When most people think of yoga, they think of flexibility. The image of a peaceful person contorting his or her body in beautiful, yet almost impossible postures comes to mind. The truth is, you do not need to be flexible or be able to do the pretty postures to do yoga. Yoga is not just a form of exercise, but rather the reintegration of body, breath and mind through the practice of asana (movement), pranayama (breath), and meditation.
When practiced properly, yoga has many physical and emotional benefits. Most people know that yoga will strengthen the immune system and muscles, but that is not all! Yoga will enable you to stretch your muscles, lengthen your breath, lower your blood pressure and slow your heart rate. A persistent practice will increase flexibility, fertility, metabolism, and an awareness of your body and surroundings as well as improve posture, concentration, stress reduction and your mood! To my knowledge, there are over fifty different styles of yoga and I am sure there are more with its growing popularity in our Western culture. With that, it is important to choose the style of yoga that is right for you.
With the cold weather and extra weight from the holidays, people are flocking to participate in the latest fads of hot and bikram yoga to warm up and shed those unwanted pounds. These styles of yoga should be practiced with even more caution than others. Don’t get me wrong; it is absolutely wonderful to enter that 105-degree room when its cold and wet outside, but practicing in such a hot room can also be riskier. The hot room allows your muscles to stretch the farthest they have ever been stretched, which is not good when those muscles immediately tense back up stepping outside after an hour and a half long session. It also stretches everything else. That includes your ligaments. Ligaments are fibrous tissues that connect bones to bones. They are meant to limit the mobility of articulations and even prevent certain movements. If these ligaments are allowed to be stretched, the risk for injury increases drastically. Muscles and joints become hyper mobile and can cause serious damage to your body.
Not only ligaments can be overstretched. Yoga injuries most commonly treated in emergency rooms involve overstretching and strain of the neck, shoulders, spine, legs and knees. Regular chiropractic care can help you reduce this risk. It will allow you to move more freely in and out of your postures by keeping your spine aligned and mobile. To help reduce your risk of injury further, stay hydrated and loose! Always bring an empty belly and lots of water to your class. With an empty belly, you can fill your body with long, beautiful breaths and kick nausea to the curb.
No matter what style of yoga you choose to practice, be mindful of your body. If you are pregnant or have a pre-existing health condition, consult your health care provider before starting a yoga program. By no means should you over exert yourself. Do not try and move your body into uncomfortable positions to obtain perfect form. Instead of focusing on form, aim your practice at achieving the function of the posture through the deep connection to your breath and body. Remember, yoga should never be painful. It should be fulfilling, grounding and healing. After all, yoga is the reintegration of your body, breath and mind.
Never forget; if you can breathe, you can do yoga!