Well Being: New to yoga? Here’s all you need to know

Ahead of International Yoga Day, enlighten yourself to have a deeper, more satisfying yoga experience.

yoga posture
Although it originated in India thousands of years ago, yoga has been an international phenomenon.

By Shubhangi Shah

The Covid-19 experience for 23-year-old Mansi (name changed) has been different from her peers. As the virus brought things to a shrieking halt with health scare driving anxiety to a threshold, the management graduate decided to turn inwards. “With everything closed, there was nothing much to do,” she said. “While everyone appeared trying something new, some exploring old talents and showcasing to the world through social media, some whipping dalgona coffee and making banana bread, while others taking up mundane tasks like cooking and cleaning, I took up yoga,” she says. The idea was to indulge in an activity that helps her body and the mind, but with the pandemic raging, she found no classes or teachers to turn to. So she turned online. Much to her surprise, she found classes not just by Indian teachers but non-Indians as well. After trying out multiple teachers, she settled for one from Canada “whose classes were easiest to follow”. Two years on, “I’ve been so much better both physically and mentally,” the 23-year-old adds.

Although it originated in India thousands of years ago, yoga has been an international phenomenon. While many yoga gurus preached it abroad, many from outside came to India to learn this ancient physical-mental and spiritual practice. Because of its international appeal, the United Nations in 2014 declared June 21 as International Day of Yoga. The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Yoga for Humanity’.

Although almost everyone has a general idea of what yoga is, some basic but crucial doubts remain that can go on to undermine the overall utility of your practice. Questions as basic as when it should be practised, what one can eat, and if it should be aided with other workouts, like a cardio session, continue to linger. So, if you are thinking of taking up yoga, read on.

Ideal time

Many say that yoga should be done early morning. However, according to Asheesh Pal, a yoga practitioner at Art of Living’s Sri Sri School of Yoga, both morning and evening are ideal.

His view is further backed by Arunima Singhdeo, founder and CEO of Shvasa, an online platform to learn yoga in the US from teachers across India. Making a case for the morning practice, she says its effect stays with you throughout the day. According to her, “Yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system that helps you relax, which is why you feel calmer and have more energy even after a strenuous yoga class.” When you work out in the morning, “you reap that calming effect throughout the day.”

What to eat

“Yoga should be done on an empty stomach, at least four hours after a meal,” Pal says. Seconding that, the Shvasa founder adds that it allows the body to move in its natural state without food coming in the way, making the practice much deeper. “However, if you want to have half a cup of tea or coffee with some nuts, have that at least 45 mins or an hour before the practice,” she says. Similarly, Pal recommends eating one or two dates, soaked figs, or 5-10 raisins, if extremely hungry.

Wait for at least 30 minutes after the practice and have Satvik food, he said. Satvik food is simple vegetarian food with an emphasis on seasonal fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

Which form to pick?

Often yoga is synonymous with Hatha Yoga. It is the form with emphasis on asanas (poses), which you hold for some time while focusing on the breath.

Ashtanga is nothing but the eight limbs of the yoga sutra, written by ancient saint Patanjali. However, practically, it is considered more challenging than Hatha Yoga as it includes several sun salutations (surya namaskars), along with multiple standing and floor exercises. Also, it is done at a fast pace.

Iyengar Yoga, developed by BKS Iyengar, involves the use of props to align the body, the Shvasa founder explains. It’s considered less physically demanding than Hatha or Ashtanga and helps to unwind and relax.

Vinyasa Yoga, popularly known as power yoga, involves switching from one pose to the next at the pace of the breath, meaning you flow. “It improves your stamina along with flexibility and strength,” Singhdeo says.

Then there is Yin Yoga, which is slow, spiritual, and meditative. In this, you hold a pose for a long time, she explains. All the styles are beneficial, but “what is important is to create discipline and do it at least three to seven times a week”, she says.

For weight loss

Instead of weight loss, Pal promotes healthy weight management, for which he recommends doing surya namaskars at a medium or fast pace. “However, a holistic approach to a yogic lifestyle is a must to maintain a healthy weight,” he says.

Similarly, Singhdeo stresses that weight loss involves both exercise and proper nutrition. “Nutrition helps promote fat loss, and yoga strengthens muscles and improves flexibility and metabolism,” she says.

Among the asanas, she recommends naukasana (boat pose), ashwa sanchalan asana (low lunge), dhanurasana (bow pose), vyaghrasana (tiger pose), natrajasana (dancers pose), and vashisth asana (side plank).

During periods

Periods can be challenging for any woman. A question persists if working out while menstruating is ideal. “Yes, you can do yoga while on your periods,” Singhdeo says. However, avoid inversions. She recommends asanas involving abdomen and pelvic stretches and twists that can stimulate blood flow and muscle relaxation. “You can use props like a bolster, cushions, and blanket for more comfort,” she says.

Pal, on the other hand, doesn’t recommend yoga asanas during periods. “However, all the asanas that help stimulate and massage the reproductive area can be done before and after menses,” he says.

Both Pal and Singhdeo recommend breathing exercises (pranayama).

At the end of the day, every woman experiences menstruation differently, and they must listen to their bodies and decide what works for them, the Shvasa founder concludes.

While pregnant

“It is safe to do yoga during pregnancy. But do not attempt it without expert advice from a prenatal yoga teacher,” says Pal. Similarly, Basavaraj Gollar, a Yoga expert with SARVA Yoga Studio, recommends getting a doctor’s opinion before starting the practice.

On what poses can be done, Pal says, “Every pregnancy is different, and there are different trimesters during which the practice changes”. However, joint rotations and walking are good unless advised otherwise by a gynaecologist, he adds.

When suffering from chronic disease(s)

Chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and cardiac issues are prevalent in India. In fact, the country has about 77 diabetics, the second-highest in the world after China. Similarly, estimates show about 33% of the urban population and 25% of rural folk suffer from hypertension.

“All of these are lifestyle disorders, and yoga can help in all of these, but just that won’t suffice,” says Pal. “A change in food habits and sleep patterns are equally important,” he adds. He recommends cooling pranayama (breathing exercises) for the hypertensives, active yoga asanas for diabetics, and restorative poses for those suffering from cardiac problems.

However, a person who has undergone recent surgery or is less than 12 weeks postpartum should avoid strenuous yoga practice,” says Gollar. Those people can still do simple pranayama and meditation, says Pal.

An all-encompassing workout?

Yoga is an all-encompassing workout that helps you with weight, stress, sleep, and pain management and aids overall fitness. So, any other form of exercise to aid it becomes redundant, says Gollar.

“But, sometimes one may feel the need for change, and for the sake of consistency or variety, you can try other exercises,” he adds.

Offline v/s online

Even before the Covid pandemic, a tonne of yoga classes was available online. There were YouTube videos, apps, and websites that could teach you at least the basics of this practice. However, these were somewhat aided by the pandemic as there was no other way.

Speaking on the issue, yoga instructor Pal says, with the changing world, one needs to change the mode in which things are done. “Online or offline, it doesn’t matter as long as individuals have personal guidance,” he says.

“However, having said that, there are limitations to the online mode of learning things as sometimes corrections that involve gentle kinesthetics may not be available on the online mode. Offline classes generally are the best,” he adds.

Gollar says it totally depends on the individual. “Some prefer online classes as it saves them time for traveling to and from the studio. Also, during the pandemic, these classes were a big boon. However, at times, you miss out on the fun of an offline class,” he says. “Maybe hybrid classes are the way to go,” he adds.

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