Yoga is an incredible addition to any fitness and wellness program. As a discipline, it combines the physical with the mental – both important components of weight loss and lifestyle change. Joining The Forsaken for “Ask a Yogi” is Jen Oppenheimer. Jen, E-RYT 200, is the Regional Programming Manager for New York Sports Clubs in Queens, Long Island and Brooklyn. Jen also facilitates Kids Yoga teacher trainings for Karma Kids Yoga. She has a passion for teaching yoga to “kids” of all ages – from 6 weeks to 106 years. She also teaches Spinning & Pilates.
Now, to your questions!
Q: Is adding yoga to my daily routine (of not much else) going to help me lose weight, or just make me more flexible?
A: Yoga is a lot more than just flexibility. On a physical level it has the power to re-shape your whole body. In addition to gaining flexibility, additional benefits include increased strength and better posture. Better posture comes from you core and your abdominal muscles. Whether you opt for a vigorous power yoga practice, or a less intense style, holding yoga poses increases strength WHILE helping improve flexibility. There are many different styles of yoga and no perfect poses. If you’re just starting out try a few different styles, studios and classes. It’s not about the way the pose looks, but rather how it makes you feel.
Q: How do I start? What type of yoga should I choose if I’ve never done it before? Should I schedule private lessons before trying group instruction?
A: Yoga is for everybody and EVERY body. Is there a yoga studio close to where you live or work? I would recommend going in and checking it out. Most studios over a variety of classes for a variety of levels. The word “hatha” means breath. On the most basic level all yoga can be considered “hatha” yoga. Other styles include Vinyasa, which means flow, Iyengar, which focuses on more precise alignment of poses, or even Hot/Bikram yoga, which involves practicing in a heated room. By going into a studio and talking to someone there you can get a better sense of what styles are offered, what a typical class is like and whether there are classes offered at time convenient to your schedule. If there’s more than one local studio check them all out! Some studios are more spiritual than others and include chanting and meditation in their practices. Others solely offer one style like Bikram or Ashtanga Yoga (a more vigorous power yoga). Most studios offer some type of new student special. I would encourage you to try some classes, bring a friend even! See what you like. Notice how you feel after class. Also keep in mind not all instructors teach in the same way. Every yoga instructor has his or her own unique style of teaching that can vary from music selection, to class format and sequencing. Try to go into each class you take with no expectations – of yourself or the experience. Be sure to tell the instructor that you are new to yoga and advise of any injuries you may have.
Q: I have some yoga DVDs at home and it’s really hard for me to tell if I’m in the correct position because the instructor weighs about 3 1/2 pounds and I’m comfortably padded. Can you give me some pointers on how to figure this out or maybe what NOT to do?
A: One of the first things to remember is that there is no perfect pose. Yoga poses look different in different bodies. There are however a few basics to remember:
- You want to stack your joints, bone over bone – shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees and ankles. Don’t lock your joints, keep knees and elbows soft.
- Keep your head and neck aligned with the spine
- Yoga should not hurt. If you feel any pain stop what you are doing
- If you have sensitive knees fold your mat over or use a folded towel or blanket under your knees
- Close your eyes from time to time and notice how the pose feels. If it feels good and you’re breathing you’re probably doing it right.
I would recommend trying to take a few classes in a studio whenever possible to learn the basics. Ask questions of the instructor when applicable. This way, when you do practice at home you will have more confidence in what you are doing.
Q: What do you consider the most important benefits of yoga?
A: Overall? Yoga makes you feel good. In ancient India yoga was practiced to prepare the body for meditation. Yoga, when practiced regularly, is a stress reliever. Focus on the breath and movement of the body is not only calming but studies have shown it can help conquer moodiness and increase concentration. On a physical level, yoga is great for improving flexibility, strength and balance. Yoga also promotes a strong core which helps relieve lower back pain and improves posture. Notice how you feel after a yoga class.
Q: How often do I need to practice to see results?
A: How often you choose to practice is up to you. With some forms of exercise, like weight training, it is recommended to rest your muscles and not work the same muscle groups on consecutive days. Yoga is unique in that it can be practiced daily. Only you know what your goals are and the specific results you are trying to achieve. A consistent practice can help benefit your overall health and wellness – both mind and body.
Q: Are there any pre-natal yoga DVDs you’d recommend?
Prenatal Yoga can be tricky because some women find yoga for the first time while pregnant. While it is never a bad time to start doing yoga, and the benefits of practicing throughout pregnancy numerous, I would recommend attending classes (at least a few) in conjunction with using a DVD. In an actual Prenatal Yoga class students have the benefit of sharing how they are feeling with the instructor. The instructor can then tailor the poses to the needs of the student. During pregnancy women may suffer from sciatica, leg cramping, lower back pain, pain in the pelvis or pubic bone and many possible other pregnancy related issues. Even if the mom-to-be can’t get to a class very often, a good instructor can provide the student with poses to address specific needs that can be practiced outside of the studio. A DVD like the one I recommend above is a good option for days when getting to class is a challenge. Also, having a basic knowledge of yoga poses prior to using a DVD is recommended to ensure proper alignment and safety.