Picking a Yoga Class

Congratulations! You are starting off the New Year by increasing your activity! You are walking, or jogging, or you joined a class at the local Y. Whatever it is, you have taken the first step to improving your fitness. You now want to learn about becoming more flexible. Somewhere you read that “total fitness” involves exercise (which you’re now doing), along with strength and flexibility.

Good luck. I’m almost 53 years old, and I am not sure I’ll ever get all three parts down. But I am a walker and my goal is to walk 4-5 times a week for 45 minutes. Many times I take several short walks, but the total is 45 minutes, so most times I meet my goal. I have also been working on my flexibility for many years by doing yoga. Many yoga poses involve holding this 144-pound body in a headstand, or handstand, and that takes strength. So maybe I won’t need to buy weights to keep my bones strong!

Let me tell you a bit about doing yoga, because, as a big fan, I wish everyone could take time to do it. Yoga helps you feel good in your body, no matter what shape you think you are in-and that’s what I love about it. Whether I feel too fat from overeating, or I’m feeling energetic because it’s…a good day, ten minutes of yoga makes me feel even better. Maybe it’s the idea that I have made time to take care of myself, I don’t know. Whether you have ten minutes or an hour, you can always find some type of pose (or series of poses) to fit the way you are feeling. You will always feel better, physically and psychologically.

There are many styles of yoga, including Ashtanga yoga, a fast moving, intense practice; power yoga, an Americanized version of Ashtanga; and then there’s “hot yoga”-you practice in a heated room (over 100 degrees F). Make sure you take LOTS of fluids with you to this class.

The style I practice is called Iyengar yoga, based on the teachings of B.K.S Iyengar. It has been referred to as “props” yoga, because it involves the use of blocks, belts and other objects to aid in learning the poses (also called “asanas”). Once I went to another yoga-style class. I remember speaking to the instructor afterwards about Iyengar yoga. And I distinctly recall him saying “oh yes, that yoga is good for people who have had injuries and need to slowly get back into yoga.” I was so angry I would have kicked him! (Since I’d injured my back, though, I couldn’t.)

I complained to my instructor about this comment, and she smiled. It’s important that you simply start doing yoga, she said, not what style you choose. Very Zen, don’t you think? But she’s right. The important thing is for people to just get started.

There is one essential piece of advice I’d like to offer anyone interested in learning yoga, regardless of the style you choose. Please make sure your instructor is experienced and well qualified. While there are many people out there who may be considered qualified, not all of them should be teaching classes.

Here is one way to tell: at the beginning of your class, if the instructor does not ask “Is there anyone here with a particular health issue I should know about?”-get up and leave. A misconception about yoga is that you simply sit, breathe deeply, and learn small stretches. Learning how to breathe correctly is essential, it aids in concentration and movement through the asanas. However, many yoga poses involve deep stretching and lots of strength (to stay in those poses). Suppose you walk into class with an injury (perhaps you strained your neck in the middle of the night, or pulled a back muscle getting out of bed). If your instructor isn’t aware of this at the beginning of class, by the end of class you may be in more pain than when you started.

By all means, pick a yoga class you like-that’s the most important part in getting started. Just remember to make sure your instructor knows what going on in your body (and your mind) before you start the class.

Copyright (c) 2008 At Peace With Food