Yoga means union, and is one of the most mainstream forms of exercise, with more than 15 million people practicing on a daily basis.
The reason why it has so many followers is because through the power of yoga, one can benefit greatly in the mind, body and spirit, resulting in:
* Lower blood pressure * Decreased stress * Greater flexibility (not just physically!) * Enhanced brain function * Lower cholesterol * Better skeletal alignment * Strengthened bones/joints * Improved respiration * Weight Loss * Enhanced circulation * Easier transition * through menopause * Deeper peace of mind
And that's only naming a few!
I spoke with Carol Krucoff E-RYT 500, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise and author of “Healing Yoga for Neck & Shoulder Pain” (New Harbinger, 2010), to discuss the differences between yoga and other forms of exercise like Pilates and kettlebells. Carol has been teaching yoga for 10 years and practicing for over 30 years.
What is the difference between yoga and fitness exercises like Pilates and kettlebells?
"That's a question very near and dear to my heart, because yoga is much more than a workout. The others you mentioned, Pilates and kettlebells, are exercise programs - and that's terrific - but they pretty much focus on the physical body. Yoga is a five-thousand-year-old tradition that originated in India, and the focus is on the whole being. The physical body is really just the outer layer of the being [according to the yoga tradition]. There are other subtle bodies - the energetic body, the emotional body - that are at play when you are doing yoga," said Carol.
In yoga, the mind isn't supposed to wander. Carol then added:
"Yoga is a complete holistic, self-care practice, to be done in an authentic manner...it's important to be present in your body. So when you're doing yoga, you are doing...you're focusing on the practice. You're focusing on your breath, you're focusing on the sensation of what you're feeling physically, and you're staying in the present moment; it's a mindful process. All of that is part of the authentic practice. So it's much more than a workout. It's a way of connecting the mind and the body through the breath, and then basically connecting the individual with the universal."
For the beginner who feels intimidated (like me), don't be. Carol said,
"One of the most common things that I hear from people when I tell them I teach yoga is, 'I would really love to do yoga, but I'm not flexible enough,' - and that's just a total misconception we have in the West. That's like saying, my house is too messy to hire a maid."
The only thing that you need to be able to do to practice yoga? Be able to breathe.
Carol has taught to people who have heart disease, have cancer, are blind and have had a leg amputation; which is just a confirmation if you can breathe, you can practice yoga.
Here are two main things to look out for when choosing a yoga class as a beginner:
1. Find an appropriate level class.
2. Find a well-qualified instructor.
"Make sure your entry is into an appropriate practice. There's lots of different types of yoga out there. Some styles are extremely athletic, and wouldn't be appropriate for a deconditioned beginner. Some forms are very gentle. Finding an appropriate level with a good teacher is important not just for the participant to feel comfortable, but because injury is possible in yoga," said Carol.
But how can you find an appropriate level yoga class with all those different yoga style names? Carol breaks it down for us:
Right now, there's just a huge menu in choices in kinds of yoga - and most of the different styles are named after the particular teacher who designed the system.
Anusara yoga - very alignment based. A really nice style for most people who are relatively fit, they can practice in a very positive way."
There are some very athletic and vigorous styles of yoga like:
Ashtanga yoga - which is extremely vigorous. So for someone who is very athletic and wants to sweat - Ashatanga yoga would be appropriate.
Kripalu yoga - a much more gentle style. For someone who is new to physical activity, and relatively deconditioned.
>Viniyoga - for someone who is deconditioned. It's often taught on a one-on-one basic in a theraputic manner. For somebody who has a health condition and a health concern - back pain, chronic back pain - Viniyoga might be appropriate.
That sort of covers the major styles."
It's very common for people to attend a yoga class and because it's not really appropriate for their level of fitnness or their abilities, they might think they can't do yoga or yoga is not appropriate for them - and that's really unfortunate, because there's just so many different kinds of styles and approaches, there's really something for everyone."
You can read more about Carol Krucoff by visiting www.healingmoves.com.