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Cheat Sheet

Yoga For Dummies

From Yoga For Dummies, 3rd Edition by Larry Payne, Georg Feuerstein

Yoga is an ancient practice that still provides numerous benefits today to the people who practice it regularly. Some people are scared off by certain myths they’ve heard about Yoga, but in truth, there’s no reason why anyone can’t and shouldn’t practice it. If you’re new to Yoga, finding a class and a teacher that fits your needs is crucial. After that, you need to make sure you’re doing all you can to make your Yoga practice as successful and beneficial as it can be.

Debunking Yoga Myths

Many myths and misconceptions surround Yoga and Yoga practice, scaring off many would-be practitioners. The following list debunks some of those myths and gives you the real story so you can confidently add Yoga to your day.

  • Yoga is only for double-jointed people. Yoga is for everyone, and you can tailor it to your individual needs. Yoga doesn't require you to turn into a pretzel.

  • Yoga is a religion. Yoga is a philosophy with a toolkit of various practices that, when implemented, can calm the fluctuations of the mind. Yoga philosophy stems from a system that predates Hinduism and also influenced Hinduism, thus the similarities. But whereas Hinduism is a religion, Yoga is not; it's practiced by people of many religions and others who are fully secular.

  • Yoga is only for South Asian people. Yoga originated in the East (India, to be precise), but it's universally applicable. Besides, many of its practices have been modified to suit contemporary Western needs and tastes. Yoga even comes recommended by knowledgeable physicians around the world because of its great restorative power.

  • Yoga is just a bunch of mindless exercises. The popular image of Yoga as gymnastics is wrong. The physical exercises form only a part of its comprehensive approach. And the exercises are far from mindless — they call for both focus and mindfulness.

  • Yoga is only for weaklings. Yoga favors a gentle approach, but its advanced postures call for considerable strength and stamina. Many athletes complement their other forms of exercise with Yoga.

  • You can't gain muscle strength through Yoga. Yoga has a whole range of postures that help strengthen your chest, back, stomach, arm, and leg muscles. Take a look at advanced practitioners; their muscular strength and development may surprise you. In addition to improving your strength, Yoga can help you combat stress and keep you generally fit.

  • You need a guru to do Yoga. If you couldn't try out some basic Yoga exercises by yourself, Yoga publishers wouldn't do the business they do. Consulting with a Yoga teacher or instructor can be helpful, but a guru is necessary only when you want to engage in Yoga as a full-fledged spiritual practice.

  • Yoga requires you to believe in all kinds of strange ideas. Yoga is based on universal principles shared by many other systems that have a holistic orientation to life. The fundamental approach of Yoga is for you to test those principles and find out for yourself whether they work for you. You either find them useful or you don't, but no belief in bizarre ideas is necessary.

  • People older than 50 can't learn Yoga. Yoga is for people of all ages. Some people start in their 70s and 80s. It's never too late — or early — to start practicing Yoga.

  • Yoga can offer only a handful of exercises. Yoga has a vast repertoire of postures, and Yoga teachers are constantly adding new variations to refine the system and make it suitable for the widest range of people possible.

  • You can practice Yoga once a month and achieve good results. As with any other exercise system, you get out of Yoga what you put into it. Regular daily Yoga practice gives the best results, but rest assured that a little effort does go a long way.

Finding the Right Yoga Class for You

Starting anything new can feel overwhelming, but choosing the Yoga class that fits you is easy when you take time to evaluate your Yoga needs. So how do you know the right class when you see it?

When you visit a Yoga center or classroom, pay attention to your intuitive feelings about the place. Consider how the staff treats you and how you respond to the people attending class. Stroll around the facility and feel its overall energy. First impressions are often (although not always) accurate.

When checking out a potential class to join, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the classroom's atmosphere calming and inviting?

  • What's my gut response to the teacher?

  • Do I want a male or female teacher?

  • Does the teacher have at least 200 hours of training from an accredited school, or the equivalent from a well-respected master teacher?

  • Does the teacher inspire trust for students' safety as they practice?

  • Does the class provide an appropriate amount of intensity and challenge for my fitness level?

  • Does the teacher or school have a good reputation?

  • How do I respond to other students?

  • How big are the classes, and can I get proper individual attention from the teacher?

  • Would I be happy coming here regularly?

  • Do I feel better after the class than I did before the class?

  • Can I afford the classes?

Examining Keys to a Successful Yoga Practice

Yoga enthusiasts come to the mat seeking a variety of rewards: to gain strength, increase flexibility, manage stress, or adopt a more peaceful way of life. Whatever your reasons for turning to Yoga, you want keep a few considerations in mind to get off to a good start.

  • Set clear goals for yourself. Decide exactly what you want to accomplish (flexibility, fitness, better health, inner peace, and so on).

  • Make a realistic commitment. Promising yourself you'll practice for an hour every day sounds great, but it doesn't do you any good if you can't reasonably maintain that schedule. Just 15 minutes a day is a great start.

  • Get your physician's approval. If you have a health challenge or are pregnant, be sure to consult a physician before embarking on a Yoga practice program. Familiarize your physician with the specific kind of Yoga you intend to practice. He may caution you away from certain forms of practice and steer you toward others. If your physician is unfamiliar with Yoga, consider showing him a copy of this book.

  • Enjoy gentle Yoga. You don't need to compete with yourself or anyone else. Allow Yoga to gently unfold the potential of your body and your mind. Don't overdo the physical part of the practice. Keep the enjoyment factor high.

  • Keep a practice journal. Chronicle your experience with Yoga, and periodically read through your journal to see the progress you've made. Progress is the best motivator.

  • Create a support system for yourself. Most people find immediate rewards when they get on the Yoga mat and start moving and breathing, but getting themselves to the mat or the class can be challenging. Allow yourself to feel motivated and inspired by fellow practitioners. If you prefer to practice on your own at home, you may still want to consider participating in a Yoga class occasionally, if only to get feedback or find encouragement.

  • Vary your program periodically. Even the best program can get boring. Prevent your enthusiasm from flagging by changing your routine occasionally. Trying out different teachers is a great way to learn new postures and sequences.

  • Educate yourself. Continue to learn about Yoga, to make your Yoga practice more meaningful. Books, magazines, and websites on Yoga abound. With the Internet, getting access to the great Yoga teachers and thinkers is even easier. Take the time to read and study, and you'll be pleasantly surprised by the depth you can discover in Yoga.

  • Have a role model to inspire you. Everyone needs ideals. You don't need to worship a hero, but having someone to look up to who, in your eyes, has succeeded and whom you find inspiring is always a good idea.

  • Be a Yoga enthusiast, but not a bore. By all means, be enthusiastic about your Yoga practice, but know that not everyone shares your enthusiasm, including the dearest members of your family. Yoga's positive effect on your body and mind is the best advertising; let those effects speak for themselves instead of annoying your family and friends with constant talk of Yoga.

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