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Yoga for Exercise: History and How-To Begin

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Yoga, a practice dating back to ancient times, is now primarily associated with exercise—and with good reason. This article will address the history and formation of yoga postures and how to efficiently use yoga for exercise. 

How did the modern world begin using yoga for exercise?

The word “yoga” was first mentioned in the Vedas, an ancient text in Vedic Sanskrit that many scholars refer to as the earliest “Hindu” scripture. The practice revolved around mantra, song, and ritual. The Upanishads, a later extension of the Vedas turned the idea of outer ritual inward, and thus began the practice of inner transformation via asceticism and meditation.

Eventually, practitioners caught on to the fact that having a strong, limber body is essential for spiritual growth and sitting in long hours of meditation. The renowned mystic Patanjali created the Yoga Sutras, a practice manual containing “eight limbs,” or essential elements of practice. And guess what? Physical postures encompass one of the eight limbs.

Modern yoga practitioners such as B.K.S Iyengar and his master Krishnamacharya formulated an extensive set of yoga postures. This was inspired by Patanjali’s suggestion that yogis incorporate exercise as a primary component of their practice. The poses are fun and enticing, contributing to today’s yoga hype surrounding (often) solely yoga postures.

Practicing yoga for exercise is powerful; it increases flexibility, strength, cardiovascular stamina, and balance.

Here are some ways to begin using yoga for exercise.

How to begin using yoga for exercise

The beauty of yoga postures lies in how adaptable they are. There are many different variations available. Each posture seems to have easier and more difficult versions. Maintaining a successful practice amounts to being where you’re at in each posture, breathing deeply through them, and allowing the breath to guide you through each movement.

Consider joining a yoga studio or finding a teacher

Though at times costly, joining a yoga studio opens you to a spectrum of different styles and levels of yoga practice. At studios, you’ll meet teachers who will serve as your guides through the different levels of poses. They’ll teach you variations while accepting your capability in each pose. They’re also likely to help emphasize the importance of breath as a guide through your practice.

Start with some videos

You can learn any skill using the internet, including yoga. Search Youtube and find a video that corresponds with your level of ability. Try a few out and see which ones appeal to you. Find a single video or set of videos that you can stick with until they begin to feel easy. Here’s a good beginner yoga posture sequence to try.

Learn individual postures on your own

Learning some postures one-by-one may be an excellent place to begin if you’re new to using yoga for exercise. Here are some good ones as well as their benefits.

Downward-facing dog 

 

Downward-facing dog is an excellent position to begin with because it’s relatively easy yet does so much for the body. Here are some simple instructions to help you in the process. 

1  Begin in a push-up position.

2   Push back so your hips come high and your head comes in-between your shoulders. You will notice a stretch in your calves and shoulders. This should feel relatively rigorous on your upper body, especially on the shoulders.

3   To increase the opening of the shoulders, bend your knees, bring your head lower between your shoulders, and then straighten your knees.

4  To further stretch the calves, remain in downward-facing dog position and move your heels closer to the ground.

5  To lessen the overall strenuousness of the pose, remain static and bend the knees slightly.

This pose is actually considered a resting posture in yoga. If it seems hard at first, try accomplishing the posture in sets of twenty-or-so seconds. It’s worth learning this one; downward-facing dog is invigorating, strengthening, and great for opening the legs, back, and shoulders.

Tree Pose

 

Tree pose gets its name from the idea that if we stand strong and balanced, we can face any of life’s winds. Here’s how to begin.

1  Stand with your feet together and your arms by your sides. 

2  Bring your left heel onto your right calf and begin to find your balance. It may help to locate a single point of focus to rest your eyes. This is called a drishti in Sanskrit.

3  Slide the left foot up the right leg, resting it either below the knee or above it, but never on it. 

4  Continue to balance while maintaining a single point of focus in front of you. You can keep your hands by your side, together in front of your heart, or together above your head (depending on what feels comfortable/easier). Traditionally, tree pose is done with the hands together above the head (assuming the shape of a tree). 

5  Hold the pose for thirty seconds to a minute before switching sides.

Warrior II 

 

This pose is fairly simple but also very strengthening, making it a wise choice to learn in the beginning of your experience with yoga asanas, or positions.. 

Here’s a detailed video explaining the process (this one can be a bit more complicated to explain in words). Be sure to try different variations of the posture if it’s feeling too strenuous at first. For example, you can place your hands in prayer position at heart center rather than leaving them outstretched (which works the shoulders and arms). 

Things to remember about yoga

Yoga is a practice that is ancient in its origins. The physical postures that make up modern yoga were created fairly recently as a way to strengthen and render the body healthy and fit for spiritual insight and long hours in meditation.

For many, yoga poses are the best exercises by which to stay healthy and to destress. Whether you decide to take yoga to its roots and discover its more spiritual side, or simply want to use yoga for exercise—there are many ways to benefit from this tradition.

When pursuing yoga for exercise, remember to not rush the process. The point is to benefit from the postures without worrying too much about how deeply you can get into each one. Also, breathing long and deeply through the nose is an essential component of yoga practice. This type of breath should be maintained to increase your endurance and reap more benefits from each posture. 

Best of luck with your yoga and wellness journey!

Want to learn more ways to gain optimal wellness? Visit the TelMD Upstream Blog!

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beginning yoga, how to yoga, yoga, yoga for exercise

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