Strength. Flexibility. Cardio support. Stress relief. All from the comfort of your living room or local studio.
No wonder Americans are laying out their mats like never before. Since 2012, the number of U.S. adults who practice yoga or meditation has tripled. A CDC report released late last year showed around 14.3 percent practice the ancient Indian exercise.
Although yoga comes in different styles, the one you’re probably familiar with is known as Ashtanga or Vinyasa yoga. And believe me, it’s a serious workout.
Your Path to Yogi
Whatever your reason for getting into yoga, you need to take it slow. Skipping straight to advanced poses like wheel is a recipe for pain and injury. If you’re just starting out:
1. Get a decent mat.
A yoga mat won’t make you stronger or more flexible, but it can put you on that path. Because they’re made of foam or rubber, yoga mats can give you a level of grip that bare floors and carpets simply can’t. Without that stability, you’ll struggle to build strength or develop proper form.
Which yoga mat should you choose? Think about your budget, flooring material, body length, and preferred level of padding. If price isn’t a problem, Lifeforme’s yoga mat with alignment lines is great for perfecting poses. If you’re always on carpet, consider Manduka’s $90 PRO model. If you’re looking for a good mat at an amazing price, BalanceFrom makes an $11 model that’s comfortable and durable.
2. Begin with your breath.
Yoga’s physical effects are only half the story. To unlock its mental health benefits, you need to move with your breath. By getting your mind and body into the same groove, you ground yourself in the here and now. The result is a sense of relaxation deeper than you’re likely to find from other forms of exercise.
Before striking your first pose, sit on your mat with a long, tall spine. Listen to yourself breathe. Is your inhale calm and deep? Is your exhale slow and controlled? Don’t force them if they’re not; just be patient. Within a few minutes, you should find yourself ready to add movement into the mix. Generally speaking, you should inhale when reaching outward and exhale while you contract your body.
3. Warm up with cat-cows.
A yoga routine typically involves dozens of poses called “asanas.” Each serves a purpose within the larger series. For example, downward dog — an inverted pose that lets the blood drain out of the head — is often followed by upward dog, which reaches the head upward while pushing the torso forward. Doing so creates a flow, which reinforces that breath-body connection.
Before graduating to more advanced poses, practice flow with cat-cows. For the cat portion, inhale while lifting your lower ribs. Imagine a balloon pulling up on the center of your spine. To transition to cow, exhale while pushing your chest out. Feel the balloon pulling your head and tail upward. Practice going between the two a few times, remembering to move with your breath.
4. Work up to chaturanga.
Speaking of downward dog and upward dog, one of the most common flows in yoga is called chaturanga. This foundational sequences combines the two “dog” poses with plank, teaching you to keep your body straight and limbs active during arm balances.
Instead of trying to do a chaturanga right away, practice the three pieces individually. If plank is asking too much of your core, keep your knees on the floor. Either way, keep your back straight, arms engaged, and gaze forward. To shift into upward dog, move your body halfway to the ground. With your hands firmly planted, pull your spine upward as one unit. Keep your legs engaged and your elbows reaching toward the mat. Then, flip your feet and lift your tail into downward dog. Try to create a right angle at your hips, with your hands pushing down and heels lifting up.
5. Supplement your savasana.
Pronounced “shah-vah-sun-ah,” savasana is hands-down the best part of any yoga session. Basically, it’s when you get to lie down and relax. After you’ve been sweating and stretching it out for an hour, nothing feels better than splaying your limbs out in all directions.
The key to savasana is letting yourself just be. That might sound like a piece of cake — but if you’ve tried mindfulness meditation, you know it’s not. Until you get the hang of it, give yourself a hand with supplements like CBD. The safe, non-psychoactive cannabis compound promotes relaxation and comes in easy-to-take forms like chews. Herbal teas can help as well.
Don’t underestimate how difficult yoga can be. As with other types of exercise, the people who make it look easy practice it every day. If you want to get there, take it slow. Your body will thank you.