Yoga is quickly becoming one of the most popular exercise trends in North America, but many people are still in the dark about what, exactly, it involves.
Yoga originated as a spiritual practice in ancient India, intended to create union between body, mind, and spirit. In fact, the word yoga actually means “union” in Sanskrit, a language that was used in India at the time yoga was first practiced.
One part of Yoga involves using a series of poses, called asanas. These asanas — which now often have names like “downward dog,” “tree pose,” or “cobra pose” — are what most North Americans and Europeans think of when they hear the word yoga.
In a typical Yoga class, the instructor leads students through a series of poses, holding each for a set amount of time, while focusing on balance and breath. The poses range in difficulty from quite easy and relaxed to somewhat strenuous. While not all poses are suitable for beginners, the idea that you must “twist into a pretzel” to practice yoga is a misconception.
Many Yoga classes now exist purely for beginners and those who prefer a gentle experience. Over time, poses that feel awkward to hold for even a short period of time become easier, as a person develops more balance, strength, and flexibility. A good instructor knows how to help students stretch their abilities without pushing so hard that they injure themselves.
As with any form of exercise, though, it’s important to know one’s own physical limitations, and to honor them. Trying challenging poses, or holding them for too long, before one is ready only creates frustration, and will almost certainly guarantee that your yoga practice will be a short-lived hobby.
Yoga can be relaxing and mentally refreshing. Because of its gentle pace, it can be especially good for those who, because of joint pain or breathing problems, have difficulty with more high-impact forms of exercise. Don’t let its slow pace fool you, though. Yoga can also be a serious workout! If you’ve never tried yoga before, don’t be surprised if, after holding just a few poses, you find yourself drenched with sweat.
Today, yoga classes are easy to find. Entry-level classes are now offered at community centers, health clubs, dance studios, and more. For those who don’t have access to a local class, many companies now offer video instruction, so you can follow along in the comfort and convenience of your own living room. All you need to get started are some comfortable, stretchy clothes and a yoga mat. Inexpensive yoga mats are available in almost every department store. With so many people of all ages, body types, and walks of life practicing yoga today, there’s no reason not to check it out for yourself and see if this ancient practice can help you strengthen your body and mind.