Demystifying Yoga

Health and wellness practitioners often champion the benefits of yogic practices but many of us don't know enough about it. Locally known and loved yoga instructor, Michelle Hunt, breaks down the benefits of yoga and explains that it is a set of practices and techniques open to all, regardless of your shape and flexibility. 

Why do so many people rave about yoga?

People choose the practice of yoga for different reasons.  It can improve flexibility and overall health and fitness, as regular practice stretches and strengthens your entire body, revitalises the respiratory, nervous, endocrine, digestive and other major systems of the body that support healthy functioning.  It can reduce and relieve stress as you release chronic muscle tension that inhibits relaxation. It is also a means for cultivating personal and spiritual growth.  It is a practice that revitalises the body, calms the mind, and deepens self-awareness.

Clinical research has shown that yogic practices such as meditation, mindfulness, breathing techniques, and postures can reduce symptoms and improve outcomes in:

- Low back pain
- Hypertension
- Anxiety and depression
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Congestive heart failure
- Insomnia

Yogic practices have also been found to improve:

- Quality of life measures in patients with breast cancer
- Weight management
- Blood sugar regulation
- Stress resilience
- Attention
- Emotional self-regulation.

(Source: The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care, editors Sat Bir Singh Khalsa et al, Handspring Publishing, 2016; Chris Streeter review) 

Do you need to be in great shape to start?

You do not need to be in any particular 'shape’ or condition to start a yoga practice.  In fact, one of the biggest misconceptions is that you need to be tall, thin, and flexible and be able to contort yourself into the advanced postures you see on the internet!  Yoga is for everybody, and there are modifications available to make postures accessible to you.  As long as you practice a posture with safety in mind, which your teacher should ensure, and be honest with yourself as to your present level, you make the posture your own.  

One of the main cautions is if you are working with an illness, health condition or injury, there may be certain postures that could produce an adverse or unwanted or unhealthy effect in the body/mind.  It is strongly recommended in this case to get clearance from your doctor or specialist before taking yoga classes as ensuring your safety during the class if you have a particular condition may be beyond the scope of the yoga teacher’s training.  It is also strongly recommended that you share such illness, health condition or injury with your yoga teacher (which they should ideally treat as confidential) if you do take a class so that they can offer appropriate modifications.

How do you measure progress?

Yoga is a practice, and it is personal to each person. With regular practice you gradually experience growth and transformation.  Flexibility, strength and energy level improves.  Concentration deepens. You become more aware of thoughts and emotions, and learn to let go of unproductive thinking.  As you become more present and aware of the sensations in your body, and your thoughts and emotions on your yoga mat, you gradually cultivate the ability to experience this ability to be present in the rest of your life.  As you become more present and aware of your thoughts and feelings, your lifestyle, words and actions organically evolve to support your health and transformation.   

It seems like yoga is a lifestyle. Is that true?

I personally trained under the Kripalu Yoga tradition. Anyone can do Kripalu Yoga. You are not required to adopt any religious beliefs, and people of all faiths, cultures and backgrounds are welcome to practice Kripalu Yoga.  Rather than judging yourself and your performance from one day to the next, Kripalu Yoga encourages you to listen to your body from one day to the next and determine what it needs from yoga at that point in time - self-observation without judgement.

How can I get started? 

My advice is to start wherever you are right now! A group class at Court House gym is a wonderful way to initiate or resume your practice.  Just wear loose-fitting or comfortable workout gear.  Mats and props are provided, and the teachers will guide you through your practice.  If you’re unsure about what level you should choose, having a conversation with one of the yoga teachers at Court House and we will help you choose the right class for you.

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