Yoga: Exercise for Weight Loss, Pain Management and Overall Good Health
Although it is one of the oldest forms of exercise around, today yoga also happens to be one of the hottest trends in fitness.
Appealing to a broad clientele – with an equally broad range of reasons for practicing it – yoga comes in many styles and offers an effective way to stretch and strengthen the body. For those with physical limitations, yoga can be tailored to one’s needs and abilities.
For someone recovering from a sports injury, or perhaps just trying to start an exercise program after a long period of inactivity, yoga has tremendous benefits. It also is ideal for people with arthritis, as it increases flexibility and strength. In 1994, the Journal of Rheumatology published the results of a 10-week study in which 17 osteoarthritis patients used yoga to relieve pain and promote relaxation. At the end of the study, the yoga group recorded significant decreases in pain and a greatly improved range of motion.
The reason yoga is viewed as beneficial for arthritis sufferers is that the movements provide relief to stiff or damaged joints. The controlled movements go only as far as the individual’s body will allow, and each person can choose how much pressure their body can withstand. As a side benefit, the deep breathing that accompanies the practice of many forms of yoga helps to relax the muscles, which may have tightened up in an effort to protect the joints. Of course, anyone beginning a yoga class to alleviate arthritis or other forms of pain will want to make sure they’re taking a gentle class, such as Hatha yoga, which will allow them to progress at their own pace and comfort level.
At the other end of the spectrum, those who already are in shape and want to improve their cardiovascular system can also turn to yoga. By pursuing Ashtanga, or “Power Yoga,” as it is more commonly called in Western teachings, athletes can reap many of the benefits of other aerobic activities while at the same time providing the body with balance and increased flexibility.
Yoga has something for everyone
Although the styles vary, the overall purpose of yoga remains unchanged – to unite the mind, body and spirit. Through yoga, those who practice it connect to their inner core of power and, in doing so, find power on several different levels.
The first and most obvious level of these is the physical power, which comes as the body acclimates to the poses and develops muscular strength, which leads to improved health overall.
Secondly, yoga speaks to the mental power. The practice of yoga requires concentration on the breaths and movements, which requires letting go of the other thoughts that crowd into one’s head throughout the day. Mental power is developed as students learn deeper concentration skills, and it leads to the third form of power – spiritual power.
Providing the fuel for physical and mental power, spiritual power connects the body, mind and spirit and enables all three to work together for increased productivity, awareness and overall well-being.
Today yoga has become so popular that it seems there’s a studio on every corner. Where yoga devotees once had to seek out boutique stores to find yoga mats or other equipment, today even superstores like Wal-Mart and Costco are carrying yoga props. Stars like Christie Turlington have released their own yoga videos, while designers like Marc Jacobs and Juicy Couture are jumping on the bandwagon with yoga clothing lines and accessories.
According to Yoga Journal, the popularity has boomed into a $20 billion a year business, offering everything from travel bags to designer mats. That makes starting a yoga program easier than ever, but it also means that some people might take short-cuts that jeopardize the success of their yoga practice.
For anyone who is interested in reaching out for a new fitness program, here are some tips to not only get started on the right foot, but to learn to balance on it as well:
Always check with your doctor first!
If you have a specific condition or area of weakness, there may be certain moves you should avoid.
Choose your instructor carefully.
Get a referral from a friend, or observe a class before signing up. Make sure the instructor is offering the kind of assistance you’ll need and moves at a pace that is appropriate for your fitness level. If you’re not sure where to start, ask your doctor for a referral.
Don’t expect to master the Lotus pose in a single session. You should expect to feel some muscle soreness after your first few classes, but if you experience burning pain, see your doctor.
Use the buddy system.
It’s always easier to start – and stick with – a fitness program when you make the commitment with a friend.
Don’t try this at home
At least not at first! While yoga books and videos are extremely helpful, learn the poses from a qualified instructor first before attempting to practice yoga at home.