Flexibility. Flexibility. Flexibility.
While there are many ways to improve your flexibility (e.g. after working out or turning up to post-workout stretches), there’s one thing in this world that can help you be more flexible, agile and in a good way, stretchy like Spiderman.
Say hello to yoga!
Yoga is probably one of the things that has helped me improve so many aspects in my life. It has made me better in my trainings, helped me progress positively when it comes to lifting and in a lot of ways prevent me from injuring myself considering the amount of high intensity training I do. Because of that, I’m a believer.
While I may not be a yogaxpert (you know, yoga expert… totally made that up), I believe in balance. I believe in doing things that makes me happy and at the same time improve my physical and mental well-being. And I believe that if something has helped me in some ways to make me better, I will try my best to do it and improve my technique.
That said, I have zero clue about breathing techniques, I don’t have any more knowledge about yoga types and poses than probably my own readings and research, and unfortunately I can’t comment on posture and form.
So if you do want to learn more about yoga, I recommend sources like this and this. But if you want to learn how I have personally used yoga to help me with my trainings and quality of life PLUS a sample of some poses I personally do, read on. :)
WHAT IS YOGA?
Perhaps you know that Yoga is a Sanskrit word and it means union.
But bet you didn’t know this — Yoga started as an oral tradition where the knowledge and practice is transmitted to the student by the teacher through theoretical teachings to give guidance on how to master the mind, emotions and spiritual growth. Imagine going to a yoga class and instead of having mats and yoga blocks, you have a whiteboard and a marker. Hmm.
It wasn’t until many years later that these teachings were put into practise and the first form of yoga is the hatha, a vehicle developed for meditation was born.
Pretty impressive, huh?
In the present world, yoga is a series of body movements and poses that is done in sequence to help improve multiple parts of your body, along with breathing and calmness of mind.
Sounds great? Good.
BUT THERE’S TOO MANY YOGA STYLES AND IT’S CONFUSING!
I know I’ve heard at least 12 different styles and types of yoga. Don’t believe me? Pick up a timetable at your yoga class, that’s enough to turn a once beginner like me off.
I have to agree it is confusing. Say you really just want to do yoga. You walk into this really awesome yoga studio, pick up a timetable and then start to hyperventilate seeing all these different names of classes. Worse, not even one says yoga.
Here’s an early conversation I had with a friend many years ago even before I started exercising.
Me: Heard you picked up yoga. Can I come to your next class?
Friend: Sure! You can join me for Ashtanga tomorrow night.
Me: Hmm what’s that? I just want to do yoga.
Friend: It is a type of yoga. There’s Hatha if you want to try. And maybe one day you can go for a Power one!
It does get a little intimidating. But fret not because let me introduce SOME basic ones I’ve managed to try and pick out over these years. In my own words here they are…
First we have Hatha, a generic term that refers to any type of yoga that introduces physical postures. It’s highly unlikely you’ll work up a sweat and it’s great for beginners as an introduction.
Next up, we have Vinyasa. Very similar to Ashtanga (mentioned above and explained below) where your instructor will introduce movement intensive poses choreographed smoothly and fluidly. The first time I went for a Vinyasa, I almost cried.
Ashtanga in my opinion is the bigger (and meaner) cousin of Vinyasa, fluid movements and very choreographed. The difference is that you repeat the same poses in Ashtanga so it makes it harder. If Vinyasa is circuit style training, Ashtanga is your typical super or giant sets. And yes, that makes it harder. Also known as Power Yoga.
Bikram yoga is then similar to Ashtanga where the sequence is set and repetitive only this time you’re in a heated room! I don’t know about you but the idea of yoga plus a hot room is not my cup of tea. I turned up for it once and I never really want to do it again.
Hot yoga. See above. (Just like Bikram, but in a hotter room with slightly different sequence).
Iyengar. Iyengar focuses on proper alignment and posture. Students, with the help of an instructor will find their position using yoga props. Think blocks, ropes, blankets. It’s not as intense as Ashtanga and Vinyasa and you’ll definitely won’t sweat like the good ol’ hot yoga class but if you have preexisting injuries and medical conditions, this is the one you should look at.
Finally we have Restorative yoga. If your colleague ever came up to you saying how she slept through most of her yoga class, then perhaps she went for this one. It’s relaxing, it calms your mind and it’s like going for a good massage. Did someone say nap time?!
There are a lot more styles right out the book but these are the more common ones and those that I have personally tried. Be confuse no more and turn up to that yoga studio like a boss.
TELL ME, WHAT ARE THE YOGA POSES?
If you think the yoga styles are crazy confusing, wait till you hear this — there are over thousands of yoga poses and variations. A little scary right? But there are also over 35 ways to do the squats and over 80 different types of push-ups so it’s not that bad.
Yoga poses can be divided into six categories — standing poses, backbends, forward bends, seated and twists, core, arm balances, balances, restorative and upside-down. If you attend any of the yoga classes above, chances are your instructor will go through poses in a few or all of these categories and each pose has different variations from absolute beginners to super advanced.
The good thing about that is this: Anyone, and I mean really anyone can do yoga. Even if you’ve scraped flexibility off your dictionary a long time ago.
If you’re worried about that, now you don’t have to anymore. But if you’re still not convinced, here are some reasons why you should add yoga to your repertoire.
WHY DO I HAVE TO DO YOGA?
Fitness is not a a single-dimensional realm and we all know that. We’re familiar with it and we practise it day in and out. We have strength training where we go until your muscles burn and fail, cardio where we go until we can’t breathe anymore and other fitness trends like HIIT and plyometrics where we go until we vomit.
Yoga is there for you to go until you treat yourself, your body and your mind right so it has a chance to repair itself.
If you’re working hard to achieve any fitness goals, doing different types of strength training, some cardio and probably a day of HIIT, sneak in one session of yoga a week to help your body wind down after the storm. You can’t go intense forever. Just like us when it comes to sleeping, our body needs the time to rest too.
If that’s still not convincing enough, here are some benefits of yoga you may or may not have heard:
– Overall health and wellness. Oms aside, turn up to a yoga class and leave feeling peaceful and tranquil. It doesn’t matter if you can’t even reach out to touch your toes, in the chaos world we all live in, it’s nice to just tuck away into a quiet room for an hour and clear your mind.
– It makes you stronger. Powerlifters, strength trainers and anyone who ever does any form of weight training raise up your hand! If you really want to improve your 1RM and overall strength, try yoga. By holding on to a pose for longer than 5 seconds, you’re forcing the muscles to hold on. While it may not hypertrophy, your slow twitch muscles are working hard to build strength. I owe it to yoga for helping me in my lifting and I think you should give it a chance too.
– It improves your core, posture and prevents injuries. Ever wondered why so many of us have back pain? It’s simple. We spend hours on our desks, head tilted forward and back rounded, and we do nothing or the very least of things to work against that. Holding on to a pose long enough forces you to switch on your core muscles, which over time lead to a better posture, which also, over time prevent injuries in our later years. Don’t wait till it’s too late to do something about it.
– Alleviate stress, fatigue and injury, and helps manages pain. There are growing research that uses yoga as an alternative therapy for minor ailments such as headaches, common lower back pain and major ones such as arthritis.
– Gives you an alternative if you hate stretching. I’ve worked with clients who dislikes stretching after a workout. They say it’s a waste of time, and they’d rather go home and get a post-workout meal in. Fair enough. But don’t skimp on it for too long. While one session of yoga a week might not be enough to replace regular post-workout stretches, it’s still better than nothing.
There you go. Stop asking why, and maybe give it a try.
THAT’S COOL. BUT CAN I LOSE WEIGHT BY DOING YOGA?
I’m sick of being overweight. I’m going to do yoga!
Sounds familiar? It did to me sometime ago.
While I wouldn’t say yoga has any direct correlation to weight loss, practising yoga on a regular basis can help you achieve all those amazing things above to help you lose weight with more grace, strength and flexibility!
How? It makes you stronger so you’ll actually have more energy for your workouts. It wards off minor ailments such as migraines and stress which is some of the common reasons why people skip workouts. And it keeps you happy which is, let’s face it, something we actually need more of.
So if you’re trying to lose weight, add in a session or two of yoga a week. But don’t make that your only type of workout, just like how you shouldn’t make cardio or strength or HIIT the only one in your regime.
CAN I INJURE MYSELF WHILE DOING YOGA?
You can hurt yourself even walking down the road, brother!
Think doing a 300lb overhead press is dangerous? Yoga is dangerous too, but only if you don’t use your brain. Like everything else in life, think before you do something. In other words, don’t attempt something advanced if you have never done any yoga before. Start at your level and work your way through.
Like I’ve mentioned before, all poses has a variation for the absolute beginner which makes it easier for anyone to pick it up.
ALRIGHT HOW CAN I GET STARTED?!
You’re in for a treat because I have prepared some straight-forward little yoga moves for you to try today, in your living room, no equipments required. I add yoga into my weekly sessions because it gives me an excuse to wind down and it’s fun! I’m a self practitioner, with zero professional training, only because I move countries a lot and I haven’t found a proper yoga place to go to.
If you’re curious about how it feels doing yoga, follow this small little workout I’ve put up for you. It’s a mix of Vinyasa and Ashtanga so you might even work up a sweat. Hold on each pose for thirty seconds and if you’re doing the left, don’t forget the right side. You’re welcome!
1. Standing forward bends. Give those hamstrings a stretch and don’t sweat it if you can’t reach your toes. Put your hands on the shin or knees!
2. Standing half forward bends.
3. Cobra pose. Those with lower back problems might find this hard. Skip if it hurts. Be smart!
4. Transition into downward dog. Your body should make a V. Mine’s not perfect but I’m working on it!
5. One-legged downward dog.
6. Knee to forehead. Don’t sweat it if you can’t bring your knees to the forehead.
7. Crescent pose. The heels of your back foot stays up.
8. Warrior one. Like crescent pose, but your heels drop to the ground.
9. Warrior two.
10. Reverse warrior.
11. Triangle pose.
12. Side angle pose. Your front leg should be bent and be perpendicular to the ground. Mine can obviously improve.
13. Bound side angle pose. Grab your hands from the back while on the side angle pose. This is tough, and it hurts.
15. Dancer pose.
16. Chair twist.
17. Side arm balance. This requires coordination and strength, and massive balance.
19. Wheel. This is an advanced pose so don’t try unless you have experience.
20. Crane. Took me about one year to hold this position for THREE seconds. I can only go for just under ten now, but this is not easy.
21. Seated hamstring stretch. Finish up with this one and you’re good!
BUT YOGA IS FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN REACH THEIR TOES/LADIES/THE PETITE PEOPLE!
That’s awesome. More reasons to do yoga. Just show up.
For ladies? Seriously?
While yoga is traditionally more widely practised amongst the ladies, many men has found the benefits of it and I’ve seen muscular, aesthetic men doing them. It adds to their strength and performance — why complain? Just do it!
Petite people? Seriously?
Last I checked, I’m not petite. And don’t get me started with body image. You’re perfect and you can do yoga!
LET’S GET SERIOUS…
Those poses above are just a sampler. If you’re really serious into trying yoga out, go check out some classes. There are some awesome yoga videos and channels around YouTube too and if you’re a hardcore yogi, say hi by leaving a comment below (and I apologise for my lack of technique).
I’m trying. And I am working on improving my techniques.
You should too. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try new things. Life’s way more awesome that way.
Now tell me, what’s your experience with yoga? How flexible are you? Have you tried any type of yoga at all? Leave a comment below. I’d love to know! :)
Have an yogexcellent week!
Photo credit: Dollen