If you are thinking about starting a wellness program in 2013, chances are pretty good that you are considering some sort of exercise as a part of that program. Once you make that decision, the next step is deciding which type of exercise is right for you. What will you enjoy doing so it doesn’t seem so much like work? If you don’t enjoy the exercise you do, it will be pretty hard to keep the effort up in the long run.
I have to admit that I’ve had an exercise program for years. Since I was never very athletic as a child, I was never comfortable in team sport situations. In fact, I avoided physical activity as much as possible. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I discovered the benefits of cardio, and from then I was hooked. Now I practice a daily cardio workout along with weekly strength training. Although I felt I was covering all the bases, I still felt a piece was missing from my program.
About two years ago I rediscovered yoga. I had toyed with it as a child when I would see the programs on PBS (no longer a part of the lineup!), but never stuck with it. Let’s face it, it can be really hard to keep any momentum going when you are the only one practicing in your living room, especially when you are nine years old. So I let it slide until a particularly stressful time in my corporate life.
We all know that exercise is a great stress buster, but my program didn’t seem to be doing much good to keep me calm. I had heard about the benefits of yoga, so I decided to revisit the possibilities. Now, I have to say that I was a little skeptical. My idea of a good workout involves an increased heart rate and a lot of sweat. How hard could a yoga class be? After one class I had my answer, and yoga has been a part of my wellness program ever since.
There are many reasons to practice yoga. One of the first to come to mind is flexibility. As we age, it is vital that we maintain a supple body. Obviously yoga involves a variety of stretching postures that can target all parts of the body. Greater flexibility also means greater mobility and balance–two more things most of us hope to maintain as we age.
Practicing yoga improves endurance. It may not look like much (okay certain poses-or asanas–look pretty impressive), but staying in warrior pose for any length of time can really push up the heart rate. I have long since given up the idea that I shouldn’t sweat in a yoga class. After ten minutes on the mat I am reaching for my towel so I can personally attest to the fact that yoga is one heck of a work out.
There are a couple of other reasons you may want to explore yoga as an exercise and wellness choice. Perhaps one of the most important is the calming effect yoga has on the mind. The practice is designed to help the mind find stillness–blocking out extraneous thoughts and focusing on the postures along with what the body and breath are doing. Many people find it to be the ultimate mindfulness exercise. At its core, yoga is about the integration of mind, body, and spirit. Once you are in the flow of a practice, you can actually concentrate on what the body needs. The worries of the day fade away and you are truly in the moment. It is a deeply peaceful yet exhilarating feeling.
Another reason to consider a yoga class is the sense of community it provides. As I mentioned earlier, I am in no way comfortable with team sports. Originally I was apprehensive about actually going to a class. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others in class, or so I thought. But in fact, I found that just the opposite was true. The yoga community is a very supportive and caring network. No matter how competitive you may be, comparison during class is just not part of the picture. The focus is on what your body can do in the moment–not how you did a posture yesterday,how you will do it tomorrow, or feel it should be done today. And certainly not what the person on the next mat is doing. A yoga class is one of the few places where you are accepted for who you are–without judgement. That doesn’t happen very often in this society.
Of course, the yoga studio you chose will have a lot to do with the experience you have. I find that I enjoy local studios rather than classes in a franchise or health club. Local studios usually have smaller classes, and there is more personal attention during class. With smaller groups a stronger bond develops over time, which strengthens the yogic support network. For instance, when I am in Napa I attend Ubuntu Yoga, a small organic studio in downtown Napa. The staff and the fellow yogis provide a sense of community and support that is so vital to overall wellness.
It may sound odd, but the type of exercise a person choses is a very personal thing. Yoga provides both physical and mental benefits that are so necessary to function well in today’s fast-paced world. There is really nothing like the sense of tranquility that comes after a practice, and that tranquility spills over into my daily life. My partner sometimes even wonders what happened to the high-strung stress puppy he met sixteen years ago.
So if you are thinking about improving your health and wellness in 2013, consider yoga as a part of your wellness program. You may find that your time on the mat is one of the highlights of your week. And enjoyment will play a big part in establishing and maintaining a consistent and healthy long-term exercise program.