Yoga for Beginners
What is Yoga?
Yoga, the term which describes the physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines and exercises which originated in ancient India, has been practiced for thousands of years, with various forms being found in different cultures around the world. Those who practice will be the first to tout the physical and mental rewards of developing a yogic practice. In recent years, the scientific and medical community have become interested in this subject, conducting many studies of the effects of yoga on the body and mind. The results may surprise some people, except, of course, those who practice, and already know.
The word yoga has roots in Sanskrit, and means "to unite" or "to join". What is being joined? The gentle movements through the poses, or asanas, and the composed breathing techniques that one utilizes. This breathing technique is called pranayama. The key to yoga is control; learning to control your breathing and your balance, creating a harmony which radiates throughout your body. The effects of this are numerous.
Benefits of Breathing Techniques
- Lower Heart Rate
- Reduced Blood Pressure
- Increased Oxygen Flow
- Increased Lung Capacity
- Improved Sleep
Conditions Treated with Breathing Techniques
- Sleep Disorders
- Anxiety/Panic Disorders
- Heart Disease
What is Pranayama?
Pranayama is also Sanskrit and means "extending the life force", or "extending the breath". When one is in a pose, the body automatically feels stressed, trying to balance and steady itself, causing the “fight or flight” response, which is natural reaction for stress.
To perform this technique, one matches their inhalations and exhalations to the flow of the movements, breathing in and out deeply through the nose, using the diaphragm to extend each respiration, maximizing the benifits.
The breathing and energy focus of pranayama methodology keeps one calm and steady throughout the pressures and stress of the poses. Breathing techniques have a wide range of benefits, and are used commonly in treatments of many different conditions.
What Yoga Can Treat
There is a wide range of conditions that a regular, dedicated yoga practice can aid in treating, which inlude:
- Sleep disorders
- Heart Disease
- Chronic Pain Relief, especially back pain
- Depression, Anxiety, and many other mental disorders.
Yoga, Meditation and Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters are what make our brains work, and are responsible for how we feel, think, and perceive. More than fifty neurotransmitters have been identified, but there are several, such as serotonin and dopamine, which play the crucial roles in our moods and general brain and bodily functions. There are a great many things that can go wrong in this intricate circuitry, and things like meditation, regular exercise, and a good diet can help keep everything in top shape. Yoga can provide two of these, in life changing ways.
Mental health is of great importance to our physical health. Chronic stress, depression, and anxiety seem commonplace these days. Our bodies and brains are connected; therefore, how we think and how we feel can greatly impact our overall well-being and how we react to stress in our environment. In a recent review of studies, a large number of trials were analyzed by researchers at Duke University. These trials were performed to study the benefits of yoga on certain neuropsychiatric disorders, and the evidence showed yoga aided in the treatment of depression, schizophrenia, sleep disorders, and ADHD.
What is GABA?
GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) is a primary neurotransmitter inhibitor in the central nervous system. Basically, it control the neural excitability in the brain, keeping everything cool and calm. IIt is the brake pedal of the brain, keeping the nerve firings in check. In people suffering from depression, anxiety, and stress, their GABA levels are lacking.
In another study done by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine, two groups were formed, one who practiced yoga asanas for an hour a certain amount of days a week, and the other group was to walk the same amount of time. Their brains were monitored using a technique called magnetic resonance spectroscopy. The results revealed much higher levels of GABA levels in the group who practiced yoga meditation than what was displayed by the group who simply walked.
These are but a few studies that have concentrated on the mental benefits of this meditative, physical regime. It has been suggested that we can retrain our minds to handle stress as a result of yoga. Our bodies are tense and stressed while holding or moving through poses, and our brains maintain the calm state and steady, smooth breathing. This technique will eventually drift over into other parts of an individual's lives, leaving them calmer and more level headed. As technology advances and more ways are available to study the brain, it is very likely that they will find more evidence to support this.
Types of Yoga
Who It's For
What It's Best For
Relaxation/Overall Physical and Mental Well-Being
Competent Yogis That Don't Mind Repetition
Weight Loss Promoting Cardio/Weight-Free Strength Training
Those Who Dont' Mind the Heat
Weight Loss/Breaking a Sweat
Intermediate Yogis Who Love a Challenge
Weight Loss/Muscle Toning
Mommies To Be
Staying Fit and Tone During Pregnancy/Relaxation
Anyone/Those with Patience
Learning Proper Form/Overall Muscle Toning
Those Seeking Spirituality
Connecting to Chakras/Meditation/Relaxation
Learning All Aspects of Yoga/Overall Physical and Mental Well Being
Common Yoga Injuries
- Muscle Strains
- Ligament or Cartilage Tear
- Spinal Injuries
- Shoulder/Neck Strain
As with any exercise regime, always check with your physician to assure you are in physical order to begin. There are many injuries that can occur during certain poses, especially if there is a pre-existing condition, such as arthritis. But, as with any sort of treatment, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. Here are some tips for a safe practice:
First, check the ego at the door. Yoga doesn't care what you look like. Don't push yourself into a headstand because you want to look good.
Take time to learn proper form. Assure you have proper alignment in your body during poses to evenly distribute the stress over your whole body.
Try to avoid hyperextension. If you can't hug your knees or straighten them during downward facing dog, it's okay. For most, flexibility will come in time, for others, it is perfectly fine to modify. Not everyone is the same.
Use Props, if needed. Don't be afraid to admit you need something to help modify a pose. There are many items available to aid in safe yogic practices.
- Rolled towel
Finding Your Space
It is important to find a comfortable, safe environment to practice. You can take a class if you want to learn everything and connect with others while they also learn. If you desire to practice at home, make sure your area meets these conditions:
Make sure you have plenty of room. Can you swing your arms all the way around you without hitting anything? You'll want some space for this so nothing will bump you out of your flow.
Keep the lights down. Lowered lighting is more soothing and less distracting then looking up into glaring fluorescents. Light some candles for aromatherapy and a relaxing mood.
Turn down the noise. Make sure you are in a quiet place. No televisions or radio, except perhaps some appropriate, gentle music. You want your mind to be free of distractions.
Assure you have a firm surface. Alignment and proper form mean nothing if you are on an uneven terrain.
What Do You Need?
Yoga is simple. Bare feet, snug but comfortable clothing, a mat to avoid slipping and add a little cushion, the above listed safety items, and an open mind is all that is needed to began.
If you prefer to practice at home, study some poses in a book or follow along with a video. Thanks to yoga's long lasting popularity, there are thousands of videos to buy or even stream online.
Who Can Do Yoga?
Nearly anyone can practice yoga. No one is too old or too young to try, and moves can be modified to suit beginners or handicapped. In fact, there is an inspiring story that has circulated recently about former paratrooper, Arthur Boorman. He was a disabled veteran who was told he would never walk unassisted again. After discovering yoga through former wrestler Diamond Dallas Page's program, he lost 140 pounds and can now run.
Never, Ever Give Up. Arthur's Inspirational Transformation!
This amazing video is an example of what a regular yoga fitness program can do not just for the body, but for the mind. It can provide an outlet from this busy, sometimes frightening world. The list of benefts seems endless, and can even transform one's life. It seems obvious why it has existed as long as it has, and shows no signs of dying off. If anything, yoga will be around for many more years to come.
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