by Billie Augustian, PA-C, RYT 200, NETA Certified Group Exercise Instructor
September is National Yoga Month, the perfect time to explore yoga basics and the benefits of a regular practice. The popularity of yoga has increased dramatically in recent years to over 36 million people. What is special about yoga that has so many people taking off their shoes and rolling out a mat? According to the 2016 Yoga in America Study, conducted by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal, the top five reasons people reported for starting yoga were flexibility, stress relief, general fitness, and improved overall health (https://www.yogaalliance.org/2016YogaInAmericaStudy).
One practical definition of modern yoga is a system of mind-body techniques which improve wellbeing. While yoga has a rich and ancient history, the most familiar aspects of yoga include a combination of physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation which work together to develop mental and physical stability. A wide variety of yoga styles have developed to meet the varied needs and preferences of today’s practitioners. We offer several types of practice at Western including vinyasa (a flowing style linking breath and movement), yin (a slower-paced style incorporating fewer postures and stretches with longer holds to stimulate deep connective tissues), and chair yoga (a combination of seated and standing poses utilizing a chair for support to accommodate variations in physical ability).
While the #1 reason many people start practicing yoga is to improve flexibility, this is only one of yoga’s many potential benefits. Research suggests improvements across multiple dimensions of physical and psychological wellness including stress management, healthy body image, quality of life among cancer survivors, menopausal symptoms, sleep quality, balance, mobility, back pain, and overall quality of life. If you are interested in reading more about the science behind yoga’s benefits, both Yoga Alliance and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Health have compiled extensive lists of yoga-related research (https://www.yogaalliance.org/About_Yoga/Research_on_the_Benefits_of_Yoga and https://nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction.htm#hed2). While many of the studies are limited due to small study size, the results are promising and further research is ongoing. Another benefit I have observed among class participants is a greater sense of awareness, which inevitably has a positive impact on their lives off the mat. Yoga also provides a complementary balance to more active forms of physical fitness.
If you are curious about exploring the benefits of yoga for yourself, here are a few pointers to get you started.
Tips for success
- Commit to trying at least 5 classes with different teachers. Ask anyone who practices regularly, it takes time to learn the basic poses and terminology, and each teacher has a unique style.
- Be patient and gentle with yourself. There is no need to force your body into a pose. Yoga is a time when you can slow down and pay attention to the subtle connection between your mind and body.
- You may hear poses called by their Sanskrit names, you are not expected to know them all. Sanskrit is the historical language of yoga. Over time, these terms will become more familiar.
- Arrive 5 minutes early to allow yourself time to get set up before class starts. Try to stay until the end of class to allow time to fully let go and enjoy final relaxation pose (savasana in Sanskrit). This is considered by many teachers to be the most important pose in yoga.
- If you have any physical limitations or injuries that may affect your practice, talk to your teacher before class. They can offer you options to make poses safe and beneficial. Yoga can be adapted to nearly all physical abilities.
What do you need?
- Comfortable clothing that requires minimal adjustment while moving from one pose to another
- Yoga is traditionally practiced with bare feet.
- Water bottle
- A smile and an open mind
- Mats, towels, blocks, and straps are provided in the Mind Body Studio.
My top 5 favorite poses
- Mountain pose (Tadasana): the basic principles of this standing pose apply to all other standing poses
- Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana B): builds strength, flexibility, and core stability
- Tree (Vrksasana): promotes balance and leg strength
- Pyramid (Parsvottanasana): improves flexibility in the legs, hips, spine, and upper body
- Final relaxation (Savasana): allows both body and mind to rest and relax at the end of class
Here at Western, we have a great team of certified yoga teachers, always working hard to bring our members safe, beneficial, and enjoyable yoga practices. Whatever your style, experience level, or degree of physical fitness, we are here to help guide you. If you would like to see for yourself how you can benefit from yoga, this is the perfect time to get started. Let’s practice!