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Yoga: Avoid beginner’s mistakes

Karen Hawthorne is a health and lifestyle writer and producer in Toronto, Canada. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications including Glow, Homemakers, BestHealthMag.ca and the National Post.

Get the most out of yoga

Yoga has all sorts of benefits that are supported by research — mental and physical stress relief, mood improvement, slowing the aging process, along with peace and relaxation? Beginners often tackle poses and exercises without proper guidance, however. Mary Jo Ricketson, a Boston-area yoga practitioner and author of Moving Meditation, discusses safety and best practices for your sun salutations.

Woman doing yoga

Yoga has been around for thousands of years, with several varieties. In the West, practitioners have kept the traditional forms, but also adapted yoga in other variations, such as "extreme" yoga and yoga "boot camp."

Ricketson, a yoga practitioner and registered nurse, warns this sort of exercise can alienate beginners, who may not be ready to “jump in the deep end first.” Without proper training and guidance, she adds, beginners risk injuring their neck, lower back, knees and shoulders.

She says the most important step is getting off the couch and on the mat. Follow her seven tips for beginners to maximize your yoga benefits.

7 Yoga tips to get you started

1

Cardiovascular training. As in meditation, focused breathing is a cornerstone of mind-body training. "Aerobic" means “with oxygen,” and aerobic movement increases the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, including the brain. Cardiovascular training, during yoga as well as other aerobic activities, is the single most important aspect of the physical training because it keeps the heart open and strong.

2

Core and strength training. Yoga improves your core strength and it improves overall muscle strength, which includes the abdomen and buttocks, and the lower back region, which extends to the base of the skull. This is where strength, stability and balance originate. Focus on core and muscle strength during yoga and incorporate other strength training exercises with alternative workouts.

3

Flexibility training (yoga poses). Yoga beautifully strengthens and stretches your body. Stretching simply feels good and it reminds students to not only be more flexible in your body, but also your mind. This step allows us to move, and live, with greater ease.

4

Adequate rest. Sleep is a necessary part of life, and sufficient rest is needed for energy and equilibrium. Aim for at least eight hours of solid sleep every night to have optimal energy for your workouts and the rigors of the day.

5

Life-giving nutrition. Making the right food choices allows yoga students to achieve an optimal, balanced state. This includes nutritional foods consumed in moderation. Easy on the potato chips!

6

Being connected: From Epicurus to modern science, study and observation show that we find greater happiness with access to friends and family. Prioritize quality time with loved ones.

7

Written goals and a plan of action. Go beyond just going to yoga class. Consider what you want to get out of your practice and extend it into what you want to get out of your life. Goals and stated intention act as a road map to achieving balanced well-being.

Make the mind-body connection

Ricketson says the above steps are just the beginning. tapping into the mind-body connection also helps memory loss, attention deficit disorders and helps reduce violent behavior.

“We all have within us a potential to experience optimal well-being in mind and body,” she says. “This potential, the good within, can be realized through the work of mind-body training. Our training is a moving meditation — a daily practice of exercises that awakens all that is good within.”

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