Yoga can benefit anyone looking to develop flexibility, strength and serenity. Here’s how you can get started.
TEXT: MELODY TAN
IMAGES: HOMETEAMNS, SHUTTERSTOCK
If you think yoga is only for the young and flexible, think again. These days, people of all ages and fitness levels are up for its physical and mental benefits, including top football players like Ryan Giggs (who released a yoga DVD), Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
It’s a growing trend all over the world, including in Singapore, which has seen numerous studios set up shop and a profusion of different styles to suit every preference: hot yoga, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and even yoga blended with high-intensity interval training.
Whether you’re a gym addict or a couch potato, yoga is accessible, relaxing, and easy to incorporate into your lifestyle – and you don’t even have to squeeze yourself into leggings (unless you want to). Here are some of its benefits, and how you can try it out for yourself.
STRETCHING TOWARDS A STRONGER, HEALTHIER BODY
All that stretching and posing helps to build and tone muscles. After all, it takes real physical effort to hold a plank pose or a dolphin push-up.
When it comes to strengthening your back muscles specifically, it’s yoga’s time in the spotlight. Many poses hone the spine’s flexibility and strength, providing increased blood flow to spinal muscles and encouraging growth. Studies have even shown that Hatha yoga can assist with spinal cord injury recovery – although if you have an existing back issue and want to take up a new form of exercise, it’s always best to check with a doctor first.
But what if you’re looking to bulk up? According to research, it can be combined with your existing weight-training routine to improve muscular strength, through relying on exercise science principles. These include progressive overload (going through different poses to place tension on your muscles), mechanical damage (holding poses for longer periods) and metabolic stress, which occurs when you engage in more challenging poses.
Professional athletes in sports ranging from basketball to American football have attested to yoga’s ability to extend their careers and assist in rehabilitating injuries. But you don’t have to be a National Basketball Association star to enjoy the benefits. In a study of male college athletes, it was found that regular yoga practice increased flexibility and balance, and could potentially optimise athletic performance, with positive health outcomes that included lower blood pressure, enhanced muscle torque, handgrip strength, and delayed muscle soreness.
Another major benefit is pain relief. Yoga has been shown to help numerous chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis, migraine, lower back pain, and osteoporosis-related curvature of the spine. According to studies, it helped to improve sufferers’ mobility and daily function.
A MEDITATIVE MINDSET
Slow and calming hatha yoga and nidra yoga can calm your mind and help you to focus on your breathing, instead of chasing anxious, jittery thoughts. In a study of insomniac elderly, twice-weekly yoga classes and daily home sessions were found to improve sleep duration and quality.
Yogic breathing, known as Pranayama, has long been thought to have health benefits. The controlled breathing techniques in yoga are said to reduce stress, improve concentration and focus, and even boost one’s immune system. Some studies have even found that breathing practices can help dispel symptoms of mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder, and depression.
Absent-minded people can benefit as well. (Just make sure to remember what time your class starts.) In an experiment conducted by a professor at an American university, participants of a single 20-minute yoga session displayed improved speed and accuracy on tests of their memory and inhibitory control. Overall, they were better able to maintain cognitive focus, as well as learn and remember new information.
GETTING INTO YOGA
If you want to give yoga a go, don’t feel compelled to rush out and purchase brand new gear. All you need to start is loose, comfortable clothing and a yoga mat, which offers a safe, non-slip and cushioned surface to practise your poses.
Any flat, empty space can be used – your balcony, living room or bedroom floor are all suitable surfaces for your mat. Once you’re set up, you can rely on YouTube tutorials or other online resources for a beginner’s guide to basic yoga poses, such as the child’s pose, downward-facing dog, and tree pose.
However, part of yoga’s appeal lies in its sense of community. Working out with others can help to motivate you and keep you going, even when your muscles are burning. Attending a class is a great way to make new, like-minded friends as well.
HomeTeamNS makes yoga affordable, accessible, and fun, with regular classes across the island. Stretch it out in hatha yoga at HomeTeamNS Khatib, Balestier and Bukit Batok, or find balance through yin yang yoga at HomeTeamNS Bukit Batok. Check out the available classes here – and get ready to move into a healthier body and mind.