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Why You Should Do It
"When we practice yoga, we sleep better, become more flexible and notice a decrease in aches and pains as well as a sense of feeling more at home in our bodies,” says Maria Alfaro, a neurogenic yoga certification trainer and provider. The discipline is an antidote to everyday stressors: People who do yoga report relief from problems such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression and addictive behaviors.
“Yoga is supposed to be a mindful practice,” says Alfaro. “If properly taught, it can promote a better awareness of our bodies, our breath and our physical sensations.” However, she says, in the U.S. it’s often taught as a workout, without as much attention to awareness, which is how injuries can happen. Moving your body (carefully!), learning how to breathe properly and lowering stress levels can help you stay healthier. And when you take care of yourself, you can be the best for those around you.
How to Make It Happen
Loosen up. “I hear people say, ‘I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible,’” says Alfaro. “In fact, we practice yoga to become more flexible.” It’s all about choosing a suitable style and having a teacher who knows your body and your specific limitations. “It’s important not to be in competition with yourself and to treat your body with kindness and compassion so it thrives in its own unique way.”
Pick a type of yoga you’d like to explore and do a Google search for classes based on style or try yogafinder.com. After learning proper alignment, feel free to practice at home. You can use DVDs (Alfaro likes Rodney Yee’s Yoga for Beginners and, for more athletic novices, Ana Forrest’s The Pleasure of Strength), books (she suggests Relax and Renew by Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD) or online yoga subscription services like Gaia and YogaGlo that offer a variety of styles.
What You Need
Necessities include a mat, comfy clothes, an empty stomach and a positive attitude, says Alfaro. Eventually, you may want to use props like blocks for support, straps to help you stretch, bolsters to lie on and blankets to lie on or to cover yourself.
Yoga pro Maria Alfaro breaks down four popular types.
Excellent and safe for beginners, this style focuses on postural alignment and is known for the structural precision of the instructions.
This vigorous sequence of poses—great for young and/or athletic people— improves stamina, strength and flexibility.
An energetic practice that links breath and movement through creative sequencing, this style can be slow or fast-paced. Its effects on the body are similar to Ashtanga’s.
This practice reduces stress and allows organ rejuvenation. It involves passive, supported long-held poses to gently stretch muscles.