Yoga is practiced as both a meditation and an exercise. There are various styles of yoga, but they all have the same basis. Benefits of practicing yoga poses is that they build your core muscles. When core muscles are strong and properly stretched, the body remains in alignment. Your balance is better when you practice yoga and your spine stays healthier because the core muscles play an important role in maintaining the alignment of the spine.
Controlling your breathing is key to balance also, as you will find. Breathing is also part of meditation. Focusing on your breathing as you stretch can turn your experience into something deeper and more meaningful than just exercising. Mindful meditation is about focusing on what you are doing, in the present moment.
Some of the more common poses that you may have seen before:
Sometimes this pose is called downward facing dog, but it is the same pose. This is a common one and it stretches the lower back. The lower back is a problem for many people and compression of the spine is often the problem. When you stretch your back, you might hear it crack as the vertebrae become decompressed. The blood can now enter those areas and bring oxygen to them. This creates a wonderful, warm feeling.
To do this pose, stand with your feet together and bend slowly as if you are touching your toes. Allow your back to roll down into the stretch position. When you can touch your toes, walk yourself out with your hands, while keeping your legs as straight as possible. If you are a beginner, you might need to bend your knees slightly or even move one foot slightly forward. One thing that is important to remember in yoga is that it is always okay to modify movements so that you are pain-free and to match your skill level.
When complete, you should look like an upside down “V” and your lower back, middle back, arms and shoulders get a good stretch and workout. You build strength as you stretch your muscles. That is what creates the perfect relationship between yoga and the body.
The Warrior II
To start this pose, stand like an archer with your left foot turned out as if pointed at a target. Your right foot should be roughly 90 degrees to the other foot. If you were standing on a clock face, your left foot would be pointed at noon, but your face and right foot should be facing 3 o’clock. You want the back of your front foot to be underneath your spine, as a support. Bend your knees to take the stress off the joints but you want your knees to feel relaxed. If there is any discomfort, adjust your feet until you feel only a little stretch. Yoga should never be painful.
Now, stand with your back straight, even as your knees are bent slightly. Extend your arms out so that the are even with your shoulders or chest. Keep your shoulders pushed down so that you feel the stretch down your back. Spread your hands wide, palms up and look out, focusing over the top of your hand.
You will look like the name implies. You’re a warrior. This pose is meant to help clear your mind and it will strengthen your ankles and your legs. Breathe deeply and allow your body to relax into the pose.
For this pose, you are standing straight-up and looking forward with your chin level. It helps to find something straight ahead of you that you can focus on. Bring one foot up off the floor and take the foot with your opposite hand, pulling it to your upper thigh of the opposite leg. If you can’t pull the leg that high, bring it as high as you can comfortably. You might start with it only as high as the calf of the opposite leg. That’s okay because you’ve got to start somewhere.
This is a challenge in balance and stretching. It will take a while to master this pose. Once you find your balance with the foot up off the floor, reach straight in the air over your head with both hands and stretch as far as you can, as if you are reaching for a book on a shelf that is just out of reach. You will work the muscles in the thighs, stomach, lower back, and buttocks.
Two Common Yoga Poses for Beginners
Not all yoga poses are ridiculously hard to do, and you should start with the easiest yoga poses for beginners so that you don’t feel overly intimidated. As with any type of workout, if it is too difficult or leaves you feeling overly sore afterward, you won’t want to continue doing it.
Here are a couple of poses that will have you enjoying the challenge more than dreading it:
This pose is basically standing up straight. Be sure to work on your posture though. The goal is to stand with your feet together. Let yourself settle in place and become fully balanced against the floor. Push your hips forward to lift your pelvic region, stretching your lower back.
Push your arms down and allow them to push away from the body slightly with your hands extended, straight fingers held together and pointed toward the floor. It helps to think of yourself as a wizard focusing energy downward from the arms as if you were going to levitate off the floor. Keep your chin straight and face straight ahead. Again, find something to focus on and allow your mind to relax as you stretch and breathe deeply. The more deeply you breathe, the more oxygen you get into those joints. This pose will stretch your spine, your hip flexors, your neck and shoulders. It isn’t difficult and will get you used to the headspace that is also so important to yoga. Focus is half the goal.
This pose is done on the floor. You will want to use a yoga mat or a rug that is comfortable. Lay flat, with knees bent in the air and your feet flat on the floor together. If this is uncomfortable, you can move your feet further apart. Lay your hands down to your sides, palms down on the floor. Raise your hips in the air and hold for a few seconds, then lower your hips back to the floor. Repeat. You may start with five to ten of these. I suggest not to do too many as you will feel it in your abdominal muscles the next day.
This exercise will strengthen your core and lower back. Your chiropractor will love you for doing these because they are so good at aligning the spine. Feel free after you’ve done your first five, to lay on the floor and allow yourself to relax and let the spine settle into place. You will be doing miracles in aligning your spine with these exercises.
As you build your core strength, you’ll want to start experimenting with more poses. You can join a class, watch a program on television, view videos on the internet or check a book out at the library. Yoga has been around for centuries and it is a proven way to lower your blood pressure, keep a healthy spine and age more gracefully.