You don’t need to take classes, devote countless hours or spend lots of money to get the most out of this ancient practice.
By Christine Yu
Several times a day, the alarm on Erica R.’s phone rings, prompting her to stop working and retreat to a corner of her home jewelry studio.
There, she takes a sip of water and moves through a few yoga poses before returning to work.
The exercise allows Erica to stretch her muscles, tense from sitting and engraving jewelry all day for her company.
“I find that I always lean my body a certain way that takes a toll on my neck and back. If I don’t take a minute to stretch, I’m in pain by the end of the day,” says Erica, of Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.
Erica’s few minutes on her yoga mat are more than just a physical break, however. They’re an opportunity to mentally check-in, too.
“Yoga is a way for me to connect, breathe, and sort out my thoughts. Otherwise, I would be a jumbled mess.”
When it comes her yoga practice, freelance writer and blogger Carla B. also firmly believes in doing what you can, when you can.
“I’ve found that yoga more profoundly touches my life when I stop, drop, and do it on my own spontaneously,” she says.
Anytime Carla reaches a mental roadblock or feels frustration mounting, she moves her chair aside and stretches in her home office.
“Slowly flowing and turning inward for a few rounds of sun salutations”—a sequence of flowing yoga poses—“really shifts my mindset and resparks my creativity,” says Carla, who lives in Austin, Texas.
Carla has even been known to strike a pose when walking her dog. As her Goldendoodle sniffs about, she digs her toes in the grass and moves. “I really do feel all my stress fall away. I think it’s the combination of yoga reminding my body it can relax and the grounding feeling of being outside.”
Erica and Carla know they don’t need to attend a formal class or twist themselves into pretzels to reap the physical and mental benefits of yoga.
All they need is some free space and a few free minutes.
“Yoga can be done anywhere by anyone, no matter your athletic ability,” says yoga instructor Taylor H., who teaches around the world and on the website YogaGlo.com.
“Yoga can be done anywhere by anyone, no matter your athletic ability,”
“No matter where you can fit it in, work to create a routine that you actually look forward to, and it will be easier and less forced,” he adds.
What’s more, taking this practical approach to your practice may help you stick with it over the long haul.
Fitting in your inner zen
It’s no secret that yoga offers numerous science-backed benefits.
“Yoga is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health,” says Sally Powis-Campbell, a Calgary-based registered psychologist and yoga instructor. Studies have shown it to lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and even help you sleep better. Researchers found that yoga may improve brain health, too: think working memory and mental flexibility.
Yoga helps us relax by downshifting our body’s fight-or-flight instincts and activating our parasympathetic nervous system, according to Powis-Campbell. It’s like pressing reset on your brain.
But don’t we need to spend all of our spare time in downward-facing dog to experience these dramatic shifts?
The experts tell us no.
“If you look at the yoga practice, there are three components: stretching, breathing exercises, and meditation,” says Powis-Campbell. “You can do all of those things in one class or break them down, make them more informal, and fit them in throughout the day.”
“If you look at the yoga practice, there are three components: stretching, breathing exercises, and meditation,”
That’s Erica’s strategy. Since moving to Pennsylvania and becoming a mother, she has less time to commute to a yoga studio. So, she started bringing her practice into her home.
“I’m going to fit it in however I’m going to fit it in,” she says.
And if it’s only five minutes?
“At least I did those five minutes,” she says. Even the briefest of practices is restorative, she maintains.
Like Erica, Kara T., 41, had to figure out how to fit yoga into already jam-packed days.
“Where I live, we don’t have a ton of options of where and when to go,” she says. “Plus, it’s expensive to take drop-in classes.”
So, the teacher from Hollywood, Maryland, made it part of her classroom schedule instead.
At least two times a day, she and her fourth graders break from the books to breathe and stretch. For five to ten minutes, they hold a variety of classic yoga poses, including child’s pose, warrior, and pigeon.
“Doing this allows me to tune into my students and have a quiet moment together as a class,” she says. “I get my yoga, and the kids benefit.” And how: Kara has noticed that even small doses of yoga improve her students’ focus.
“The end game of yoga is to meditate and clear your mind so you can be present in your life,” notes Christine Chen, certified yoga teacher and author of Happy-Go-Yoga: Simple Poses to Relieve Pain, Reduce Stress, and Add Joy.
“Instead of your head spinning like crazy, you learn to take it one breath at a time. When you’re not reacting, you think about what you’re doing and are able to make good choices.”
A little goes a long way
Of course, like any other activity, the more you practice, the more proficient you become. But a rewarding yoga practice doesn’t have to last 75 minutes, and it doesn’t have to take place within the walls of a dedicated yoga studio.
“You can practice a few minutes each day, when you have the time. Odds are, you’ll begin to notice the benefits,” Taylor says.
In fact, science is starting to show us that short yoga practices can produce impressive results.
For example, a recently released 10-year study of more than 700 participants found that just a 12-minute sequence of particular yoga poses helped raise bone mineral density and prevent osteoporosis among those who completed it daily or at least every other day.
In another study based on more than 1,000 survey responses, researchers from the University of Maryland found that the frequency of practicing at home predicted health better—including better sense of well-being, food choices, body mass index, sleep, and mindfulness—than how many years the respondents had practiced or how often they attended yoga class.
Frank V. first rolled out his mat four years ago to improve his flexibility for rock climbing. While yoga has increased his range of motion—he’s now climbing three grade levels higher and has less low back pain— the Chicagoan finds that starting most days with a few sun salutations also helps him feel more centered and relaxed.
“It’s the first time in my life,” he says, “that I’ve found a routine that soothes my being versus just my exterior and physical body.”
If you’re new to yoga, don’t fret. You don’t need to be a hardcore yogi or uber-flexible to practice yoga on-the-go.
“Most people practice a little bit of yoga without even knowing it,” Taylor points out. “Ever been stressed out and made yourself close your eyes, relax your shoulders, and let out a big sigh? That’s yoga!”
“Most people practice a little bit of yoga without even knowing it,”
Chen recommends starting small and building on your foundation. “Then you can increase the time and complexity of your practice,” she says.
Online yoga classes and apps allow you to experiment anytime, anyplace. Try beginner-friendly (and free) YouTube channels like Yoga with Adriene and Fightmaster Yoga, or low-cost streaming services like YogaGlo.com or Gaia.com.
If you’re a newbie, consider taking advantage of beginner classes or workshops at a nearby yoga studio. During these slower-moving sessions, teachers break down poses and answer questions. A bonus: Many studios offer new-student specials, so you can learn the basics without making a big investment, and then incorporate these poses into your daily routine.
You don’t need a lot of space to practice—just an uncluttered corner. Add candles if you like, the music of your choice, or practice in silence—it’s up to you!
Regardless of whether you manage to squeeze in a few minutes of yoga a day or dedicate a full hour to it, this ancient practice is an ideal way to help you cope with the challenges of modern living, experts contend.
“You’re not going to stretch once a day and lose 50 pounds, nor will all of your troubles disappear after one yoga class,” notes Taylor.
“However, by learning more about yourself—such as the ways you tend to react, where you hold tension, or maybe that your tight hamstrings are causing other aches throughout your body—you’ll quickly begin to deepen your understanding of your own physical and mental landscape.”
Five ways to find your flow
Try these simple approaches to incorporate small doses of yoga into your day.
1. Rise—and shine
Wake up 15 minutes earlier and move through a few sun salutations to get your blood pumping. “It sets the tone for the day,” says Powis-Campbell. “You’re not starting the day in a stressed state and with someone else’s to-do list. You’re making yourself a priority.” Check out Yoga with Adriene’s 10-minute sun salutation practice on YouTube for pointers on this sequence.
2. Walk your dogs
Many yoga practitioners peddle out their feet in downward-facing dog to stretch out their hamstrings, calf muscles, and feet. But you can accomplish the same thing while you’re sitting on the train, in a meeting—anywhere. Simply flex one foot, drawing your toes toward your shin. At the same time, press the opposite foot into the ground. Hold for one full breath, slowly switch sides, and repeat.
3. Stretch your spine
At the doctor’s office or your kid’s sports practice with nothing to do? Ease your creaky back with this seated version of cat-cow pose. Sit upright and place your hands on your hips. Inhale and lift your chest upwards. Exhale and tuck your chin to your chest, pulling your belly button in as you gently fold over. Repeat several times.
4. Give yourself reminders
Set your smartphone or smartwatch alarm to remind yourself to stand up, stretch, and take a few breaths, Taylor recommends. Use this time to counteract the hours you may sit crumpled in a chair. For example, stand up and reach your arms to the ceiling, a simple variation of the upward salute pose. Hips tight? Sit at the edge of your chair and place your right ankle over your left knee. Apply gentle pressure with your forearms on your shin to open your hip.
5. Breathe like a baby
If there’s one thing Chen recommends to reduce stress, it’s the simple act of breathing. “Breathing in and out of the nose and letting the belly move like a baby can really help the nervous system calm down,” she says. It’s also a chance to check in with your thoughts, notes Powis-Campbell. Sneak in a few deep breaths while your coffee brews. Or, the next time your phone sounds with a new text message, take three intentional breaths before picking it up.
Printed as “OM On the Go” Spring 2017
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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