Yoga: Getting Started

Posted 04/21/2009

Clinical studies from around the world have shown that students of yoga are healthier than the rest of the population. They have more energy, better strength and joint flexibility, are more relaxed, have lower blood pressures, slower pulses, stronger hearts, better sleep, improved digestion, and more positive outlooks on life. Emotionally, yoga students have increased self-awareness, better coping skills, and a more relaxed approach to any stress, whether on-the-job or in a family crisis. This may be partially due to the slew of feel-good endorphins, including serotonin, released during yoga postures.

Doctors like me who practice integrative medicine regularly recommend yoga classes as complementary therapy for such conditions as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, panic and anxiety disorders, arthritis, and even cancer. It’s just fine during pregnancy, too, and many hospitals now offer prenatal yoga classes.

Without a doubt, in-person yoga classes are far superior to videotape instruction. You need some guidance as you learn the postures when you start, and then you’ll be able to move along at your own pace. Remember that yoga instructors are not health care professionals and as such no formal licensing is required. It’s probably a good idea to ask about an instructor’s training, certification, and the number of years she’s been teaching. Also let your instructor know of any health issues that might require some adjustment to your individual routine.

Some people like a morning session to energize them throughout the day. Others prefer an evening session for improved sleep. Whatever time you select, arrive with an empty stomach and don’t plan to eat for a couple hours afterward. All classes end with a few minutes of deep relaxation, a roomful of students sprawled comfortably and blissfully across the floor.

Plan on two or three sessions a week and you’ll learn some techniques for daily practice. Yoga classes are usually about an hour long, and your daily at-home practice can be 20 to 30 minutes. If you’re uncertain which form of yoga is right for you, try a few and see which is most appealing. Bear in mind that you’ll be more inclined to stick with a class that’s geographically convenient and fits into your schedule.

And like everything else in life, attending class regularly for about three weeks makes it a habit, and a good one at that. The integration of mind and body will allow you to feel a real sense of calm and peacefulness. Stress will melt away and you feel yourself becoming centered. Muscle tension disappears and every joint feels more limber and flexible.

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