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A Modern Guide to Yoga

Guide to Modern Yoga Header

Yoga is a physical, spiritual, and mental practice that has been known to provide a variety of health benefits to its studiers. Originating in India, more than 5000 years ago, yoga has become a very popular discipline all over the world and is used among athletes, dancers and more. The general idea of yoga is that focusing on breathing techniques, postures, flexibility, and meditation would lead to greater spirituality. Practicing yoga can have very beneficial effects, provided people know the proper way to start practicing.

Styles

Many people believe that yoga is its own discipline, and that there is a single way to practice the art. Yoga is, however, a philosophy above all things, and there are many ways to practice it.

  • Ahtanga, or Power yoga, is an intense style of yoga. The practitioner is in constant motion, always moving from one pose to the next one. While this style might be more physically demanding, it does not allow each person to perform each pose at his or her own pace.
  • Bikram (a.k.a. “hot”) yoga is, as the name would suggest, performed in an area where the temperature is maintained at up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. These temperatures allow for the muscles to tighten and for the person to sweat, which is believed to cleanse the body.
  • Perhaps the most popular form of yoga in the US, often portrayed in movies and television, Iyengar yoga holds the poses over long periods of time. The purpose of this discipline is to force the students to focus on their body for an extended period of time. Props are typically used in Iyengar yoga.

Different Yoga Props

The use of yoga props can add certain benefits to the exercise, especially for new students. Below is a list of some of the most common yoga props in use today.

  • It can be extremely difficult to practice yoga on carpeting or hardwood floors. It is easiest to perform certain positions on sticky surfaces. For that reason, yoga mats are often best when practicing yoga. These mats, which usually cost around 20 dollars, are easy to store, clean, and use. They come in many varieties and allow the student to achieve yoga positions on sure and even footing.
  • Yoga blocks allow the student to perform certain positions that may be impossible given their current strength or flexibility. They provide support in a variety of ways, including doing a forward bend. In this instance, if the student could not touch the floor during a forward bend, the block could serve as something of a raised floor. Since the blocks can be used at any of three heights, the student can use them to gradually reach the point of flexibility at which touching the floor during a forward bend is possible. Eventually, the goal is to not need the blocks at all.
  • Performing some of the same tasks as the blocks, wedges are also used to support moves the rectangular blocks cannot. They can also protect the new student from him or herself by not allowing overstretching in new exercises.
  • Perfect for beginners and people simply looking to gain flexibility, yoga straps help the student pose for greater durations. They are best used in seated stretches and one-legged standing poses. They also increase general flexibility.
Woman on Desk Practicing Yoga

Adding props to a student’s yoga routine is easy and can have lasting effects. They are usually available at any place offering yoga classes, and can be purchased permanently for home or gym use at most sporting goods stores.

Positions

While there are many different yoga positions, here is a list of some of the more popular and simple poses/stretches to help the new student:

Man Practicing Yoga in a Business Suit

Poses (for Beginners):

  • Plank Pose
  • Downward Facing Dog
  • Triangle Pose
  • Child's Pose
  • Dolphin Pose
  • Cobra Pose
  • Mountain Pose
  • Bow Pose
  • Warrior Pose

Stretches:

  • Cat Stretch
  • Camel Stretch 
  • Hamstring Stretch
  • Pelvic Tilts 
  • Shoulder Stretch
  • Airplane Stretch

People often wonder what part of their workout they can substitute with yoga. Would it replace strength training? Cardio? Stretching? The truth is what makes yoga such a valuable addition to a fitness program is that it encompasses all three of these disciplines. While it should not be used to replace important aspects of a quality fitness program, it can be a valuable activity to support and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

In addition to the physical benefits yoga can provide, it also allows for mental and spiritual restoration as well. While some forms of yoga, like Ashtanga, can be considered an entirely athletic activity most focus on a relaxing though demanding mind-body connection.

Further Information

  • Yoga for Health
  • Benefits of Yoga
  • History of Yoga
  • The Benefits of Flexibility Training
  • Beginning Yoga Poses
  • Yoga as Stress Reduction
  • Yoga Journal
  • Yoga Basic Movements
  • Yoga Postures
  • Yoga Sequence for Anxiety (PDF)
  • Some "Impossible" Yoga Poses


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