Think of your yoga mat as a low-cost, low-key, portable gym that can meet your exercise and fitness needs. Yoga's benefits are many and well-known: improved flexibility, strength and balance, lower stress, boosts in energy and endorphin production, stimulation of organs and a calmer, clearer mind. A practice that requires no equipment and uses body weight for strength-building, yoga can be done anywhere so you can work in a healthy workout wherever you are.
Modified asanas are particularly helpful to deskbound office workers and students who spend hours sitting in front of a computer. "Yoga Journal" recommends four chair-supported poses to help keep you fit and fabulous in your sedentary life. (See Reference 3) Place one foot on a stable chair, balancing on the supporting leg as you relieve tension with a Standing Chair Twist. Hold the back of your chair lightly with one hand, standing tall, tightening your tummy and stretching your free arm skyward in Standing Crescent. Vary Mountain pose to counter rounded back and shoulders by clasping your arms low behind your back and away from your body in Standing Shoulder Stretch. Try Chair Warrior pose. Sit with one leg across the chair, that foot flat on the floor. Extend the other leg behind you as you push your arms strongly up.
Sun Salutations may be used as a warm-up to prepare for a varied yoga session. But you can treat the series of poses as a complete exercise routine to both stretch and strengthen your body. Perform poses rapidly in continuous flow multiple times to create a vigorous aerobic workout for cardiovascular health and calorie-burning. Hold the poses in a more contemplative way to work on balance, strengthening and stretching, and lower your stress levels. Breath deeply and evenly throughout the poses, avoiding jerky movements that will interrupt the energy flow and tire rather than energize you. (See Reference 5) "Yoga Journal" offers one basic Sun Salutation consisting of eight sequential poses -- each set repeated two to five times. (See Reference 1) Begin with Mountain pose followed by Upward Salute, Standing Forward Bend, Half-Standing Forward Bend, Plank, Four-Limbed Staff pose, Upward-Facing Dog, and Downward-Facing Dog. Conclude with a return to Half-Standing Forward Bend, Standing Forward-Bend, Upward Salute and Mountain pose as you repeat the sequence.
Yoga has hundreds of postures, but different systems and teachers use a select menu of poses to build sequences. Sivananda yoga recommends twelve basic postures to boost energy flow, stretch the spine, strengthen bones and enhance the immune and circulatory systems. (See Reference 4) Most of the poses are familiar to a yoga student and even a beginner can safely practice many of them. The poses include Triangle, Sitting and Standing Forward Bends, Cobra, Bow, Plow, Fish, Locust, Spinal Twist, Peacock, Shoulder Stand and Headstand. Those moves cover standing, sitting, twisting, forward and back bending, arm balances and inversions. If you add relaxing poses like Child and Corpse poses and begin a session with one or more Sun Salutations, you can build a balanced practice, working up to more advanced poses like Headstand and Shoulder Stand.
Breathing is non-negotiable exercise, so you may as well get the most from it. Yoga breathing, Pranayama, affects your vital energy and improves general health and mental clarity. It is a powerful but subtle practice consisting of several exercises in which you observe, control and retain inhalations and exhalations. Pranayama is best learned from a certified teacher. Kapalabhati, known as the Breath of Fire, and Nadi Shodhana, Alternate Nostril Breathing, are advanced techniques for experienced students.(See Reference 5) But basic Pranayama is a challenging exercise that confers mental and physical benefits. Begin with Samavritti, to even out your breathing pattern and observe how efficiently you fill your lungs. (See Reference 2) Progress to Ujjayi, Victorious Breath, learning to inhale and exhale with a slight closure at the base of your throat. Finally, master Kumbhaka, Breath Retention, an exercise in which you hold your breath briefly on the inhale and the exhale.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .