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How to do yoga
January 17, 2006
The first thing to say in an article about yoga is that, if you are a beginner, do not do it at home by yourself. First join a class, pick up some of the basic techniques and postures and then replicate them at home if you want to.
Most yoga instructors caution that you should let the innumerable books and videos that are now available about doing yoga at home be learning supplements rather than a sole resource.
Everyone knows nowadays that yoga can be a rigorous workout. Not only does it help you lose weight and become fitter, people have claimed it clears their minds, helps them concentrate and, if you are into that kind of thing, regulates their 'chi' or life energy, making them more vitalised.
Yoga is also great if you're pregnant; it'll keep you limber, and the deep breathing exercises will not only help during labour, but will also come in handy when you need to stay calm and not panic during the stress-ridden first six months of your baby's life.
The most popular kind of yoga today is Hatha Yoga, a broad category of yoga that uses physical postures -- this includes most kinds of yoga practised at the yoga centres and gyms that have sprung up all over the country.
Asanas, which are taught in Hatha Yoga, are only one 'limb' or part of yoga; the other seven are Yamas (restraints), Niyamas (observances), Pranayama (breathing), Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi.
By exploring the first seven parts of yoga, teachers say our attitude to the outside world changes, becomes more compassionate and more focussed, until soon we start to focus inwards until we reach Samadhi (enlightenment).
Spirituality aside, yoga is also a great way to get back into shape. You don't have to be of a particular age group, at a specific athletic level, or even very flexible to do yoga.
Flexibility will come with practice. You can choose to attend a yoga class according to the fitness level you are at (although, even if you are very fit, you should still start off with a beginners' level class to learn the basic postures).
Nischint (Nishi) Singh started doing yoga 18 years ago, after she was in a car accident. "I started doing yoga to regain my strength," she says, "Especially in my spine, since I was paralysed after the crash." Singh now teaches seven classes in New Delhi, "a mix," she says, "of toning and strengthening. My toning classes are a mix of Pilates and Callisthenics as well as yoga, but when it comes to strengthening, I stick with Iyengar yoga."
Iyengar yoga, named for yogi B K S Iyengar, emphasises body alignment, and holding set postures rather than flowing from one into another, as with most other types of yoga. It is a kind of Hatha Yoga, and uses props like blankets, blocks, pillows and chairs.
"One key asana I use is the Naukasan," says Singh. "This is where you have to lift up your arms, and your legs, and rest on your stomach." This asana, if done wrong, far from aligning your spine, could cause injury, which is why Singh stresses you shouldn't try it at home by yourself.
Singh also places a lot of emphasis on Pranayama, the technique of breathing. For instance, Suryabheda, in which you breathe through your right nostril and exhale through your left, energises you by activating, as Singh tells us, your chi and keeps it flowing. Kapalbhati is another breathing exercise Singh uses, that some say can help combat such ills as diabetes and asthma.
Other kinds of yoga are Ashtanga Yoga, a kind of 'power yoga' that consists of a series of asanas and can be quite physically demanding. Kundalini Yoga uses breathing techniques in conjunction with postures, and a more recent kind of yoga is Bikram Yoga, created by Bikram Choudhary, which is practiced in a hot room, based on the theory that heat can loosen muscles and cleanse through sweating.
If you are a beginner to yoga, you may want to start with a basic Hatha Yoga class, but of course as long as the instructor is experienced and willing to work with you, you can pick a beginners' class in any type of yoga -- just make sure that you have the positions down well before you attempt to do them at home.
Whether you're looking for a spiritual awakening or just want to feel good after a workout, whether you've got hours to spare every day or only 20 minutes in the morning (morning is the best time to do it anyway, since you should only do yoga on a relatively empty stomach for obvious reasons), give yoga a shot -- these deceptively simple postures could change your life in ways you won't expect.