Yoga’s benefits on overall health and wellness are becoming more acknowledged in Western medicine. Some of the most up to date research listed by Yoga Alliance demonstrate the benefits of yoga on disease prevention as well as numerous health conditions. While yoga is gaining popularity each day, it has an intimidation factor given the pretzel-like poses of hyper flexible yogis we are bombarded with. The truth is, the most beneficial poses in yoga are accessible to almost everyone; yet, you need to be smart about your practice to ensure you build your strength and flexibly safely.
- No pain no gain does not apply to Yoga:Yoga is about fortifying the mind-body connection. Pain has no place in a Yoga practice. This means listening to the signs of your body while moving into the poses and respecting the range of motion of your body. Nurturing the relationship between mind and body will help you sharpen your awareness of our body’s signs enabling you to have a more intimate relationship with your body on and off the mat.
- Keep the ego in check:The core philosophy of yoga is about connecting with our purusha – our spirit, our true self – while keeping the ego out of our practice. Once we manage this, we become immune to distractions around us and focus on our own journey on our own mat. This metaphor apples to our daily lives, allowing us to find happiness within ourselves without searching for affirmation from outside sources.
- Focus on the main yoga poses: Focus on the main pillars of a yoga practice that allow your body to move in as few planes as possible within one pose such as Warrior 2, Triangle, forward bends, before you move into or go deeper into multi-plane poses. The more planes the body moves into within a pose, the more chance for an injury. Once you have the strength, flexibility and balance, poses with multiple planes (balancing poses with twists) will become more accessible to you.
- Compensation is key: If your body is not ready for straightening your legs in forward folds, a gentle bend in the knees will give you nice compensation without overstretching. Embrace this approach and be kind and loving to your body rather than pushing your limits.
- Stack up your joints: One of the poses that cause shoulder and wrist injuries in a Vinyasa practice is Chaturanga Dandasana (hovering over the mat with bent elbows in a plank pose). Make sure that you stack up your joints by aligning wrists and elbows to reduce the pressure on them and better yet, put your knees on the floor until you build strength. Joint stacking is also important in poses such as Warrior 2 where hips should be aligned with shoulders and front knee should be aligned with the front ankle.
- Find the right teacher: A good teacher should have in-depth knowledge of anatomy and right sequencing. It is important to start with gentle breathing exercises to help center your mind, move to core poses that warm you up, and gradually build up to deeper, more challenging poses once your muscles are more open. Once the peak pose is attainted, make sure the teacher gives you ample time for cool down poses. Finally, a teacher who gives many options and empowers you to remain within your own journey when practicing is a keeper.