YOGA FOR EVERYONE
If you do an internet search for “yoga for beginners” (we did), the amount of information that pops up can be overwhelming. There is yoga at home, yoga for children, yoga for pregnant mothers, yoga after injuries and much much more. We’ve researched on your behalf and summarized the information that can be helpful for our Air Force Fit Families. You’re welcome!
BENEFITS OF YOGA
First, a bit about yoga. It’s been around for more than 5,000 years. Yoga burn calories, tones muscles and is a mind-body workout. It works by combining strengthening and stretching poses with deep breathing and meditation or relaxation.
Believe it or not, there are more than 100 kinds of yoga. They range from gentle and relaxing (hatha and iyengar yoga) to faster and more challenging (bikram and power yoga).
HERE ARE SOME SURPRISING MEDICAL BENEFITS TO YOGA:
- Emotional health boost (depression, schizophrenia, sleep problems)
- Back pain relief
- Fertility aid (decreasing stress)
- Metabolism boost
- Heart disease helper (cardiovascular benefits)
- Asthma symptom relief
- Arthritis relief
- Sleep aid (fights insomnia)
- Multiple sclerosis relief (physical function and mood)
- Memory booster (reducing mental stress again)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD relief)
If that weren’t enough – you also get a stronger core, stronger arm and leg muscles, improved balance and flexibility. What’s not to like?
You don’t need much equipment to start yoga. A yoga mat is nice to have, although you could practice on the floor without one. You’ll need comfy stretchy clothing (shorts and a t-shirt works just fine) and yoga is typically done without shoes.
It’s a good idea to take a yoga instruction class so you can learn the proper form for the poses. Yoga is non-competitive, so you can begin or join a class no matter what shape you’re in. Your only “measurement” of success is yourself.
Once you’ve learned the poses, you can practice yoga at home alone or with a video, although many people enjoy practicing yoga in the company of others.
A FEW BASIC POSES FOR BEGINNERS INCLUDE:
- Mountain pose: Stand tall with your feet together, shoulders relaxed, weight evenly distributed through your soles and arms at your sides. Take a deep breath and raise your hands overhead, palms facing each other with arms straight. Reach up toward the sky with your fingertips.
- Downward dog: Start on all fours with hands directly under shoulders, knees under hips. Walk hands a few inches forward and spread fingers wide, pressing palms into the floor. Curl your toes under and slowly press hips toward ceiling, bringing your body into an inverted V, pressing shoulders away from ears. Your feet should be hip-width apart, knees slightly bent.
- Warrior pose: Stand with your legs 3-4 feet apart, turning your right foot out 90 degrees and left foot in slightly. Bring your hands to your hips and relax your shoulders, then extend arms out to the sides, palms down. Bend your right knee 90 degrees, keeping knee over ankle; gaze out over right hand. Stay there for about one minute and then switch sides/direction and repeat the pose.
- Tree pose: Stand with your arms at your sides. Shift your weight onto your left leg and place the sole of your right foot inside your left thigh, keeping hips facing forward. Once balanced, bring hands in front of you in prayer position, palms together. On an inhalation, extend arms over shoulders, palms separated and facing each another. Stay for 30 seconds. Lower and repeat on opposite side. To make the tree pose easier, bring the right foot to the inside or your left ankle. As you get stronger and your balance improves, move the foot up to your calf, and then finally, to your thigh.
- Bridge pose: We love this one. Lie on the floor with your knees bent and directly over your heels. Place your arms at sides, palms down. Exhale, then press your feet into the floor as you lift your hips. Clasp your hands under lower back and press your arms down, lifting your hips until your thighs are parallel to floor, bringing chest toward chin. Hold for one minute.
These are just a few of the poses. In a yoga class you cycle through these and other poses – many of them several times.
TOP TWELVE YOGA POSES FOR ATHLETES
For those who are active in sports, these 12 yoga poses will work (or release) the muscles and areas of your body that you may be overusing or underusing. Diagrams for yoga poses can be found here.
- Pigeon Pose: it is best for runners because it lengthens the hip flexors, psoas muscles, gluteal muscles, piriformis, lower-back and groin muscles, all of which can become tight with repeatedly pounding the pavement.
- Triangle Pose: helps lengthen the side body, which is especially beneficial for athletes whose sports involve repetitive one-sided motions or core rotations, such as baseball, tennis, ultimate Frisbee and golf.
- Camel Pose: cyclists spend a lot of time in a hunched position, which can shorten the chest muscles, tighten hip flexors and abdominal muscles. Camel pose is a big stretch for the entire front of the body, helping to improve posture and counteract the effects of cycling on your upper body.
- Broken Toe Pose: The soles of the feet take a beating in many sports, but most athletes devote very little time to stretching them. Broken Toe pose can help lengthen the thick plantar muscles on the bottoms of your feet.
- Thread the Needle: because it’s supine done lying on your back, it’s a relaxing way to unwind after a strenuous training session.
- Standing Forward Bend: a simple forward bend can help gradually lengthen the hamstrings. If you have trouble achieving the straight-legged version of this pose, try bending your knees deeply.
- Cobra Pose: opens up the front of your body. Many sports lead to overly tight chest and abdominal muscles and postural imbalance. This pose is a great way to counteract that.
- Low Lunge: a great stretch for runners and any athlete whose sport requires running or sprinting. The Low Lunge targets all of the muscles in your legs, especially your hamstrings, quadriceps and hip flexors.
- Cow Face Pose: racquet sport athletes will benefit from the shoulder-opening power of Cow Face pose. The gluteals, IT band (iliotibial tract or iliotibial band) and quadriceps also lengthen and stretch.
- Plank Pose: this pose is will help build stability in the core -- the abdominals, hips and mid-back. A strong core is especially important for golf, tennis and baseball athletes.
- Wide-Legged Forward Bend: sports such as tennis, soccer and basketball, can lead to tight groin and inner thigh muscles. Wide-Legged Forward Bend targets both areas and also encourages shoulder opening.
- Constructive Rest Position: if you’re an athlete who tends to be very focused on achieving a goal, quality rest is just as important as training. Add a constructive rest pose at the end of your workouts or games.