According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than one-third of American adults are obese – and the number might even be higher than that. The BMI (body mass index) scale that’s typically used to determine whether or not someone classifies as obese might be dramatically underestimating the problem, especially in women.
According to doctors quoted in the Los Angeles Times, the 200-year-old BMI index could be misdiagnosing up to 50% of women, and up to 20% of men. Put simply, 50% more women and 20% more men could be obese and not even realize it. This means that as a nation we could be in much worse health than we had thought.
Although there are many factors contributing to the obesity epidemic, our sedentary lifestyle is likely the biggest cause. Harvard Medical School states that only one in six Americans meet the minimum weekly requirements for exercise. The minimum we need is 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (such as brisk walking), or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (such as running or swimming), along with two weekly sessions of muscle strengthening exercises.
Without a doubt, it’s a grim picture. But the good news is that in every moment, every single one of us can decide to change our lifestyle to one that is healthier for our body, mind, and soul. One of the best ways to do this is with yoga.
My Love Affair With Yoga
Fitness has always been a major part of my life. But like anyone, I go through occasional phases every few years when I slack big time. And that’s just what happened at the end of summer last year. Thanks to a few trips back to back and a crazy work schedule, I slacked on my running and gym routine. This went on for several months. At the end of October, I had a routine checkup and discovered that I’d put on 10 pounds. It might not sound like much, but for me it was a real wake-up call, and meant I had to get back into my routine of working out daily and eating right.
However, I was burned out on the gym (and the expense), and thanks to a hip injury, running was out for a while. That’s when my husband suggested yoga.
Benefits of Yoga
I’ve been practicing yoga five to six days a week since then, and the results are astounding. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. Many people experience a range of yoga’s benefits:
- Builds Strength. Yoga really improves your strength. It makes you long and lean, and not “bulky” like you’d get from strength training. Plus, it strengthens your entire body, not just a few select places like your arms and legs.
- Improves Balance. Yoga helps improve your balance, which means you are less clumsy and move more gracefully.
- Relieves Stress. Because of yoga’s quiet, precise movements and focused breathing, you’re better able to manage your emotions and stress. You also get more in tune with your emotions, and have a greater awareness of how you react to them.
- Improves Posture. Yoga helps you develop your core strength, especially your back, which in turn helps improve your posture. Instead of walking or sitting hunched over, you sit up straight. This makes you look thinner, move gracefully, and gives a wonderful boost to your self-confidence and self-respect.
- It Relaxes You. Yoga is soothing because of the deep, focused breathing. When you’re done with yoga, you feel relaxed and happy because the deep breathing helps trigger your relaxation response.
- Helps You Lose Weight. Yoga helps you lose weight, with much less stress on your body than running or other high-intensity sports.
- Can Improve Diet. Because you get more in tune with your body, you’ll likely find that you lose the urge to eat sugary or processed foods. You’re more mindful and aware of the food you’re putting into your body.
- Improves Focus. You might find that yoga helps you focus in other areas of your life, such as work.
- Helps You Manage Health Issues. Yoga can help you manage other health conditions, such as depression, chronic back pain, high blood pressure, insomnia, low self-esteem, and low energy.
It’s essential to understand that like any exercise, yoga can be harmful to your health if the poses are done incorrectly. Never push yourself too hard, or stretch yourself to the point of pain or extreme discomfort. Move slowly into each pose, and stop the moment you feel anything weird or uncomfortable. And don’t force yourself into advanced poses before you’re ready. Read cautionary articles, such as William Broad’s “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Health” before starting any yoga practice.
Doing Yoga at Home
Yoga has been in existence for more than 5,000 years. It began in India, and there are many different styles of yoga, such as Hatha Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, and Anusara Yoga. Each of these styles (and there are dozens) offers unique benefits and poses.
What you need to know is that you don’t need to “pick” a yoga style to do yoga. All you really need is a handful of poses (called “asanas”) to start experiencing the great benefits of this practice.
You don’t need fancy yoga gloves or socks or expensive “yoga clothes.” Nor do you need yoga bricks or straps or even to attend a class.
However, you do need several important items:
- A yoga mat (around $10 to $20) or a folded blanket. A yoga mat is often preferred because it helps you not to slip in poses.
- Comfortable clothes. Workout clothes are great if you have them. If not, comfortable sweats or shorts and a tank top will work fine.
- Some form of instruction, such as a book or DVD.
Books, DVDs, and Yoga Online
When I started I purchased one DVD, entitled “Rodney Yee’s Power Yoga.” This DVD is excellent if you’re looking for a more intense yoga workout to lose weight and gain strength. However, you can find tons of different yoga DVDs with varying intensities on Amazon. Your public library might also be a great source of books and DVDs on yoga.
The great thing about doing yoga with a DVD is that you can watch the instructor do poses correctly. This will help you practice yoga safely. The instructor also guides your breathing, which is an essential component of yoga and maximizing benefits.
There are also dozens of online streaming yoga videos on Gaiam TV. This site is a monthly subscription ($9.95 per month), but you have access to an incredible variety of workouts from some of the world’s best yoga instructors. You can try it for free for one week.
I’ve since purchased several books on yoga. Here are my two favorites:
- Slim Calm Sexy Yoga by Tara Stiles. This is a great book if you need some quick, 15 minute workouts or a basic introduction to yoga. This is the first book I purchased, and Tara has put together some wonderfully specific workouts to help you do everything from burn fat to sleep better at night. The pictures are great, and Tara does a good job explaining each pose. Her fat-burning yoga workout really works, and you will be sweating at the end of it!
- Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar. Once I mastered the basics of yoga I became really interested in the deeper benefits of each pose, as well as the philosophy behind yoga. This book, written by an Indian yoga master, is by far my favorite book. There are over 600 hundred poses listed, each with detailed pictures, a description, and a very thorough analysis of the health benefits of each pose. I love this book because I can add a pose based on what I need at the time. For instance, I sometimes have problems with my kidneys. When they begin acting up, I add a few poses that help tone and improve the kidneys. This, in addition to modifying my diet, clears the problem.
My yoga practice now is one I put together myself from poses I learned from my DVDs and books. I’d say I use no more than 8 to 10 poses during my daily practice. And I vary them up depending on what I feel like doing, or a specific health benefit I need at the time.
One piece of yogic wisdom I love is this from Tara Stiles’ book: “Ancient yoga philosophy says that you are allotted a certain number of breaths in your life. You can lengthen or shorten your life by how you take those breaths. Short and fast breathing is the result of living a stressful, out-of-balance existence. This leads to disease and a shortened life. Long, deep breathing keeps your body and mind vibrant and healthy, and allows you to live a long, full life.”
Do you have any other tips for doing yoga at home?