Guest Columnist: Catherine Udomsak, DPT
Patients frequently ask me about the merits of yoga, from relaxation to flexibility. Many say, they are too busy or they don’t know enough about it. Well, in light of the fact that everyone has been forced to spend more time indoors, slow down and try new things, now may be a good time to try yoga.
It is hard to believe that yoga, which is now a cultural mainstay, was once considered a foreign practice. An ancient discipline that totes numerous health benefits, yoga is meant to cultivate inner peace, enlightenment, and a strong relaxed body. In the past, only major cities housed yoga studios but over time yoga has spread into small towns across the country. Studios offer a variety of classes and each promotes their own unique philosophy. Whether you are looking for a new workout regime, compliment to your current program or simply to quiet your mind in a hectic world, yoga may be an option for you.
Yoga is a discipline that developed over 5,000 years ago and is generally recognized as an ancient system for wellbeing. The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word “yuj”, literally means to yoke or to bind together. The primary focus of yoga is to harmonize or unite the mind, body, and spirit through a combination of poses, breathing techniques, and meditation.
The specific origin of yoga is a topic of debate. However, it is said to have originated in India and was brought to the Western world by yoga gurus in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The basis for most current yoga practices is The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In The Yoga Sutras, eight limbs of yoga are specified. The three most common limbs are meditation, pranayama or breathing exercises, and asana which are the physical poses. Yoga classes can vary greatly, however, most classes include a combination of meditation, breathing exercises, and physical postures.
There are numerous styles of yoga. If you are a newcomer, deciding on a yoga class may be difficult. It is always a smart idea to call a studio before attending a class to gain information and have any questions answered. Furthermore, if you have any health concerns you may want to consult your doctor prior to trying a new form of exercise. Some common forms of yoga include but are not limited to:
Hatha - Hatha yoga is a general broad-based term referring to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. Typically, one will find Hatha classes to be slow and gentle and a great option for beginners.
Vinyasa - This type of yoga focuses on the coordination of breath with movement. In Vinyassa yoga classes you can expect a continuous flow of movement from one posture to the next. Classes can be fast paced and are often appealing to those looking for a more strenuous workout.
Iyengar - Unlike Vinyassa, this type of yoga focuses on holding postures for a period of time to bring the body into it’s best alignment. If you attend this type of yoga class you can expect to use props including yoga blocks, blankets, and straps.
Ashtanga - This type of yoga follows a specific sequencing of postures. This rigorous form of yoga always performs the same postures, in the same order at each class and is typically fast paced.
Bikram - Typically performed in rooms heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% humidity, the heat warms muscles and allows a deeper stretch. The difference between Bikram and Hot yoga is that Bikram follows a specific sequence of 26 poses from which hot yoga often deviates.
Yin Yoga - This meditative practice is perfect for those who want to calm their mind. In this type of yoga, poses are held for 5 minutes or longer. The purpose is to apply a deep stretch to the connective tissue (the tendons, fascia and ligaments) to improve flexibility.
Restorative - Best for those who want to focus on relaxing and taking some time to slow down. Most restorative yoga classes will be slow moving with longer hold times to allow deep relaxation.
Below you can find a few common yoga poses or asanas that can be found in beginner classes. These poses promote flexibility and strength and can be incorporated into your everyday workout routine. Remember, before you attempt the poses, begin by walking, biking or running to warm up. Don’t overstretch, perform slowly, and hold the position. You should feel mild discomfort NOT pain.
There are a lot of options when it comes to where to start to practice yoga. It is important that the studio you choose employs certified yoga instructors who have completed comprehensive training. A good instructor can make all the difference in your yoga experience. The studio should provide a clean environment and offer a variety of classes including beginner level if you are a newcomer. The best way to get a feel for a studio is to stop in for more information. You may want to ask about pricing as there are often discount introductory rates. Ask about rentals if you do not own a yoga mat and request to see the space. Some yoga studios have a strong sense of community while others are more like a gym. Try out a few different places until you find a fit for you.
Guest Columnist: Catherine Heimrich, DPT is a doctor of physical therapy and is an associate at Mackarey & Mackarey Physical Therapy Consultants, LLC in downtown Scranton, where she works with outpatient orthopedic and neurological patients. She has a special interest in vestibular and balance problems.
Model: Sarah Singer, PTA
Read Dr. Mackarey’s "Health & Exercise Forum" every Monday in the Scranton Times-Tribune.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.