The beginner’s guide to yoga: your complete do-anywhere program to get stronger, leaner and less stressed – Shape in Balance
The face of fitness has changed, and so have you Joining the mainstays of strength and cardio training in every gym, yoga is staunchly on the fitness schedule, and a recent Shape reader survey revealed that it’s also one of your favorite ways to work out. Yoga can burn considerable calories and get you strong, toned and flexible, says Sara Ivanhoe (pictured in all of the moves in this exclusive pullout poster), president of Yoganation.com and an instructor on multiple yoga videos, including Basic Yoga Workout for Dummies (Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2001). With regular practice, yoga also can boost your mood and give you more energy and a overal glow. Here, Ivanhoe presents 12 basic poses you’ll do in virtually any yoga class, while our “insider’s guide” outlines everything a true yogini needs to know. So what are you waiting for? Grab your sticky mat and strike a pose.
The first six poses comprise the sun salutation. (See back of poster for more details.)
1. Mountain pose Stand erect with big toes together, heels slightly apart, legs straight, arms hanging at sides, palms in.
2. Forward bend Bend knees, flexing forward at hips, folding torso over thighs. Hang with head and neck toward ground and aligned with spine, fingers touching the ground (if possible, place hands flat on ground).
3. Low lunge With hands flat on ground, wrists in line with shoulders on outsides of feet, arms straight, step backward with one foot, placing back knee and toes on ground. Bend front knee in line with ankle. Raise arms overhead, forearms parallel or palms together.
4. Plank pose From low lunge, lower hands to the ground on each side of front foot, lift back knee off ground and step backward with front foot so you are balanced on the balls of your feet, legs straight, ankles together. Drop hips until body is parallel to ground. Maintain plank position and bend elbows, keeping them close to sides, lowering body toward ground without rounding shoulders, lifting butt or letting hips sag.
5. Cobra Ease lower body onto ground, elbows in line with shoulders, hands on ground. Straighten arms and lift chest as if to pull torso forward; keep spine long and hipbones as close to ground as possible to support lower back.
6. Downward-facing dog Turn feet flat, press hands into ground, straightening arms and legs and lifting hips up in an inverted V. Bring feet closer to hands if necessary so heels move toward ground; extend spine by pressing thighs back and chest toward ground.
7. Chair Standing with feet hip-width apart, knees in fine with ankles, bend both knees, sinking back into heels as if sitting in a chair. Raise arms overhead, forearms parallel or palms together.
8. Warrior I From mountain pose, step one foot back about 3 1/2-4 feet, turning it outward 30-45 degrees. Keep front foot pointing straight ahead, squaring hips. Bend front knee over ankle, keeping back leg straight. Raise arms overhead, forearms parallel or palms together. Lower hands to hips, turn rear foot so toes are pointing straight ahead, and step forward; repeat on other side.
9. Warrior II From mountain pose, step feet apart about 3 1/2-4 feet, turning right foot outward 30-45 degrees. Keep left foot pointed forward and square hips. Bend left knee to align over left ankle, keeping right leg straight and torso centered. Lift arms up to shoulder height, palms down, arms “active” (as if reaching for opposite walls). Gaze over middle fingers of left hand. Keep arms lifted, reverse feet and repeat pose on other side.
10. Triangle pose From mountain pose, step back about 3 1/2-4 feet with right foot, turning it outward 30-45 degrees. Turn right to face sideways, squaring hips, and lift arms to shoulder height, palms down. Exhale and shift hips over left leg, rotating right hip open so torso bends sideways, almost parallel to the ground. Raise right arm overhead, placing left hand on shin (or on ground behind left heel if you can); look up at right hand. Inhale, lifting torso back to an upright position, turn feet and repeat pose on other side.
11. Tree From mountain pose, place sole of right foot firmly against the center of your left thigh (use hands to assist if necessary), opening right leg. (Place foot against calf or ankle if thigh is too challenging.) Place palms together, thumbs touching breastbone, or raise arms overhead. Hold, then lower and repeat with opposite leg.
12. Seated twist Sit on ground with left leg extended, bending right knee and placing right foot on ground on the inside of your left knee. Place right hand behind you, and left hand on the outside of right thigh, hugging leg toward you. In hale, then exhale and rotate torso to the right. Release, change legs and repeat on other side.
RELATED ARTICLE: fine-tune your form and avoid injury
Though the asanas (or poses) have alignment specifics, each takes on a personal, noncompetitive shape based on your experience. Go at your own pace, making small adjustments that attune to your mood, level and physical ability. Each pose should be comfortable and pleasantly challenging–not painful. The majority of injuries happen while transitioning to or from poses, not while actually in them, so move gently in and out of postures, especially alter holding them, using the breath to move deeper or to come out of a pose. Here are six tips on alignment that will help you perfect your practice.
Feet Toes should be open and spread like tentacles.
Knees For all bent-leg poses, the front knee should be in the same line as the second or third toe, the shin perpendicular to the ground and in line with the ankle.
Legs For all straight-legged poses, your limbs should be fully extended without any forced locking of the knees. “Pull up” on the knee by lifting your thigh muscles.
Torso Keep breastbone lifted, collarbone “wide,” rib cage flat without thrusting it forward, shoulder blades dropped downward and together, shoulders relaxed. Use your abdominals to stabilize your spine, your legs to stabilize your belly.
Hands and arms When your hands are on the floor, balance your body weight over the entire hand without collapsing the torso. Arms should be extended, not locked, and used for balance to help extend through the shoulders with shoulders relaxed.
Head and neck Let your head “float” naturally on top of the spine, neck long; avoid using your neck muscles to do all the work. Allow your jaw and forehead to relax.
HOW IT WORKS This program features 12 fundamental yoga poses, or postures (called asanas). The first 6 are done several times in sequence to warm up your body. Poses 7-11 are done individually to improve muscle strength, flexibility and balance. Pose 12 leads you into the cool-down and relaxation mode. WORKOUT GUIDELINES Start by doing poses 1-6, in order (called the sun salutation), repeating the sequence 3-5 times as your warm-up. (See “The Sun Salutation Sequence,” at right, for detailed instructions on technique, including proper breathing.) Next perform postures 7-11, holding each pose for 3-6 breaths (on each side, where applicable), progressing up to 10 breaths. Complete your practice with pose 12 and the cool-down.
COOL-DOWN Following each session, relax and rebalance your muscles in corpse pose: Lie on your back, letting feet fall open, arms relaxed at sides, palms up. Breathe deeply, inhaling and exhaling down into your belly, expanding and closing your rib cage with each breath.
TO PROGRESS Keep increasing the number of breaths during which you hold each posture, move more quickly from one posture to the next (as with the sun salutation), or increase the strength or flexibility challenge of each posture by moving the body/limbs further in one direction or another. (For example, on tree pose, bring your bent leg higher up on your support leg, or on triangle, bring your hand farther down your shin.)
WORKOUT SCHEDULE Do this program 3-6 times a week, or try doing the sun salutation as a daily energizer. To round out your fitness program, aim to include 2 days of strength and 3 days of cardio training per week. Choose a cardio activity that allows you to focus on your breathing and zone Into your own rhythmic groove, such as cycling. WHAT YOU NEED A sticky mat or nonslippery surface, comfortable clothing and bare feet.
insider’s guide to yoga
yoga types techniques and terminology
Hatha yoga is the most widely practiced form of physical yoga in the United States, under which many other types are grouped. Some of the popular hatha derivatives, such as ashtanga (upon which “power yoga” is based) and viniyoga, are movement and breath oriented and can offer a significant challenge. Iyengar strives for precise form, using props like chairs or blocks and holding positions for longer periods of time. Bikram, also known as “hot yoga,” encompasses a demanding set sequence in a 90-degree-plus heated room. (Use caution and drink plenty of water if you do Bikram.) Forms such as kundalini and tantra focus on energy, breath work and stress release more than on the postures themselves.
Asanas are the postures, or poses, and there are thousands, many with modifications suited to skill level. The purposes of the asanas vary; they may develop strength and endurance, increase flexibility, improve posture, align the body and/or release stress and tension.
Asanas can be performed vigorously (ashtanga style) to generate internal heat or gently to promote relaxation (restorative yoga). They can be performed flow style in a sequence, or vinyasa-krama (as in viniyoga), that is, held statically. Props sometimes are used to achieve better form (as in Iyengar).
In yoga, pranayama, or breath control, is essential. Traditional yogic breathing, initiated through your nose, is called ujjayi, characterized by an audible sound coming from the back of your throat, as if you were saying “ha” with your mouth closed. To produce: First inhale–filling lungs, rib cage and belly–then exhale rhythmically. Continue to use ujjayi to move deeper into a pose and also to move in and out of a pose. Don’t rush; keep both inhale and exhale even.
the sun salutation sequence
To perform the sun salutation, start in mountain pose : Inhale; sweep arms straight overhead, touching palms or keeping arms slightly apart and parallel. Exhale, bending at hips to a forward bend , legs straight or slightly bent, fingertips touching ground. Inhale and look forward, elongating spine so it’s straight. Exhale and step back with left foot into a low lunge . In hale in the lunge, raising arms straight overhead. Exhale and bend forward, placing hands on each side of right foot. Inhale and step back with right foot to place feet together in plank pose . Exhale and, bending elbows close to sides, ease lower body to ground, then inhale, pressing upper torso up off ground to cobra . Exhale, lowering torso to ground. Inhale, turning feet flat, then exhale, lifting hips up to downwardfacing dog . Inhale, bringing left leg forward into low lunge [3, on opposite leg], raising arms straight overhead. Exhale, bring hands to ground on each side of left foot, then inhale, bringing right leg forward; straighten legs to forward bend . Exhale deeper into bend. Inhale and return to mountain pose . Exhale, release arms to sides and repeat, leading with opposite leg into the lunge.
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