Yoga is an ancient system of movement designed to generate vibrant health and well being. Excellent health and well being are experienced in the results of a yoga practice such as: stress reduction, increased energy and awareness, increased flexibility, focused mind and strong body. In our modern world there are so many types of yoga to choose from that it can be confusing and difficult to start a yoga program. Do you have to practice postures(asanas) in a hot room for an hour and a half in order to enjoy the benefits of this ancient art? And, is it necessary to execute postures under strict guidelines created for East Indian bodies and minds? As a yoga instructor my answer would be no. A successful yoga practice supports the goals of the practitioner without rigidity.
An appropriate yoga program should be adapted around our needs. Those on low-carb diets for weight loss or weight control can benefit tremendously by practicing yoga. A major benefit of yoga is a developed awareness. A consistent yoga practice assists us in recognizing the causes of stress in our lives. Yoga helps us observe the thoughts that cause stress. Once we are able to recognize the stress we are able to calm our carb cravings. When we develop awareness we can make conscious choices around food and feel more in control of our lives. I have taught lunch time yoga classes where students practiced forty-five minutes of yoga instead of reaching for high carb snacks. Students have reported that after class they choose healthier foods and actually eat less. Yoga can be a carb substitute, a healthy alternative.
Breath work is also an important component of yoga. Yoga trains the mind to recognize where and when we hold our breath. The less access we have to the breath the more stress is stored in the body. Yoga teaches us to fill ourselves up with breath instead of high-carb food. Yoga can inform us when we are becoming stressed so we can make the choice to sit and breathe, meditate or do physical yoga postures. With a consistent yoga practice we have less need of carbs that deplete our energy. Focus on the breath dissolves our cravings and reduces stress. We naturally reach for more nourishing foods. If we hold the breath then we become unaware of our cravings and old eating patterns take over. Cultivating awareness while we move in yoga postures is just as important as the movement, especially for those wanting to change eating patterns.
Since low-carb dieters need to be careful not to hit a sugar low during the day yoga is an excellent movement program. Yoga conserves energy while many exercise programs such as aerobics, weight training, bicycling etc. expend energy. Yoga assists the practitioner to tap into reserves of energy in the body. If the low carb dieter feels energy depleted the craving will increase. For anyone with the goal of life style or dietary change it is important that the exercise program be accessible and stress-free. Yoga postures teach us to expand into our own energy without judgment or criticism. A practice of relaxation and meditation (either seated cross-legged or lying on your back) when you have completed your postures is key in a yoga program. The relaxation assists us in integrating the movement and regenerating our energy.
How do we choose a class that is appropriate for us? How do we get started on a yoga practice? Try several styles and notice how you feel after each. An appropriate class is one where at the end of class you feel internally rejuvenated. When you leave class you should feel lightness in your step and a desire to return. Other positive signs are: more access to your breath, a feeling of well being (combination of calm and high energy). Here are eight postures that will get you started. I suggest you do them every three to four days and familiarize yourself with the movements. Again, your yoga postures should express who you are so you won't look like someone else performing the same pose. Simply follow the directions and while you're in the pose try to become as aware of your body and thoughts as you can. Breathe a simple breath based on the rhythm of your inhale and exhale. Take four or five breaths for each movement. Notice where and when you might hold your breath. I would recommend purchasing a yoga mat. You can buy them in most health food and sports stores.
1) Mountain Pose
Stand with feet together or hip distance. Imagine roots growing out of your feet into the earth. Feel your spine lengthening as the crown of your head lifts toward the sky. Inhale and exhale and feel the oppositional movement of feet planted firmly on the ground while the crown reaches upward. Keep your gaze focused at the horizon line. This posture prepares the body for a yoga practice.
2) Forward facing warrior
Stand in mountain pose and lift your arms by your ears, a few breaths and center yourself. Take a step forward on your right foot and bend your knee over your ankle. Focus your gaze at the horizon. Lengthen the torso and drop your shoulders. Repeat on the other side. This pose strengthens the thighs and brings in warrior energy.
3) Forward facing warrior with a forward bend
Repeat the above posture. Slowly straighten the front leg and extend the spine over the front leg. Relax the arms beside the leg. Repeat on the other side. This pose opens the spine and stretches both legs. This movement also soothes the mind.
4) Tree balance
Stand in mountain pose and become centered. Slowly transition your weight onto the left leg. Bring your hands into a prayer position over your chest. And position your left foot on your calf. Balance on your right leg while you breathe and focus your gaze at the horizon. Allow your body to move with the flow of your breath. Balances are never static. This pose develops balance and confidence.
5) Downward facing dog
Come on your hands and knees. Legs hip width apart and arms shoulder distance apart. Tuck your toes and lift your tailbone up toward the ceiling into an upsidedown V position. Fan out your fingers and press them into the floor. Keep moving your tailbone and elongate your spine. Bring your ears between your arms. Return to your hands and knees slowly and rest. This pose cleanses the mind and strengthens the upper body.
Lay on your back and bend your knees, legs hip width apart. Lift your hips and spine toward the ceiling as you move through the front of the knees. Bring your arms underneath your body on the floor and interlace your fingers. Keep your gaze at the chest. This posture increases energy and increases flexibility in the spine.
7) Seated twist
Sit with both legs extended in front of you. Bend your right leg keeping the left in front with the foot flexed. Place your left hand below the right knee and bring the right hand around the back of the body close to the spine. Lift and rise through the crown of your head on the inhale, on the exhale twist the spine to the right, moving around the axis of the spine. Move from the lower to the upper spine, the head is the last to twist around. Slowly release from the base of the spine and come back to center. Repeat on the other side. Twists flush and balance the nervous system.
8) Reclining bound pose
Now it's time for relaxation. Lie on your back and bring your feet together. Allow your knees to splay apart. You can also extend your legs and come into corpse pose if bound pose is too much for your hips. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Let go of any stress and allow your body to release into the floor. Stay as long as you like.
About the Author
Combining twenty years of yoga and thirty years of professional nursing experience, Carmela Cattuti offers students a unique and effective teaching style. A strong medical background in childbirth allows her to provide women with valuable yogic breathing, stretching, and meditation techniques to aid with the fertility, delivery and postpartum stages of pregnancy.
Having studied extensively at the Iyengar Center and achieving instructor certification at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Carmela also provides in depth yoga instruction to both men and women for reducing stress and harnessing ones full capabilities of body, mind, and spirit. Workshops and private sessions offer practical tools for creating balance and relaxtion in daily living and are available throughout the Boston area for individuals and corporations. Carmela can be reached at (617) 970-5320.web: http://www.yogame.com