Finding a Yoga Class

In the US alone, more than 15 million people practice yoga, and this number is thought to be growing by around 20% each year.  Of course yoga is far more than just an exercise routine:  it’s a set of lifestyle changes aimed at improving mind and body condition, and includes multiple philosophies.

While it’s possible to do yoga pretty much anywhere on your own, it’s far more rewarding to join a group and enjoy your yoga with others.  Especially during the early stages of your yoga, having an instructor on hand will help you to develop better form and avoid injury, as well as helping to increase your versatility and range.

These days, most towns have more than one yoga group, and choosing between them can be quite hard.  Teachers tend to fall into different schools depending on their own preferences about what is important in their yoga.  Followers of more traditional forms of yoga may include more of the spiritual elements of the discipline into their classes, while modern dynamic styles may eschew this spirituality and focus almost entirely on the fitness elements of the yoga.

Attending a yoga school long term will benefit you, because your teacher will get to know your capabilities, and work with you to achieve your goals, however if the style and philosophy of the teacher aren’t the same as yours, then your sessions won’t be balanced with your own aspirations, and you won’t get as much out of it as perhaps you hoped.

There are always practical elements to choosing a yoga school – sometimes as mundane as the night when classes are offered, or the proximity of the school to your home, however if you really want to get the most out of it, it’s worth speaking to the different teachers in your area about what they focus on with their training.  Think about what you want yoga to give you, and tell the teachers, and they will tell you whether their school is for you, and be able to point you in the right direction if it isn’t.

Stretching Exercises

Stretching exercises are an important part of your workout routine, as they help to increase your overall flexibility giving you a greater range of motion, and reducing the chances of picking up an injury.  A well thought out set of stretches can complement the exercises that you do, and ensure that you get more benefits from the gym session.  It also helps to shape the body, with muscles encouraged into a longer shape.

Many people start their workouts with a range of stretching exercises to warm up – this is a big mistake.  Actually, you want to be warmed up when you do your stretches.  Being warmed up reduces the injury risk, and means that your muscles can work to their full range, rather than being required to over work before they are ready.  A gentle 5 minute run is a good idea to warm up for a stretching session, and will get your muscles ready.

There are two main types of stretching exercises, static and dynamic.  We’re all familiar with static stretches.  These are the ones where you bend over and touch your toes, move slowly, and hold the maximum extent of the stretch.  Dynamic stretches involve quicker movement out of the stretched pose, so rather than holding that deep lunge for 10 seconds, you move to your maximum stretch, and then return from it.  You still want to move in a relatively controlled way to avoid injury, but there is no holding of position at the end.  Static stretches will improve your overall flexibility, but in order to get real life benefits for sport or other training, you need to include dynamic stretching exercises too, as these will improve your range of mobility while you are actually moving.  Both types of stretching complement each other.

The most important rule of stretching exercises is:  If it hurts, stop.

When you stretch, you want to feel the stretch so that you know you are increasing your reach, but it should never be physically painful.  If it is, you’re going too far, and you need to relax, and work back up to the range that you are trying to achieve.

There are some great and challenging stretching exercise routines available if you join vytalz (which is free!), but here are 5 stretches that you should try:

Calf Stretch

Place one foot well in front of the other, and lean forwards bending your front leg and keeping your body upright to feel the stretch through your calves.  To balance your work on both sides, try striding forwards between stretches.

 

 

Toddler Squat

We covered this in our full blog post about the toddler squat, but its a great exercise that will increase flexibility in your lower legs as well as improving your strength and balance.

 

 

Lower Back Stretch

Lie on your front, and press your body flat to the floor, then place your hands about level with your waist, and lift your shoulders up while aiming to get a consistent curve into your back.  This will improve your range of movement as well as being a very relaxing pose.

 

 

Groin Stretch

With your feet more than shoulder width apart, transfer your weight from one leg to the other, keeping the non-weight bearing leg straight, and bending the other at the knee.  This stretch widens your stance at the groin, and helps you to get more flexibility and strength into this muscle group.  The advantage of this is that it reduces your likelihood of injury when running or doing other activity.

Torso Stretch

This stretching exercise is one that you need to practice, and also need a mirror to do, because you’re putting a big twist into your back, and it can be a little bit painful if you get it wrong.  Start by sitting flat on the ground.  Raise your left leg, and lie the other flat underneath it.  Then twist your torso to the left, aiming to get to a right angle with your lower body. Support the twist with your right arm on the outside of your left leg, and continue to turn your head as far as possible.  Don’t force the stretch, build up to a good range of movement over time.