Yoga is more than just chanting weird sayings while twisting your body into a pretzel. This ancient exercise can improve your health.
Past studies show that doing yoga and meditating at least three days a week can lower heart disease risk factors including high blood pressure, obesity and high blood sugar. Yoga also clobbers stress, builds muscles, can aid in losing weight and soothes chronic back pain. It can also improve your mental health by boosting self-confidence and developing a better outcome on life. And more and more mainstream doctors are incorporating yoga and other alternative practices into treatment and prevention methods.
Slowly, yoga is becoming more popular in the African-American community—Russell Simmons and Halle Berry are faithful fans—but some people still have misconceptions about it. Here's the real deal on yoga.
Yoga messes with my religion: No, actually it doesn't. Yoga is not a religion; it’s a philosophy practiced by people from such different religious denominations as Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism and Hinduism. Think of yoga as a body prayer.
You have to be super-flexible to do yoga: Wrong. Yes there are people who can put their feet behind their head, but that isn't what yoga is all about. So don't worry. The more you practice, the more flexible you will get.
Yoga is only for women or young people: Yoga is for anyone of any age: 5 to 70. And for some men, it may not be looked at as the most "masculine" exercise, but men do practice yoga. So why not try?
Yoga isn’t a true workout: Totally untrue, yoga has my triceps and thighs sore for days. A half-hour of fast-paced Vinyasa can burn 231 calories. Not bad.
Popular types of yoga
Hatha: The goal in Hatha is to balance between positive and negative energies (sun/ha, and moon/tha, in Sanskrit), and the breath-controlled poses help you achieve that balance through your inner physical and mental strengths.
Vinyasa: Meaning “breathing and movement,” Vinyasa is a principle of Ashtanga yoga that focuses on internal cleansing. All movements are accompanied by the Ujjayi (“victorious”) breathing, which consists of evenly-paced and steady inhalations and exhalations (flow).
Power: Modified (and Westernized) version of the Indian Ashtanga yoga, which focuses on self-discipline and flexibility. Because poses in this practice are held longer, stamina, concentration and overall strength improve.
Bikrim (hot yoga): Consists of selected poses in a heated room, usually kept between 95 and 100 degrees. The heat relaxes the muscles, increasing flexibility and range of motion while keeping injuries at bay. The added bonus is toxin release through all the sweating you’ll be doing—just be sure to stay hydrated and bring a towel to the often lengthy class.
Ready to get started? You can practice at home with DVDs or depending on which cable package you have, some offer On Demand yoga programs. You can also opt for classes to make sure your form is right, but they can be expensive—usually $15-20 per class at a studio. Our tip: Buy a package of 10-20 sessions; they are usually discounted. If you have a gym membership, take advantage of the yoga classes they offer—most classes are included as part of your monthly fee.
Find a class or instructor in your area at Blackyogateacher.com.