What Is Safe Yoga?

By Beth Shaw

Yoga is more popular that ever. Why? Yoga provides a total body workout that enhances strength, cardiovascular condition, balance and flexibility. It also enhances bodily awareness, increases physical control and facilitates body mastery. Because it involves a highly comprehensive and integrated approach, yoga produces a longer, leaner and more graceful physique also currently in vogue. Yoga also helps reduce stress, tension and fatigue through its mindful, often fluid movement and deep-breathing focus. Traditional yoga does not really exist anymore in the United States, but Fitness Styles of Yoga are appropriate for fitness clubs its really simple.

The Essentials of Safe Yoga

Safe yoga differs from traditional yoga in that the postures link in a fluid, heat-building way. Breath is linked with movement, heating the body naturally and organically. Rest is encouraged when necessary, and warm-ups are crucial, as fitness rooms are often cold. Warm up the body completely with large body moves prior to engaging in any complex or flexibility-oriented pose. Fitness moves such as sit-ups, push-ups and the lunge and hold are incorporated. Transitions from pose to pose are smooth, and the focus is on a full body workout — all body parts are worked equally. Modifications and levels are offered to suit the needs of several different students at different levels in the room.

Finding the Right Instructor

Safe yoga instructors usually speak in terms of “or, either, modify,” encouraging students to take breaks, let go of expectations, judgment and competition and not push past their limits. Instructors are to never make aggressive physical adjustments to their students, and they are to follow four key points of safe yoga training:

  1. Secure — security with respect to environment, instructor as well as student
  2. Attention — attention is to be paid to detail, form, postures and levels
  3. Functional — the instructor is able to offer modifications and options and is mindful of exercise science
  4. Effective — the training provides flexibility, strength, ease of use and balance

Group fitness instructors can embark by incorporating yoga postures into their already existing classes — step, spin, kick box and aerobics. This provides an opportunity to get comfortable with a few basic postures. Before hiring a teacher, answer these key questions:

  1. Are you aware of the ACE Safety Guidelines of Contraindications?
  2. Are you aware of how these relate to yoga?
  3. Have you been through a formal yoga teacher training?
  4. Are you comfortable doing the postures?
  5. Are you comfortable teaching the postures?
  6. Do you have a regular yoga practice?

If you have answered yes to all of the above, then it’s time to begin. When auditioning them, be aware that a guru mentality is not a welcome one in the fitness club. Look for an instructor who is first a fitness instructor. It’s a lot easier to train a fitness instructor in yoga than it is to train a traditional yoga instructor in fitness.

Class Formatting

Whether the instructor chooses to incorporate postures into your existing class or create a safe yoga class, a warm -up period is crucial. Just as we don¹t stretch before exercise, we don¹t want to get into complex yoga postures before our bodies are warm and ready to be there.

Each class should begin with at least five minutes of deep breathing. This helps to clear the mind and prepare the body. The breath is the single most important part of our yoga practice — by breathing in and out of the nose, we keep the heat in the body and focus the mind. Deep rhythmic breathing is the solid foundation upon which we build our yoga practice. Instructors should continually return to breath focus and need to constantly remind students to do the same.

Rest and recovery are also an important part of yoga, so make sure to incorporate a five minute resting period at the end of class to rejuvenate, restore and revive the body.

            Most instructors teaching in fitness facilities do not have the luxury of independent lighting and heating controls. If at all possible, dim the lights, turn off the air conditioning and choose music for active yoga.

The Seven Principles of Alignment

When teaching, safety of your students should be your primary concern. In YogaFit, we express hatha yoga postures using our Seven Principles of Alignment (SPA):

  1. Establishing base and dynamic tension: We establish a firm base in the feet and hands, stacking our joints for maximum support and contracting our muscles to become stable in a pose.
  2. Creating core stability: We use the muscles of the trunk (e.g. abdominals and erector spinae) to create core stability prior to moving into and while holding poses for greater strength and internal support.
  3. Aligning the spine: The spine is supported through core stabilization in all applicable poses, and the head follows the movement of the spine. When moving into twists, flexion or extension, we start in neutral spine.
  4. Softening and aligning knees: In all applicable poses, the knees stay in line with ankle and point directly out over the toes. In general, the knees, when bent, will also remain in the same line as the hips. To prevent hyperextension, we keep a microbend in the knees at all times.
  5. Relaxing shoulders back and down: The shoulders are drawn naturally back and down in poses to help reduce tension in the neck and shoulders.
  6. Hinging at the hips: When moving into and out of forward bends, we hinge from the hips, using the natural pulley system of the ball and socket joint, keeping a microbend in the knees.
  7. Shortening the lever: When hip hinging, flexing or extending the spine, we keep the arms out to the side or along side of the body to reduce strain on the muscles of the lower back.

These principles help to create the optimal biomechanical position for the body during movement and while holding the poses. SPA increases safety while simultaneously providing functional mechanical principles that participants can use in their daily life and can be used to determine the safety of our participants in poses as well as the overall safety of additional poses we learn.

Beth Shaw is the founder of YogaFit Training Systems and is the author of YogaFit (Human Kinetics 2001), a best-seller. She has been showcased in TIME, Entrepreneur, USA Today, Yoga Journal and almost every fitness magazine in print, and she has also been featured on CNBC, CNN, NBC, CBS, E Style Channel and Showtime. For more information, please visit www.yogafit.com or register by calling 888.


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