Cheat Sheet

Yoga All-in-One Dummies Cheat Sheet

From Yoga All-In-One For Dummies

By Larry Payne, Georg Feuerstein, Sherri Baptiste, Doug Swenson, Stephan Bodian, LaReine Chabut, Therese Iknoian

Yoga itself is at least 5,000 years old, and yoga exercising — what you know as yoga postures, or asanas — emerged about 600 years ago. Even though yoga has evolved over the centuries as it traveled to new cultures, its principles are universal. Yoga is a practice of mind, body, breath, and spirit. The articles in the Cheat Sheet touch on the physical and mental benefits yoga offers, offer suggestions for how to enhance your yoga practice even when you’re on your own, and remind you why warming up is so important to any exercise routine — even one as “user-friendly” as yoga.

8 Ways Yoga Improves Your Physical Health

Yoga — and other types of mind-body fitness traditions — offer many benefits, both physical and mental. Some of these benefits have been documented by scientific research; some are purely anecdotal:

  • Reduces stress and anxiety: After several weeks, months, or even years of practicing one or more of these mind-body exercises, your stress may drop dramatically.

  • Improves posture and balance: Many mind-body fitness traditions, such as yoga, emphasize good posture, spinal alignment, and balance.

  • Develops strong, toned abs: You can get away with letting it all hang out in many regular fitness routines, but not in most mind-body methods. Tightening and strengthening your abdominals is what allows you to move correctly and to accomplish much of what certain methods prescribe.

  • Decreases low back pain: Discovering how to use your abdominal muscles, to stand straight, and to keep the right muscles flexible or strong can lead to less ouch in your lower back.

  • Increases flexibility: Many common aerobic exercises tighten you up, especially in muscles specifically required for that movement, because the workouts often involve repetition of some kind. You use the same muscles the same way every time. Yoga, on the other hand, emphasizes overall flexibility. Plus, yoga and other mind-body fitness traditions have more well-balanced and less repetitive programs than some traditional exercise programs.

  • Increases your strength: You may not be able to bench-press 350 pounds, but you’ll probably notice your muscle tone and strength increasing with regular yoga practice, especially with the more physical forms of yoga, such as Yoga with Weights and Power Yoga.

  • Strengthens your bones: Any weight-bearing activity — even the “softer” movements associated with many forms of yoga, where the weight you bear is your own — can help your bones stay strong. You don’t have to pound, pound, pound your body to keep brittle bones at bay.

  • Promotes healthier heart and lungs: Regular participation in mind-body exercise, even at a low-intensity, can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by improving your blood pressure, by improving your level of “good” cholesterol (HDL) and lowering your level of “bad” cholesterol (LDL), and by helping you take time out from tense moments in life.

6 Tricks That Help You Do Yoga on Your Own

If you’re the kind of person who likes to exercise on your own, or if you can’t find yoga instructors where you live, you face additional challenges when doing yoga routines because you don’t have an instructor there to provide guidance or encouragement. Here are some tips to help you on your way:

  • Take your time. Nobody gets it right the first time. Take your time to understand what you’re supposed to do in each exercise. Fortunately for you, yoga is an intuitive discipline. Nine times out of ten, you can “feel it” when you’re doing an exercise right. You can feel the muscle groups at work and understand how each exercise is supposed to challenge you.

  • Start with warm-ups. In a yoga class, instructors never neglect the warm-up phase of a workout, but people exercising at home often skip the warm-ups because they want to jump right in. Don’t.

  • Use a mirror. The first few times you do an exercise, do it slowly and watch yourself in the mirror. Try to make your reflection in the mirror look like the exercise photographs in whatever book you’re using.

  • Read the instructions carefully. You are your best teacher and guide. You have wisdom and intelligence within you, and you have to tap your inner resources. In the end, because no instructor can tell you whether you’re doing an exercise correctly, it’s up to you to understand how to do an exercise and get the most out of it. That means reading the instructions and studying the pictures more carefully than you would normally read an exercise book.

  • Record your voice reading the exercises aloud and play back the recording as you exercise. This gives you the illusion that you’re in an exercise class and spares you from having to interrupt an exercise to consult a book.

  • If you’re doing Yoga with weights, practice the exercises without the weights initially. Mastering many of the exercise forms is hard enough without having to lift the weights as well. After you understand how to do an exercise, strap on the ankle weights and grab the hand weights.

6 Reasons to Make Time for Warming Up

Warming up before you work out makes sense because it prepares your body for the upcoming activity. Here’s what happens to your body when you warm up:

  • You get your blood pumping. Blood flow through your muscles increases, which enhances the delivery of oxygen from your blood, and the speed of your nerve impulses increases. Both of these factors make your muscles work better.

  • You get your heart pumping. Your heart rate increases, which primes your cardiovascular system to handle the increased load from your workout.

  • You increase your body temperature. Your body and tissue temperature gently increase, which helps prevent injury by slowly increasing your body’s core temperature. That increase allows your blood pressure to stay regulated.

  • You loosen up your muscles. Muscular tension decreases, and your connective tissue has an enhanced ability to lengthen, which in turn enhances your performance and decreases the likelihood of injury.

  • You get into the right frame of mind. You slowly and gently ease into the right frame of mind for the exertion that comes with a good workout. This mindset prevents you from getting tired out or overdoing it, which can happen if you start out exercising too vigorously.

  • You reduce the risk of injury and improve your performance. When your body is primed and ready for the activity, you perform at a higher level and are less likely to hurt yourself.

If you don’t warm up, you increase the likelihood of the following:

  • Pulling a muscle because you’re stretching out “cold” and no blood or oxygen is circulating and flowing to the area

  • Becoming short of breath or dizzy because your heart rate increases too quickly

  • Injuring a joint because you launch into quick movements without first loosening up the surrounding tissue.

10 Maladies That Stretching Can Alleviate

Stretching can help create a balance between strength and flexibility, between opposing muscle groups, between your left and right side, and between your mind and body (that’s what’s meant by “mind-body connection”). Stretching can also help solve many of the mechanical problems that create discomfort.

Pain is your body’s way of telling you there’s a problem that needs to be fixed. In addition to all the tried-and-true methods of pain relief you’re used to — like warm soaks and ice-cold packs — consider stretching as a new, powerful tool in your pain relief arsenal. Instead of reaching for that bottle of anti-inflammatory medication first to mask the problem, try a stretch or two.

Stretching is only one tool in the battle against pain, so if any of these conditions persists for longer than a couple of days, consult your healthcare professional.

Following are ten signals from your body that parts of it may be out of balance:

  • Bursitis and/or tendonitis: Overuse injuries such as bursitis and tendonitis are the result of irritation within a joint that causes inflammation.

    Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa — a type of connective tissue that cushions tendons and helps prevent friction between the tendon and the bone. Bursitis can be caused by repetitive motion or by compression, such as when someone sleeps only on one side or wears tight shoes.

    Tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon, where the normal smooth gliding motion of the muscle disappears; it’s caused by excessive use of the tendon, which can lead to microscopic tears in the collagen that makes up the tendon. Either of these conditions can produce pain and swelling, and stretching exercises can help relieve pain, increase flexibility, and help regain functionality.

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful, progressive condition caused by compression of a key nerve in the wrist. Symptoms usually start gradually with pain, weakness, or numbness in the hand and wrist and then radiate up the arm. As symptoms worsen, people may feel tingling during the day, and decreased grip strength may make it difficult to form a fist, grasp small objects, or perform other manual tasks. Stretching can help strengthen your wrists and prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • Indigestion: The causes of indigestion are many, but the solutions are few. Stretching can enhance the digestive process by massaging the intestines and initiating muscular contractions in the abdominal area, both of which can help move things along in there. Stretching is very effective in helping to reduce stress, which in turn calms your stomach.

  • Insomnia: Insomnia is the chronic inability to fall asleep or remain asleep for an adequate length of time. In many cases, insomnia is a symptom of an underlying health problem, such as depression, chronic pain, sleep apnea, or other breathing disorders. But more often than not, insomnia is primarily stress related, and stretching can help alleviate stress.

  • Low back pain: Tight muscles in your hips, thighs, and buttocks can affect you and actually put so much strain and stress on your lower back that they cause lower back pain. Regular stretching is one solution that’s been proven effective.

  • Menstrual cramps: One of the most natural, effective methods of relieving menstrual cramps is to first apply heat from either a warm bath or heating pad and then to engage in some mild stretching.

  • Plantar fasciitis: Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of a band of fibrous tissue called the fascia that runs along the bottom of your foot from the heel to the ball of the foot, which is the plantar fascia. Stretching can help the ligaments become flexible, thus relieving pain.

    In the case of chronic irritation of this area, seek your doctor’s advice, which most likely may include rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medicine, arch supports, or taping.

  • Sciatica: Sciatica is pain along the sciatic nerve. The pain, usually caused by a herniated disk of the lumbar region of the spine, then radiates to the buttocks and to the back of the thigh. Sometimes sciatica is more broadly defined as pain in the lower back, buttocks, hips, or adjacent parts.

  • Stress: If stress is a constant harsh buzz of daily activity, think of stretching as a slow, quiet Sunday afternoon you can enjoy any time you want to relieve your stress. The methodical movements in a good flexibility program provide simple, easy activities as you position your body for the next stretch. And then the stretches are followed by periods of quiet stillness as you hold the stretch.

    Try concentrating fully on the muscles that you’re stretching. This focus helps block out any stray, stress-inducing thoughts. Also, the deep, regular breathing that’s so important to effective stretching helps oxygenate your blood, which produces a reduction in overall stress and anxiety.

  • Tension headaches: Tension headaches are caused by tight, knotted muscles in your shoulders, neck, scalp, and jaw. These aches tend to occur on both sides of your head and start at the back of your skull and spread forward. The pain is often dull or squeezing, like a tight band or vice. In addition, your shoulders, neck, or jaw may feel tight and sore. If you tend to get tension headaches, stretching your shoulders and neck helps relax and relieve the tension in your muscles before they cause the headache, and then you can attack the pain before it begins.