December 17, 2021 4 min read
Yoga began in India some 5,000 years ago—and in the last two decades it has caught the imagination of the Western world. At its core, yoga uses exercises linked to movements, breathing and meditation to strengthen the body and calm the mind.
You don’t have to be an expert to benefit from yoga. A 2015 study in Hong Kong found that a one-hour weekly Hatha yoga session done for 12 weeks improved the strength and flexibility of beginners.
Because of its links to ancient Indian philosophy, yoga poses or asanas have names in both Sanskrit and English and you may be introduced to both sets of names in a class. You might find it difficult to pronounce adho mukha svanasana but it only means the downward-facing dog pose!
Yoga is increasingly being included in fitness routines around the world. Even professional sports bodies have realized the importance of mind-body conditioning workouts such as yoga for enhancing top athletes’ focus and helping them breathe better.
Yoga is now commonplace in leisure centers, health clubs, schools and hospitals in North America. From a niche, counter-culture phenomenon of the 1960s, it is now a mainstream discipline.
Yoga offers a range of benefits for the body and mind. Here are a few of them:
If you are out of shape or very inflexible, you can start with gentler practice till you build up strength and flexibility. But if you are a relatively fit person, there should be no problem in starting straight away with a hatha yoga class. You can avoid the more complex asanas in the first week. It is important to get a sense of what yoga is all about, initially. Remember, yoga concerns both the body and the mind. It’s not just a series of movements.
You can either join a yoga class, or look up some good video tutorials from experienced yoga teachers that will help you practice yoga at home. So unfurl that yoga mat, and get started!
Here are 5 beginner level asanas or yoga poses:
This simplest of poses strengthens your back and abdominal muscles and tests the hips and groin. It is also the fundamental ‘yogic’ pose. Sit on the floor, so that your legs are out in front of you. Cross your shins. Slip each foot under the opposite knee. Now, rest your hands on your knees. And welcome to the world of yoga.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and shift your weight on to the right foot. Raise your left leg and slowly turn the knee outwards. Now, put your left foot either at the inside of your right calf or above your knee, but not on the knee.
The tree pose helps improve balance and stretches the muscles around the hip.
Start on your hands and knees. Stack your hands under your shoulder and knees under your hips. Now, spread your hands wide and push your thumb and index finger into the mat. Next, lift your tailbone and heave your buttocks up and back, so that your hips are drawn towards the ceiling. Try to straighten your legs and press your heels gently to the floor. Put your head between your arms so that it faces the knees. You back must be flat.
The downward-facing dog pose stretches the hamstrings, calves and ankles; strengthens the upper body; stimulates blood flow; fine tunes your foot muscles; and improves posture.
With your left foot, take a big step forward so that your feet are wide apart.
With your back straight, bend your front knee and keep the heel lifted off the floor. Bend your front leg to make your thigh parallel to the ground, and square your hips frontwards.
Now, extend your arms upwards on both sides of your head. Press into the mat and stretch up.
This pose stretches and strengthens the hip muscles. It also strengthens the quadriceps, calf muscles and gluteus maximus, and builds up muscles that support the knee.
This is more challenging than the other 4 exercises. Place your feet approximately 4 feet wide, from a standing position. Turn your right foot outward at 90 degrees and your left foot inward slightly towards your body. Bend your right knee. Now, keeping your palms down, raise your arms parallel to the floor, and look out over the right hand. Maintain the weight balance between the front and back legs.
Besides improving balance, the Warrior Two pose stretches the knees, ankles and shoulders, and works the thigh and core muscles.
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