Is Yoga Really for Everyone?

By Diane Francis, Bristol & Somerset What’s On 4 Me

Here at the What’s On 4 Me office, we get a lot of feedback from our fans about the types of  activities they are looking to get involved in. One activity that comes up time  and time again is yoga. I am the first to admit that my knowledge of yoga is limited! When we decided a few weeks ago, to start a one year long feature on yoga and meditation, I knew it was the time to get better acquainted with yoga!

The excellent article Marilyn at What’s On 4 Me put together, gives us a  great understanding of what yoga is all about and the many different styles of yoga we can practice. This then lead me to conclude: could yoga really be the exercise for me? So this blog aims to provide you with the answers I’ve found to some of the questions I had about exactly who can practice yoga!

Is yoga just for women?

This is one of the first misconceptions! Yoga is not something that is immediately associated with men and yoga is often (wrongly) perceived as exclusively ‘female oriented’. In recent years though, a number of high profile male celebrities, including footballer Ryan Giggs and musician Sting, have explained the benefits they’ve received from practicing yoga. Sting was introduced to yoga at his late 30s. Since then he has mastered complex asanas of Ashtanga Yoga while also practicing a special variety of Jivamukti yoga. Sting says his aging process is reversing thanks to yoga. Overall, he and his wife praise yoga for maintaining their well-being and the high energy levels. In Ryan Giggs case, Hatha yoga has proved a balm for those persistent hamstring injuries,  prolonging a career that has now taken on an  unusual reverse trajectory: a player who with age has suffered less rather than more with injuries.

Can  yoga help me lose weight?

Any style of yoga helps tone, lengthen, and strengthen the muscles, which can contribute to the sculpting of the body, but not necessarily to weight loss. The most obvious physical benefits of yoga include loosening of muscles that have been tightened by inactivity, tension, and stress. Yoga also increases the range of motion of joints, enhances flexibility, and can help correct postural problems that may have resulted from weight gain.

Yoga also offers psychological benefits. Weight gain often brings with it a great deal of harsh self-judgment. Through yoga, this can be counteracted by reconnecting with our bodies and quiet the counterproductive messages that often arise in our minds. Re-engaging in physical activity can also foster a renewed sense of control over our lives, a quality that sometimes diminishes as one’s weight refuses to budge!

On a physiological level, certain styles of yoga can be more appropriate for people who have weight loss as a primary intention. Vinyasa-style class, where movement and breath link poses together, can build heat and potentially result in greater calorie burn. This style of practice can supplement other aerobic exercise that you’re involved in, such as walking, running, biking, or swimming.

Am I too old to take up yoga?

In short, no! One of the most appealing aspects of yoga is its ability to be practiced by people of all ages. In other words, it’s never too late to start studying.  In particular, older practitioners find that there are amazing health benefits to yoga. From lowered blood pressure to regulating cholesterol  levels, yoga helps the body live to its utmost and healthiest potential. In addition, yoga works wonders to alleviate depression, and even increases a general vitality that helps us live more active lives at any age.

Do I have to change my lifestyle to practice yoga?

Again the answer is no! Yoga is not a religion. It doesn’t require that you fast or abstain. You don’t have to become a vegetarian or change your eating patterns. Nor do you have to give up drinking or smoking. However, you might notice that your tastes change after you begin to practice yoga. As you become healthier and more in tune with your body, you MAY feel differently about the impacts overeating, smoking and drinking alcohol have on your body.

I’m pregnant, is it safe for me to do yoga?

Studies have shown that women who exercise (moderately and safely, of course) during pregnancy may feel better during preganancy, labour, and delivery compared with sedentary women. As with any new exercise programme, you should check with your Doctor before you start. Yoga during pregnancy, particularly after the first trimester, does require some special considerations. You should look for a pregnancy yoga or prenatal yoga class. As you get bigger, use more props such as blocks and straps, to help you work  through poses, and use a wall or a chair to help you keep your balance when you’re doing balancing poses.

After delivery you’ll be getting a new and different kind of exercise from bending, lifting, and carrying a baby. But these activities can leave you with stiff muscles and stress, not to mention sleep deprivation. Yoga is one of the best exercises to do after pregnancy because it provides an outlet for the physical and emotional stress associated with caring for a newborn. Whether you want to return to your pre-pregnancy yoga practice or you want to start doing yoga as a way to slim down and start an exercise programme, be sure to ease into your yoga practice and focus on restorative postures. Focus on releasing tension, which will help you deal with the stress of being a new mum.

Can I do yoga as I suffer with mobility problems?

People with mobility difficulties (paraplegia, quadriplegia, osteoporosis, arthritis, obesity or those who are frail and worried about falling or have lower limb injuries) have greater challenges in making active living part of their lives. For those of us with mobility difficulties, being active may sometimes require more planning and organisation. But it’s worth it. Physical activity is key to a good quality of life and offers both short- and long-term health benefits. In order to have a positive experience from your first yoga classes, try a beginner’s level gentle hatha practice. Kripalu, Viniyoga and Integral are good choices because the teachers are trained to work with differing abilities and body types. Chair yoga is also a possibility for those with limited mobility. You should speak to the yoga teacher before your first class to ensure that you are comfortable and the teacher will be prepared to offer modifications and props as necessary. If you do not feel ready for a group class, private yoga sessions maybe the way to go. This can be a great way to learn basic poses and gain the confidence to use props in an effective way before joining a group practice. Becoming knowledgeable about yoga is the best way to ensure that you will feel at ease.

One of the quotes I’ve come across whilst researching this blog is “If you can breathe, you can do yoga.” Since yoga is ultimately the connection of body, breath and mind, anyone can do it and everyone can benefit from a well designed practice. So what are you waiting for?! If you  fancy giving it a go, let us help you find a local class!

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