety to keep it interesting.

  • If your goal is to get in shape and break a sweat, opt for the more vigorous, total-body styles of yoga like Ashtanga, Bikram (“hot” yoga), Vinyasa (“flow” yoga), or Power yoga. [*Bikram is not recommended for pregnant women.]
  • If you’re a beginner, have a current injury or have limited mobility, styles like Hatha, Iyengar, Kripalu, or Viniyoga are slower, and focus more on breathing and safe alignment with every pose. With a few modifications, Hatha yoga can be a great form of exercise for pregnant women. [*Always be sure to tell your instructor that you’re pregnant before beginning.]
  • If you want to focus on the meditative and spiritual aspects, Kundalini yoga incorporates meditation and chanting into routines.
  • If yoga with a friend or significant other is of interest, or you want to practice in a positive, lighthearted environment, the Anusara style often includes partner work and the use of props, and encourages students to talk about emotions and feelings during practice. This form is touted as very therapeutic for body, mind and soul.

Yoga Cat

While I prefer solo practice at home, instructor-led yoga with a group (of humans) is probably preferential for most. It’s one of the best ways to get started, and learn about the poses, breathing, etc. The community that comes with a class setting can also be important for motivation, socialization, and the challenge to try again if your Crow pose goes awry. It happens to all of us — just laugh!

Classes are ever more prevalent these days, offered at all times of the day and taught by many styles of instructors in private studios, fitness facilities, community centers, parks, even on the beach — check out the offerings near you!

[In the Wilmington, NC area? I recommend Pineapple Studios for a great space and fun, compassionate instruction with yoga classes at all levels. Bonus: It’s also a pottery studio, so you can throw around some clay as well!]

Some resources to get you started:

  • If in-person practice isn’t your thing, or the class schedules/instructors in your area don’t suit your needs, websites and social media have you covered.
    • YouTube is free and accessible 24/7 — browse videos from Hilaria Baldwin, Denise Austin, and Yoga Journal Mag, among others.
    • A great round-up of Elephant Journal’s favorite free podcasts (explore the site’s own Yoga section while you’re there).
    • Tara Stiles and Kathryn Budig — yoga “celebrities,” for lack of a better word — offer downloadable classes from their websites.
  • If you prefer portable phone and tablet apps, there are plenty to choose from.

Whatever your age or fitness level, yoga is a phenomenal way to stay healthy, look good and feel great. I personally find it to be an amazing tool in maintaining my physical health, mental well-being, work-life balance, spirituality and overall sense of joy. Even a short 5- or 10-minute session can do wonders when I’m feeling stressed.

Starting this weekend — or today — try a couple simple poses or sign up for a class. Set a goal, and make it happen. If you’re already practicing, shake it up with a new pose or different style of yoga.

It’s time we hit that pause button to take care of ourselves, and yoga is a phenomenal way to do it! Namaste.

Tell me…  What’s your favorite pose? (Mine is Tree.) Any other online yoga programs, classes or websites that you want to share? 

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p.s. I love hearing from you! Check back if you ask a question, because I’ll answer it here.

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