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Everything That You Ever Wanted to Know About the Basics of Yoga

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Everything That You Ever Wanted to Know About the Basics of Yoga

If you have ever wondered about the benefits of practicing yoga, look no further. Glenda Twining, a Cooper Fitness Center yoga instructor and author of multiple yoga books, gave us her expert answers on this fascinating form of exercise and stress reduction.

What is Yoga?
Yoga is a life of self discipline that embraces simple living with high thinking. Ancient Yogis regarded the body as a vehicle for the human soul. The word yoga means literally “to yoke or join.”  In the practice of yoga we join and integrate the mind, body and spirit into one aligned and energized cohesive unit. Working with the body through yoga postures and breath will reconnect your mind and body and discover your spirit. Yoga can lead you through a dramatic transformation. Not only will you feel more youthful, energized, and more alive you will be turning back the clock.

How is Yoga Beneficial to the Body?
The International Association of Yoga Therapists groups the yoga benefits in many ways and through my twenty years of teaching these are the main benefits:

Increased Cardiovascular Efficiency: An independent study was done with three of my yoga students at different fitness levels at the Cooper Clinic. Your heart rate is usually between 60-90 beats a minute: the average rate for those in the study increased to 145-155 beats a minute with some higher spikes in the program. So even though you stay in a small area for most of the program you can really get your heart pumping!

Improved Flexibility and Posture: A flexible, strong, aligned, and healthy spine emanates youthfulness. In yoga, we incorporate abdominal and back strengthening poses to reinforce the spine, and by lengthening the spine with stretches one may prevent spinal degeneration.

Build Bone Mass: Yoga’s natural resistance training utilizes your own body’s weight for the prevention of osteoporosis.

Body Sculpting: Builds a different type of muscle structure that is focused on lengthening and creating lean muscles through constant movement and focus on proper stretching.

What Muscles Are Targeted?
If you allow yourself, you can develop a working program that targets every major muscle group of the body. There are many levels of Yoga, so you should pick the one that best suits you. There are workouts that are defined like Power Yoga, which are very intense through muscle resistance training, to the flip side that involves much more stretching and in some cases meditation. Again, you need to find the class that best meets your needs.

How is yoga different from other workouts?
Yoga postures are deliberate events designed to test and confuse muscle mass without the use of machines or other heavy objects. It does not require the individual to run, jump or move in any rapid fire situation. Every move is very deliberate combined and interwoven with intense stretching for a more complete and balanced workout. It also has a lower risk of injury as movements are slower and well thought through. The focus is on flexibility and strength combined with the breath.

How is yoga beneficial for your mind?
A healthy mind dictates optimism and elevates your emotional well-being. Stress is tremendously aging and although we cannot entirely eliminate stressful events, we can change our emotional reactions through the practice of yoga positions, especially observing the breath, staying in the moment and quieting the mind. This allows the mind and body to become calmer and more balanced, while restoring equilibrium and recuperating from the stressful event. Deep slow rhythmic breathing incorporated in all yoga practices carries oxygen through your system and relaxes tense muscles. Calm and conscious breathing connects our physical state with our mental and emotional states.

What Advice do you have as a teacher?
As a teacher for many years I understand we live in a stressful society. The main cause of stress is an overactive mind; we obsess over things we cannot control, think too much about the negative and worry about the future. Yoga will allow you to slow down on the inside.

Three simple Yoga Positions to try at home

  1. Spinal Balancing: Begin on all fours, knees under your hips, hands under your shoulders. Extend your right arm forward and your left leg back, parallel to the floor. Stretch your spine from your fingertips to your toes, using all your strength, gaze down at the floor. Hold the pose for five breaths. Repeat on other side.

  2. Triangle Pose: Place your feet about three feet apart. Keep both legs straight and extend your arms straight out from your shoulders; palms facing the floor and quadriceps actively contracted. Inhale, shift your torso to the left, placing your left hand close to your foot or calf or floor wherever you can reach with your right arm up toward the ceiling, extending your spine. Open your chest and hip and look toward the ceiling, (or floor if you have neck injuries). Lengthen your head away from your tail bone, making your torso as parallel to the floor as possible Exhale, and open up your chest as far as you can toward  the ceiling. The weight of your body should be toward the back of your right heel. Hold the pose for five breaths.

  3. Downward Facing Dog: From all fours, straighten your legs and shift your weight towards your heels and hips. Straighten your arms, spread your fingers open, lift your upward, keeping your knees bent for a modification. Shift your weight backward towards your hips, and pull your shoulder blades back toward your waist. Your weight should be evenly distributed between your hands and feet. Drop your head toward the floor and consciously release your neck muscles. Hold the pose for five breaths. 

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