Yoga 101

April 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Yoga Tips

Despite the increasing popularity of yoga, many women remain skeptical. Some have never felt completely comfortable with the concept because they think it involves the practice of non-Christian religions. However, the truth is that the principles of yoga do not have to be tied to any particular religion. We can all practice yoga in good conscience – no matter our beliefs.

Aside from spirituality concerns, others are cynics because they think yoga involves just sitting in a room doing a bunch of stretching while chanting to new age music, and they want to walk away from the gym feeling like they worked hard. While this type of dry yoga class is certainly a possibility, there are also classes that will leave you dripping with sweat while licking the edge of your empty water bottle for remnants. The point is that there is something for everyone, so if the first class doesn’t meet your fancy, try another teacher, studio or type of yoga. There is sure to be one that fits your personality and goals.

There are many different aspects to the general term “yoga,” but what most of us conjure up is a particular form of yoga known as Hatha yoga. According to the Yoga Journal, Hatha yoga refers to a set of physical exercises known as asanas or postures, and sequences of asanas, designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. The postures open the main channel of the body, the spine–so that energy can flow freely. Practicing yoga has the potential to provide myriad benefits:

  • Increased Flexibility – Yoga positions lead to a greater range of motion and over time, you will likely gain flexibility in your hamstrings, back, shoulders and hips.
  • Body Awareness – You often have to make small, subtle movements to improve your alignment while practicing yoga, and this will give you an increased awareness of your own body. This can make you more comfortable in your own skin, leading to greater self-confidence.
  • Detoxification – By gently stretching muscles and joints as well as massaging the various organs, yoga ensures the optimum blood supply to various parts of the body.
  • Muscle toning – Many yoga poses require you to support the weight of your own body in new ways and some require you to move slowly in and out of poses, both of which increase strength and help shape long, lean muscles.
  • Mental Calmness – Yoga is intensely physical, and concentrating so intently on what your body is doing brings an amazing sense of calmness to the mind. Yoga also introduces you to meditation techniques and disengagement from your thoughts, which help calm the mind.
  • Better Breathing – Yoga breathing exercises, called Pranayama, focus the attention on the breath and teaching you how to get the most out of your lungs. This obviously benefits the entire body.
  • Stress Reduction – Physical activity in general is a great stress reliever but this is particularly true of yoga. Your problems and stressors often seem to melt away while doing yoga because of the great concentration the practice requires.

If learning about these yoga basics has put your concerns to rest and piqued your interest, a cute new yoga outfit is always a great way to truly get those yogini juices flowing. Other than that, all you really need to get started is a good yoga mat. Most gyms and yoga studios have mats that you can borrow, but if you plan on becoming a “regular,” it’s usually best to invest in your own mat.

Quick Yoga Tip: Do not eat for at least 2 hours before your yoga class. All of the twisting, turning and posing can make you feel quite unpleasant on a full stomach.

Amber O’Neal is a fitness & nutrition expert and owner of Cafe Physique. Her business specializes in nutrition & wellness coaching, personal training, and yoga/pilates training. Cafe Physique is headquartered in Atlanta and offers coaching services nationally via phone and email. Visit for more information.

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