Health: Get Your "Om Shanti" On
I was at the gym this evening about to do some cardio and talking with a friend who I see a few times per month. At one point, he changed the subject and asked me how often I go to the gym. I told him I go about 4 times per week, at which he remarked that he could see a difference in my arms and shoulders. I replied, “I basically only do yoga.” “It’s working,” he replied.
And I agree. I, too, can see a difference. After being serious about yoga for about a year and a half, I can definitely see significant differences in my musculature. And I can feel a difference, too. I feel stronger yet somehow lighter. Plus, since doing yoga on a regular basis my chronic tendinitis is gone. Better yet, my boyfriend tells me that my back and shoulders look great when I kn… ahem.
Despite what most yogis think, there are a few barriers to entry when it comes to getting started doing yoga. Before my first-ever yoga class, I had no idea what to wear, what I needed to bring with me, whether I should eat before or after, etc. I’m writing this post to try to demystify yoga for those of you who might be interested in trying it out are apprehensive about looking like a fool in a room full of spandex-clad women.
What Is Yoga Anyway?
If you wanted a dictionary definition, you could look one up. Therefore, I’ll give you my take on it. It’s a combination of postures that stretch and strengthen your body. The postures are coordinated with breathing, inhaling on certain motions and exhaling on others. Yoga works to strengthen nearly every part of your body, though different classes can focus on different parts. It also increases flexibility, which keeps your joints healthy and will make you less prone to injury. Finally, it’s really relaxing. There’s lots of deep breathing, gently voiced instructions, lying on your back in the dark…
Does Yoga Really Work?
Don’t get me wrong. Though it’s gentle and relaxing, it’s a real workout. Or it can be. As with all things, you only get out what you put in. I already told you about the complement I got from a friend this evening. Here’s another example: There’s a woman who does yoga at Results Dupont who, from the back, looks like a college swim team captain. She has amazing shoulders, a muscular back, nicely defined arms. And when she turns around, you realize she’s probably in her 60s.
What Should I Wear?
First off, prepare to be bare foot. Put duct tape on any plantar warts on your feet: it will prevent you from giving them to others in the yogatorium, and can actually cure them. Boys, wear briefs!!! You don’t want your junk flopping around on you while your doing all those crazy postures. As for the rest of the clothing, keep your other layers light. No sweat pants or anything else heavy. Yoga, despite appearances, is very active and you’ll probably be sweating. Generally, shorts and a loose-fitting t-shirt work well. I prefer something sleeveless, as the sleeves can get in the way when stretching and twisting.
Won’t I Feel Self-Conscious My First Time?
Sure, everyone screws up the first time. Relax and have fun with it. The instructors are always very gentle and encouraging. Generally, an instructor will ask if it’s anyone’s first time doing yoga. Raise Your Hand!!! If the instructor knows there are first-timers in the class s/he will give tips on how to modify postures that might be challenging for first-timers. If s/he doesn’t know you’re there, they can’t help you. Other first-timer tips: get a spot in the back. Yoga participants generally face forward, so if you’re in the back, no one will see you when you fall over.
What’s With All The Chanting?
Yoga practice is often opened and closed with simple chants, usually the word “Om” said once or three times. Sometime they toss in a few “Shantis” in there, too. And it’s not like a Gregorian chant. It’s more of a long, drawn-out moan. Of course, you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. No one will know. During the chants, everyone’s eyes are closed anyway. If you do decide to chant, you’ll probably find the vibrations in your chest very warming and relaxing. That’s the point.
Do I Have to Start With Yoga One?
Not necessarily. Lots of postures are similar to other types of exercises that you might already be familiar with. If you are generally pretty fit and active, not overly muscular, and relatively flexible (can you touch your knees?) then you might be able to get started with Yoga Two or Advanced Yoga. Just don’t try doing any head stands without proper instruction.
Do I Need My Own Mat?
Maybe. Depends on where you do yoga and what time you get there. If you’re heading to a studio or gym class you’ve never been to before, call ahead and ask. Results, where I do my yoga, has a limited number of mats, so I make an effort to get there early to make sure you get one. Once you realize how awesome yoga is, you might want to get your own mat and bring it with you. It’ll allow you to show up a bit later, and you won’t have to worry about getting plantar warts from the person who used the mat before you.
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