Yoga has exploded into the mainstream over the past several years, making it one of the most popular ways of getting and staying in shape, as well as a powerful source of health benefits. It's also more accessible than you might think.
As with all new exercise programs, it's important to check with your doctor or healthcare provider before you start.
First things first: What exactly is yoga?
Yoga is a huge topic, so it's best to stick with the basics when just starting out. Let's start with what yoga is not: Yoga is not a religion. Sometimes bundled by its practitioners with religion, yoga was actually created in the East over 2000 years ago as a philosophical and scientific system to gain mastery over our mental, emotional and physical selves.
But keeping it simple and focusing on the fitness aspect of this practice, yoga is a system of exercise involving postures that combine strength and flexibility with breath control and concentration. It's also well known as an effective source of relaxation, physical conditioning and pain management.
The many benefits of yoga
Yoga's many physical and psychological benefits can include:
- Reduction in muscle pain
- Improved heart and lung functioning
- Increased joint and spinal health
- Improved physical mobility, balance, flexibility and strength
- Boost in focus and concentration
- Better mood and stress management
- Healthier weight
Yoga is for every body (type)
If you're like many of us, the first thing you think when the subject of yoga comes up is, “Yoga? That's for flexible people. I can't even touch my toes.” That you need to already be as fit and flexible as a circus acrobat in order to practice and enjoy yoga is one of the most common misconceptions about this comprehensive and ancient system of exercise.
Yoga is about getting flexible – not being flexible
In fact, yoga postures were originally designed as a way to create and enhance flexibility and strength. Today, it's easier than you might think to add some yoga into your life, no matter your age, fitness level, health status, mobility restrictions or experience.
Who can do yoga?
- In a word – everyone. Everybody from children to the elderly can benefit from yoga. Wheelchair-bound or racetrack-ready, pre- or post-op, practitioners of every shape, age and level of fitness and mobility can enjoy yoga, including those managing illnesses or chronic health conditions.
How to get started
Now that we've busted some of those myths about yoga being the domain of the triple-jointed and gotten you excited about taking advantage of its many benefits, it's time to look at how to get started with a yoga practice.
Where to find yoga
These days, you can find yoga at mainstream health clubs, community centres, online, via DVD or at one of the many local yoga studios popping up in virtually every neighbourhood all over the world.
Thanks to the continuing advances in technology, you can even take your yoga with you. There are numerous free and low-cost podcasts and mobile apps available for download, and often all you need is a mat and either a smartphone or mp3 device.