Learn Yoga - Step by Step

(Tuesday, February 17, 2015)




The benefits of Yoga are well know to everyone who has ever tried the discipline but if you are new to Yoga let me recap. Yoga is a fantastically popular and effective way of strengthening you physically as well as mentally and spiritually. This last 'spiritual' aspect may turn some people off, but it's not something that needs to be associated with religion. Really the best alternate word for the spiritual strength of Yoga is contentment or happiness. It allows you to be a calmer person and more happy with yourself. Put like that it sounds pretty great doesn't it?





So you've probably heard a little about Yoga and wondered what it's all about. you probably have a few preconceptions and maybe an image of an old man with a long beard sitting in the lotus position springs into your head in automatic association with the word. Let's go through step by step what you can expect in a typical Yoga session.





Step One: The Introduction and Preparation.





Most Yoga classes begin in a standing position. There are both mental and physical reasons for this and they are closely connected. The standing position is the most natural Human position there is. Leonardo Da Vinci produced a famous scientific picture of the symmetry of the human body when it is in it's natural standing position. The outstretched arms and legs can have a perfect circle drawn around them and this is true of everyone regardless of their height or weight. What this means is that a standing pose comes naturally to us - we are not worried about getting it wrong and we can concentrate of the state of the body. Breathing exercises will be a key part of the warm up stage for your routine. This is the only time in your life you will be 'taught' to breath and it's a skill which allows people to restore calm to their bodies and thoughts.





Step Two: The Main Routine





This is the art of your Yoga session which will vary the greatest depending on what forms of Yoga you are learning. While the individual exercises you will be doing are going to be quite different, the nature of them will be very similar. This will mean moving into certain poses and positions and holding those poses to allow the body to stretch out muscles and muscle groups that in many cases haven't been given much attention during the week. Some Yoga teachers will talk to you about energy points of chakra's. These are important junctions in your body where congestion occurs and stretching them out allows energy to flow freely around your body.





Ste Three: Ending the Session





While the main session is about releasing pent up energies, this stage of your Yoga workout is all about allowing that energy to flow around your body. Many people have trouble with thinking about some strange mystic force that is flowing through you and driving it to certain parts of your body. If you are one of them just mentally substitute the word 'energy' with the word 'blood'. We know that the job of blood is to carry nutrients and oxygen around our body, and we know that if any part of our body is lacking in this supply that we will become ill, so it's not a huge stretch to think of blood as the mystic energy force that brings health around our body, and exercises such as Yoga as being the method of ensuring the smooth and successful flow of that blood.


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When you are pregnant everyone has an opinion and an important skill to learn early on in the pregnancy is to be able to listen to these opinions, comment politely and then make up your own mind. There are as many different ways of having and raising children as there are children, and once your child is born you need to do what works for you and your family, not what worked for someone else. This doesn't mean you should ignore advice that is given to you. Usually it will be being dished out by women who have been there and done this before, and knowing what works for others is often a good indicator of what may work for you. Ultimately however the decision is going to be up to you, and so you will learn to collate the collective advise and filter the wisdom from the opinion. One of the pieces that you will find almost universally recommended by those who have tried it is Pre Natal yoga, but a lot of women get nervous about the idea of starting an exercise program when their bodies are going through so many changes. This article deals with some of the most common questions that will be asked about Pre-natal Yoga.





Question One: Why Should I Do Yoga While I Am Pregnant?





There are numerous benefits of Yoga for pregnant women, physical, mental and also spiritual. In a nutshell Pre-Natal Yoga is designed to give you a toolbox of techniques and methods for dealing with your pregnancy, your labour and even the stressful times of the first few days, weeks and months after the birth. People who complete Prenatal Yoga are better equipped to deal with the babies delivery itself as well as the recovery period after the birth.





Question Two: Is It Safe To Learn Yoga During Pregnancy?





It is perfectly safe to start Yoga during your pregnancy provided you begin your class with a qualified Prenatal Yoga teacher. Prenatal Yoga is specifically designed for pregnancy because there are exercises and techniques in a regular Yoga session that are not appropriate for a pregnant women. It's also recommended to wait until after the first trimester is complete before you commence a Yoga class as this first trimester is a time for babies to grow and develop, whereas later they will be increasing with size in preparation for the birth and the mother needs to take advantage of the opportunity Yoga presents to ease this process. Talk to your instructor about your pregnancy before the class begins so you can be sure that they understand anything unique to your pregnancy that may require exercises to be modified(for instance women carrying twins are encouraged not to do squatting exercises).





Question Three: How Will Yoga Benefit Me Physically?





Yoga is a discipline which is designed to regulate the blood flow and breathing as well as strengthen the body in general. All of these factor in the benefits to pregnant women. Blood flow is of course critical in ensuring that your body is getting all the nutrients and oxygen to all the organs that need it. It's possible for baby to get greedy and hog these resources, or the opposite could happen and the baby is deprived of what is needed to grow. The increased strength will help deal with the delivery by strengthening the pelvic floor muscles. This can potentially shorten the duration of labour and it will definitely decrease the time it takes for the vaginal passage to recover from the birth. There is even strong evidence that the increased blood flow to the skin will assist in avoiding and/or recovering from stretch marks.





Question Four: Should I keep doing Yoga after the Birth?





Why not? You will keep getting all the benefits discussed above and more. You will probably want to go to at least one standard yoga class, as these can be quite different than the prenatal Yoga. Of course life can be quite hectic with a new baby so the opportunities to attend formal classes are probably going to be few and far between. Luckily one of the biggest benefits of Yoga as an exercise regime is that it doesn't require specialized equipment, so it's possible to do in the comfort of your own home during those few precious moments when your baby is asleep.


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The origins of Yoga are about 4000 years old and based in a Far Eastern spiritual practice designed to realize ones own Divine Nature. In the western world today it is mostly seen as a form of exercise although all forms of Yoga are still based in the three traditional techniques of Eastern Yoga. These three fundamentals of Yoga are the Asanas (Sanskrit for Postures), the Pranyama (the Sanskrit for breathing or breath control) and meditation. Yoga increases the strength of your muscles, your flexibility, helps you relax and calm yourself and centre your thought.





Different Types Of Yoga





Raja Yoga: This form of Yoga focusses on achieving unification or oneness ( Samadhi ) through the ahstangas of Yoga (Yama, Niyama etc). Anyone competent enough to achieve the goal of Samahdi through this method is believed to be a Raja(King of Yoga). A most famous example is Swami Vivekananda.





Bhakthi Yoga: In Bhakthi yoga a person seeks to reach the ultimate state of oneness or attunement through the sheer power of devotion and faith. Bhakthi does not concentrate on the traditional methods of pranyama, yogasnas or mudra, and instead preaches attention to a loving god, unquestioning devotion to god's will and a sharing of gods love towards humanity.





Jivamukti Yoga: In 1986 Sharon Gannon and David Life developed the Jivamukti Yoga method because they believed that traditional western Yoga practices focussed only on the physical aspects of Eastern Yoga and not the spiritual.





Ananda Yoga: This discipline is a preparatory one for entering a state of meditation. Gentle postures, correct body alignment and focus on breathing are all used towards the end of preparing the Yogi for a meditative state.





The Effects Of yoga





There are a number of different paths that are intended to lead a person to a higher state or realization of Moksha(the oneness with ultimate reality). It refers to a gradual 'yoking of the self' through strong spiritual discipline so that each subsequent session of Yoga brings one a little closer to a full state of acceptance of themselves and their place in the universe. The ego is seen as an aspect which limits our ability to accept our place in the universe and something which is gradually toned down. The traditional yoga Margas, or path to salvation, would involve a long and dedicated apprenticeship to a Yoga Guru.





The Benefits Of Yoga





Yoga has a number of specific benefits. One of the most well known and commented on is an increased level of flexibility. Yoga will work through all the muscle groups and grant increased range of motion through the attention it plays to some muscle groups which are often overlooked by other exercise programs. Yoga also works the internal glands and body organs in a thorough manner. This is a very impressive ability when we consider that Yoga can act on glands and organs such as the prostate which are unlikely to receive any regular external stimulation.





Another advantage of yoga is a toning of the muscles. Excess flabbiness is shed from muscles which have become flaccid and weak. The circulation is greatly improved by the poses of Yoga which will assist the body by clearing knots and blockages. This, combined with the valuable skill of learning to breath properly result in an increased flow of blood to the vital organs and about the body.


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Yoga has been practiced for 400 years and is a system of exercises which are very easy and effective at increasing a persons overall health ad well-being. Yoga instructors and students alike will often talk about phrases like "being in harmony with oneself and surroundings" and indeed this is a primary goal of Yoga, to achieve a unity of body, mind and spirit in a oneness with the world around us. Yoga will teach a person to stimulate internal organs including the likes of the prostate, which is practically never exercised by any other discipline. It will teach you to apply pressure upon glandular areas of the body and it will combine this with meditation and breathing techniques that will grant you the ability to turn your concentration inward to examine your feelings and thoughts.





There are a number of different aspects in Yoga, but one of the most appealing is that this is a set of exercises that anyone can enjoy and benefit from. It does not require any expensive equipment or a special setting, it can be practiced by anyone, man or women, rich or poor, young or old, healthy or ill. Perhaps it's greatest appeal has always been that it is a set of beneficial exercises that anyone can do at any time and in any place. Yoga is even a safe form of exercise for pregnant women and prenatal Yoga classes are often recommended to expectant mothers. A specially tailored prenatal yoga class will help prepare a women, physically and mentally to become a mother. It gives her a number of useful tools for coping with labour and the strengthening of the body means that the recovery period after giving birth will be much shorter.





There is a preconception amongst many men that Yoga is a female pastime, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Yoga provides numerous benefits to men: decreasing stress, assisting in relaxation and increasing power, stamina and flexibility across the board.





Senior citizens can get a number of benefits from a yoga course and are often the first to praise the mental advantages such as an increased attention span and a better memory both long and short term.





Even young children will benefit from a Yoga regime by stronger bones, increased circulation and a better disposition resulting from breathing exercises and the relaxation of the exercise.





Regardless of the person Yoga has a number of lasting benefits and will aid in a wide variety of different health issues. Regular practitioners of yoga will live an overall enhanced lifestyle, are more likely to have a strong memory and better stamina combined with a stronger sense of balance. Even late starters can use Yoga to combat a range of health disorders from Blood pressure to arthritis to breathing orders.





It's no wonder when you consider all the different benefits of Yoga how very popular it is, and the fact that it is a regime of exercise that is open to everyone is one more big advantage of it. It means that families can stay fit and healthy together and include everyone from the youngest child through to the oldest family members. The exercises can be performed at varying levels of difficulty and intensity, which means that two people at completely different levels of strength and flexibility can go through the same motions and both benefit.


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Classical yoga has developed over time to include many different styles for a range of situations, needs and preferences. However the majority of Yoga styles still fall neatly into either the therapeutic or the meditative category. Both categories have many hundreds of different Asanas,(poses or positions) and all of these are designed to benefit both the body and the mind.





Yoga takes the five 'prayer' positions and uses a corresponding yoga position to activate the seven chakras in the body. A Chakra is a type of energy field or is sometimes thought as a key position in the flow of energy throughout our body. Each different type of Yoga and each different Yoga position will have a different chakra as it's core emphasis. All of these positions, which we tend to think of nowadays in Western Yoga as exercises, were in fact originally the preparation for the Yogi to enter a state of meditation.





The actual positions or poses of Yoga are known as Asanas and they may seem complicated or difficult to a new Yoga student. It's important not to forget that all of the basic positions of Yoga are designed to improve the bodies strength and flexibility, and as these characteristics are improved it also makes the positions more comfortable and easier to settle into. The deep stretching that is the basis of most Yoga positions is beneficial for trauma disorders, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow amongst others.





Before you begin you may find it beneficial to attain a basic knowledge of the philosophy and theory behind Yoga, however this is not a requirement or essential to your success. It does assist with being comfortable settling into and performing the poses associated with Yoga, and it should be remembered that if you cannot do this then you will probably not benefit from Yoga.





There is a common misconception about Yoga that it is only for the tremendously flexible who can contort themselves into weird and wonderful positions. Chanting is often also associated with a Yoga class in people's preconceptions. Neither of these ideas is true. The Yoga positions are generally quite easy to get into but they do have several different depths in many cases. This means that a completely beginner can move into a position and still benefit from it at a great level after many years of Yoga. There are some advanced positions that a beginner should probably not bother themselves with. Just as you are not going to compete with top marathon runners on your first day jogging, but can still get benefits, you are also not going to be able to ease into some of the positions that an instructor is capable of. Likewise if you are pregnant or perhaps have an injury such as a bad back you should inform your Yoga instructor before you begin. There are some positions that can actually be detrimental to certain conditions. Twist exercises with a recurring back injury is one of these.





Yoga is something that is most beneficial in a comfortable environment, as the muscles will stretch better when they are still warm. It's important to learn the discipline to enter and leave each new pose or position slowly. Not only does this help avoiding injury but also the movement from one pose to another is often part of the program. Don't hold the poses and positions longer than is natural for you either. As you become more used to practicing the Yoga positions each day the benefits will allow you to hold a position with more ease for longer periods of time.





When practised correctly the benefits of Yoga are many. Lubrications of the joints, ligaments and the tendons will result directly from performing the exercises best suited to you. Posture will increase dramatically and you will also experience a sense of wellbeing. There is also a deeper spiritual level to Yoga (it actually has it's own philosophy and code of ethics) that you will move closer towards and enhance each time you stretch and go through the breathing exercises.


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