Yoga is everywhere these days: Celebrities, trainers and doctors are all extolling the benefits of regular practice, making it one of the most popular forms of exercise and alternative health management in the world today. It’s not pseudo science, either: Research shows that regular yoga practice can reduce stress, improve mood and slow the aging process.
The problem? Many of the 20 million yoga practitioners in the United States are missing the mind-body connection that is necessary to get the most benefits out of yoga. The missing piece of the yoga puzzle puts students at a greater risk for injuries when they dive in without proper instruction and guidance. I know this personally: I tried (and thought I failed) at yoga for a long time before I figured out that it’s not just breathing and posing.
“There are several disciplines of yoga, and with its rich history, the beginner can easily get lost – or worse – injured,” said Moving Meditation author Mary Jo Ricketson, a nurse and experienced yoga practitioner, told me.
The American attitude of “wanting it all” contributes to this risk, she says — beginners want to “jump in the deep end first” without learning the proper building blocks of yoga. The result? Injuries to their necks, lower backs, knees and shoulders — and lots of muscle soreness, in my experience.
Can you keep this from happening to you? Of course, Ricketson says — as long as you don’t fall into the same traps of many yoga beginners.
Not Enough Cardio Strength
The cornerstone of yoga — and mind-body training — is focused breathing. A healthy cardiovascular system means more oxygen is moving through your blood and body, giving your brain more “fuel” during yoga. I’ve found that my endurance and ability to stretch through the various yoga poses has increased considerably since I added running on the days I do yoga.
“Cardiovascular training is the single most important aspect of the physical training because it keeps the heart open and strong,” Ricketson says. Consider starting a cardio regimen — walking, running, cross-training — before starting yoga to maximize the benefits.
Your core muscles — in the abdomen — help your body maintain posture and strength. Yoga can improve your core strength, but consider additional training to strengthen those muscles — you’ll need it to keep balance and stability during yoga. My core was the weakest point until I started working with a specialized trainer who taught my how to engage my core at all times. Not everyone can afford (or want) a trainer, but check with your gym to see if they offer a special one-on-one session to introduce you to core work, or check out a group class that focuses on core movements.
Pay special attention to stretches during yoga — it feels good and is vital for muscles to grow and hold poses. Also, stretch after yoga for a few minutes and hold the stretches for at least 25 seconds — I was stretching too quickly and it didn’t help my muscles at all.
Sleep is a necessary part of living, whether you like it or not. A tired mind is not good for yoga — you must get sufficient rest for energy and equilibrium.
Seriously Lacking Diets
Eating a proper, balanced diet is vital to achieving “zen” during yoga. I use the website MyFitnessPal to log my food — and it helped me realize I need to increase my protein intake! I suggest you do the same. I did research, and I came to the conclusion an abundance of people lack the proper nutrients! I came across a resource that will guide people who are unfamiliar with that particular area in their diets, here. I found that helped guide me for my nutritional protein needs, and was especially helpful for women such as my wife. She had so many questions about protein safety in women, and honestly that website does a great job going into depth about the topic and essentially explaining on how increasing your intake can be very beneficial for both women and men. I mainly use MyFitnessPal because It helps me know what I’m eating and if I’m eating too much carbohydrates, fat, protein, sodium and sugar for my health goals. Also, it helps me figure out which foods give me the most fuel (and which ones make me feel terrible) on my yoga days. I wouldn’t know that without my food diary.
No Quality Time
All the diet and exercise in the world cannot make up for a lacking spiritual life. Be sure to spend plenty of time with loved ones.
“From Epicurus to modern science, study and observation show that we find greater happiness with access to friends and family,” Ricketson says.
Write It Down!
We all know the old adage: Failing to plan is planning to fail. Having an action plan for your life will help clear your head, making yoga all the more beneficial. I’ve started writing down my goals — yoga, fitness, diet and personal — and break them down into smaller achievements. I’ve found that I’m motivated to continue when I log those smaller achievements — and eventually they all add up to the big goal.
Why do you like to practice yoga?
Eating healthy is important. We all know this. If you eat healthy, your skin, hair, and body will look better. You’ll have more energy. Your immune system will be in better shape so you’ll get sick less. You’ll just look and feel better overall. But these days it’s hard to eat healthy. Health is not just about low calories and losing weight, it’s about nutrition. But in our culture, the two sometimes get confused. Many food products contain unnatural and unhealthy ingredients and additives, even those that are seemingly healthy.
New studies come out all the time, decrying a certain type of food that was praised a few years ago, or vice versa. It’s all so confusing. While nutrition can be hard to pinpoint, I’ve created a guide that is based on my personal beliefs of what is and is not healthy. These beliefs are based on a variety of things: things I’ve read, learned, and experienced for myself, especially in my experience working at a yoga studio and studying to be a yoga teacher.
These suggestions are just that: suggestions. I cannot claim a monopoly on knowledge of nutrients and healthy eating, and if you’ve heard or think differently, that’s fine. Ultimately, it is you who can decide what is best for yourself. But hopefully this guide will help those of you who need a starting point.