Yoga has grown in popularity for a variety of reasons. Among them is its ability to reduce mental and physical stress, improve mood, and slow the aging process. It is also an easy exercise to do at home alone or with a video.
However, some yogis feel that many students of yoga are missing the healthy mind-body connection that accompanies their practice. They also worry about injuries resulting from beginners who attempt advanced poses without proper guidance. Learning technique and not being over aggressive are very important.
Mary Jo Ricketson, an experienced yoga practitioner and healthcare specialist, author of Moving Meditation, and a registered nurse, outlines important yoga steps for beginners (and the advanced) to maximize yoga results:
>> Cardiovascular (aerobic) training: As with meditation, focused breathing is a cornerstone of mind-body training. Aerobic means “with oxygen” and aerobic movement increases the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Cardiovascular training is the single most important aspect of physical training because it keeps the heart open and strong.
>> Core and strength training: This includes the students’ abdomen and buttocks and the lower back region extending up to the base of the skull. Here is where strength, stability, and balance originate.
>> Flexibility training (yoga postures): Stretching feels good, and it reminds students not only to be more flexible in one’s body, but also one’s mind.
>> Adequate rest: Sleep is a necessary part of life and sufficient rest is needed for energy and equilibrium.
>> Life-giving nutrition: Making the right choices in food allows yoga students to achieve an optimal, balanced state. This includes nutritional foods consumed in moderation.
>> Family/community/church: From Epicurus to modern science, observation shows we find greater happiness with access to friends and family.
>> Written goals and a plan of action: Goals and stated intention act as a road map to achieve balanced well-being.
As many longtime yogis can attest, a regular yoga practice provides a gentle, natural means of supporting the immune system on a day-to-day basis—, no matter how hectic your schedule might be. Yoga helps lower stress hormones that compromise the immune system, while also conditioning the lungs and respiratory tract, stimulating the lymphatic system to oust toxins from the body, and bringing oxygenated blood to the various organs to ensure their optimal function. “Yoga is unlike other forms of exercise that focus only on certain parts of the body,” says Kathleen Fry, M.D., president of the American Holistic Medicine Association in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Yoga works on everything.”
How often and how long do you need to practice yoga to get this effect? So far researchers do not have a conclusive answer, but most of these research studies implemented programs that lasted from eight to 12 weeks with a frequency between once weekly to daily. Yoga classes in the research studies range from 30 to 90 minutes. As with most mind-body practices, regular consistent practice yields the most promise.