Yoga as Exercise
By Chris Chenoweth
Here are some yoga basics and background information that will help you to use yoga in your life. The practice of yoga will help you decrease stress and enhance your lifestyle, your physical health and your mental well-being. You DO NOT have to be a contortionist to practice yoga, just relax and breathe.
Before you begin, it is important to recognize the capabilities of your body. Never force your body into a posture or try to go beyond your limit. Yoga is not a competitive sport. Progress may be slow, but with time your body will become flexible. Ease yourself gently into each position, and when you are holding a pose, check the body to see if you can feel tension building up anywhere. If you do, try to relax that tension.
Many of our regular daily activities tend to emphasize the use of one part or side of the body. To achieve a healthy and harmonious balance, it is important to keep all parts of the body equally strong and flexible. Yoga exercises make each group of muscles work equally on the left and right sides of the body to achieve equilibrium. To achieve body balance, always exercise both sides of the body equally.
Moving from one pose to another without breaking form is called sequencing. This method of practice allows for a balanced workout regardless of practice length. Sequences can consist of related poses for the purpose of energizing or relaxing the body or working on specific areas such as the hips, shoulders, or feet.
At the end of your practice it is important to take 5 to 10 minutes to relax your body. Relaxation is a state of total receptivity where, through deep breathing, the body can replenish and rejuvenate itself as the natural potential of the body to heal itself occurs.
Regard yoga as an ongoing process rather than a single accomplishment. Some people are genetically less flexible or have tighter muscle groups than others. Be patient with yourself. Yoga can be a life-long pursuit, but persistency, consistency and discipline are required to gain the many lasting benefits yoga offers.
Yoga is a slow and steady path of bringing balance to your whole self, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Because yoga will help you get in touch with the deepest core of your well-being and cause you to feel better overall, start by doing the following beginning yoga postures:
A starting position that helps focus awareness on breathing and the body; helps strengthen the lower back and opens the groin and hips.
Sit cross-legged with hands on knees. Focus on your breath. Keep your spine straight and push the sit bones down into the floor. Allow the knees to gently lower. If the knees rise above your hips, sit on a cushion. This will help support your back and hips. Take 5-10 slow, deep breaths. On the next inhale, raise your arms over your head. Exhale and bring your arms down slowly. Repeat 5-7 times.
DOG AND CAT:
Increases flexibility of spine. This is really two poses, one flowing into the other.
Begin on your hands and knees. Keep your hands just in front of your shoulders, your legs about hip-width apart. As you inhale, tilt the tailbone and pelvis up, and let the spine curve downward, dropping the stomach low, and lift your head up. Stretch gently. As you exhale, move into the cat by reversing the spinal bend, tilting the pelvis down, drawing the spine up and pulling the chest and stomach in. Repeat several times, flowing smoothly from dog into cat, and cat back into dog.
Improves posture, balance and self-awareness.
Stand with feet together, hands at your sides, eyes looking forward. Raise your toes, fan them open, then place them back down on the floor. Feel your heel, outside of your foot, toes and ball of your foot all in contact with the floor. Tilt your pubic bone slightly forward. Raise your chest up and out, but within reason - this is not the army and you are not standing at attention. Raise your head up and lengthen the neck by lifting the base of your skull toward the ceiling. Stretch the pinky on each hand downward, then balance that movement by stretching your index fingers. Push into the floor with your feet and raise your legs, first the calves and then the thighs.
Breathe. Hold the posture, but try not to tense up. Breathe. As you inhale, imagine the breath coming up through the floor, rising through your legs and torso and up into your head. Reverse the process on the exhale and watch your breath as it passes down from your head, through your chest and stomach, legs and feet. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths, relax and repeat.
Stretches the spine, strengthens the back and arms, opens the chest and heart.
Lie down on your stomach. Keep your legs together, arms at your side, close to your body, with your hands by your chest.
Inhaling, slowly raise your head and chest as high as it will go. Keep your buttocks muscles tight to protect your lower back. Keep your head up and chest and heart out. Breathe several times and then come down. Repeat as necessary.
Follow the steps above. When you have gone as high as you can, gently raise yourself on your arms, stretching the spine even more. Only go as far as you are comfortable. Your pelvis should always remain on the floor. Breathe several times and come down.
THE SUN SALUTATION:
The Sun Salutation is a series of 12 postures performed in a single, graceful flow. Each movement is coordinated with the breath. Used as a warm up, the Sun Salutation builds strength and increases flexibility. A single round consists of two complete sequences, one for the right side of the body and the other for the left.
+MOUNTAIN: Begin by standing in Mountain pose, feet about hip-width apart, hands either by your sides or in prayer position. Take several deep breaths.
+HANDS UP: On your next inhale, in one sweeping movement, raise your arms up overhead and gently arch your back as far as feels comfortable and safe.
+HEAD TO KNEES: As you exhale, bend forward, bending the knees if necessary, and bring your hands to rest beside your feet.
+LUNGE: Inhale and step the right leg back.
+PLANK: Exhale and step the left leg back into plank position. Hold the position and inhale.
+STICK: Exhale and lower yourself as if coming down from a pushup. Only your hands and feet should touch the floor.
+UPWARD DOG: Inhale and stretch forward and up, bending at the waist. Use your arms to life your torso, but only bend back as far as feels comfortable and safe. It is okay to keep your arms bent at the elbow.
+DOWNWARD DOG: Exhale, life from the hips and push back and up.
+LUNGE: Inhale and step the right foot forward.
+HEAD TO KNEES: Exhale, bring the left foot forward and step into head-to-knee position.
+HANDS UP: Inhale and rise slowly while keeping arms extended.
+MOUNTAIN: Exhale, and in a slow, sweeping motion, lower your arms to the sides. End by bringing your hands up into prayer position. Repeat the sequence, stepping with the left leg.
Even if you never take any formal yoga classes, the beginning poses above will get you started on a yoga program of your own. These poses are simple and they relax your mind and your body. You will be amazed at how good you feel.
About the Author
Chris Chenoweth is the author of the DO-IT-YOURSELF HOME, HEALTH & MONEY GUIDE, 500 pages of household tips, home remedies, diet and nutrition information, health issues and thousands of recipes! http://www.money-home-biz.com
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