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The world of health and fitness can seem chaotic, full, and overwhelming. Just like looking for a chocolate chip cookie recipe online, it seems like there are thousands of different opinions, outlooks, and answers to the same question — this is especially true with the topic of how best to deal with stress and tension.
Thankfully, there is one practice that always seems to be universally agreeable in this realm, and actually prioritizes tranquility and calmness within the chaos. That discipline is the ancient practice of yoga.
This practice has a long-standing history that combines elements of strength and physical stress relief with deep meditation. This puts the body in a place of simultaneously building endurance and inner stability.
While it’s true that this practice can be challenging, it is also extremely dynamic. Whether you are an advanced athlete looking for a brand new way to challenge your body and get you dripping with sweat, or you're retired and looking for a way to help improve your circulation and flexibility, yoga has a place for you.
If you are just starting out, it can seem intimidating to know where to begin. The world of yoga seems so established, and when you think of people who do yoga you probably think of people you could never relate to. Rest assured, yoga is for every person no matter their level of physical fitness, and it can be a good option for you as well.
This guide will walk you through not only some of the health benefits of why you should be pursuing yoga, but also help you understand how to start off strong with your own personal long-term goals in mind.
So why is this practice still so popular? It has permeated nearly every part of our culture from television to movies, books, and even music. Well, on top of it having ties to multiple religions that have likewise survived the ages, it permeates our western culture for one primary reason — it really works!
While the practice of yoga can be engaged with at all levels from beginner to intermediate to advanced to really advanced, this practice uses your body's natural weight to help discipline and cultivate deep strength.
On top of that, yoga is good for the soul. It can not only help with your cardiovascular system and muscle-building goals, but it helps cultivate a sense of self-awareness and well-being.
If you learn how to speak the language of yoga and make it a regular practice, chances are you will never go anywhere without finding someone who shares your passion. Because yoga is built on principles of personal wellness and self-awareness, the community that forms around it is generally a very accepting and loving one that further promotes holistic wellness and taking care of yourself.
The first step in researching yoga is becoming familiar with the different practices of this discipline. Some disciplines are more intense and can relate more to the athletic crowd, while others focus on slow, challenging holds that encourage commitment to peace and patience.
Let's take a look at some of the most popular disciplines.
This discipline of yoga focuses on whole-body transitions and puts a heavy emphasis on correct breathing during these transitions. This type of yoga is more geared toward the athlete or the person wanting to build lean muscle and core strength while also learning to control their breath and release some tension.
This practice of yoga is all about patience and endurance. These sessions are typically conducted in the same manner no matter where you may join. The room will usually be toasty hot to encourage your body to pour out the sweat and detoxify you, and you will slowly and methodically move through around 26 positions and two breathing exercises. This yoga flow is a slow burn built to teach patience and cultivate endurance in its participants.
This practice is one that everyone should participate in. It is one of the most easily accessible and has something to offer for all ages and all levels of physical fitness. It puts a healing emphasis on simple poses that promote soothing, calming effects on your mind while helping to stretch out tightness and stress in your body.
Now let's get onto one of the most important aspects of yoga and something you should put some work into learning if you're a beginner — the art of setting an expectation. This is crucial to yoga as this practice is not just intended to help you benefit physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
The key to getting these benefits comes from the expectations you set for yourself. Yoga will teach you a lot about yourself and expand your self-awareness. Learning how to effectively set expectations through our journey will actually act as a road map of your growth.
Should you set an expectation that involves two straight hours of Bikram yoga? Well, if you’re a beginner, odds are you probably shouldn’t. However, over time, as you stick with it, you’ll be shocked at how these expectations will change, proving to yourself your gradual progress!
The intention behind starting every yoga session is one of the most fundamental elements of shaping your daily expectations. This is a time to quiet your mind; leave your problems off the mat and think about where you’re at and focus on your present state of being.
Letting go of the impossible does not mean you don’t strive for big goals. Instead, it means that you are giving yourself grace and room to be exactly where you are at in your yoga practice, and you understand it may take some time to get to where you want to be.
Your strength, endurance, focus, and stamina are unique to you. You know where they are strong and where they are weak — you know what is possible and what is impossible. Don’t let the impossible things of today keep you from building towards possibility in the future.
If you are working toward a handstand pose, don’t give up, but don’t let the fact that you can’t achieve it yet deter you from perfecting your crow pose.
This is important. Set your sights on just outside of comfort — place your intention within the challenge. But then, also have a lot of acceptance with yourself. Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew; rather than give up and feel like a failure, set a broad intention to learn from this and adapt your practice, don't walk away from it.
Spend a moment contemplating where you have been and where you are going. From here, don’t set an intention over any other goal than just acceptance at where the present finds you. If you can’t be rooted in your current strength you won’t have the confidence to try and grow into more.
This is extremely important. This is your journey and your story and no one knows it the way you do or can live it the way you can. Before every practice, make an intention to celebrate and be proud of your time on the mat no matter the outcome or the performance.
So now that we’ve covered some philosophy — what about equipment? Yoga, just like any other sport or exercise, comes with a set of items that can enhance your experience.
However, unlike other styles of exercise, there’s nothing you really need to do yoga. Do you need yoga pants to actually practice or start yoga? Absolutely not, but their stretchiness can make you more comfortable during flexibility poses. Do you need to bring your amt with you everywhere you go? No to that, too — fluffy grass is a very comfy place to get in touch with nature and self-reflect.
All that said, if you’re excited to head to your local sports store to pick up some gear for your new practice, here’s what we recommend.
Yoga is a free-flowing exercise that puts an emphasis on whole-body movements and full range of motion. Make sure the clothes you are wearing allow your body to move without restriction, are comfortable, and will allow you to sweat a little.
This is the one big one that we will advise you on. A mat helps ground you in various positions and gives you a sturdy foundation to learn and execute yoga poses. It’s important to make sure the mat you chose has a good grip that will catch onto the floor and is comfortable to you.
Not all mats are the same — there are a lot of different mat styles out there with different materials, textures, and thicknesses. Some people enjoy a large amount of cushion to help with sensitive knees, while others enjoy a thinner mat that provides a more firm experience and a closer connection to the ground below them.
For all intents and purposes, the mat is your gym. If you have a space you can roll it out, you have a space you can practice yoga! So make sure your mat is comfortable for you above all else.
The simple answer here is yes.
The good thing about yoga is that it can meet you where you are when it comes to the level of difficulty and your level of fitness. If you are recovering from an injury or are looking to build strength physically or mentally, then focusing on daily restorative activities in the morning and evening can help to solidify your day and bring peace to each part of it.
If you are an athlete, engaging even in short, daily vinyasa can have tremendous health benefits like keeping you limber and flexible.
It is generally suggested that more intense practices like Bikram be practiced once or twice a week, as these are longer and more taxing on the muscles.
This is possibly the most important part of your practice and what we champion you doing! Every journey begins with that first step and yoga is no different. If you don’t live near a local gym that can give you the instruction, you can find a multitude of online or app-based video and picture resources.
Learn the fundamental beginner poses like the child’s pose and the sun salutation, and just keep with it. It may seem like it’s a journey that takes a while to take off, but simply starting is the most important part.
Yoga is a deeply rewarding and uplifting discipline to learn, and you are very capable of doing it, we promise!