Coming back from my little bout with illness, I am reminded how very, very quickly we can lose strength and muscle. While I was sick, I slept for about a week, and haven’t had a proper workout at all. My high fever and lack of appetite managed to cook off a few lbs., but according to my clever Tanita fat/body weight scale, while I lost a few lbs, my body fat percentage has increased. That is, that wasn’t the weight I wanted to lose.
So, I am humbled. Again. And I am rudely reminded that fitness isn’t something you achieve once and then enjoy forever. It takes constant work to maintain fitness, and especially as we get older, to maintain muscle. We want muscle because we like to eat. Without plenty of muscle constantly at work burning calories, our metabolisms wind down. No good.
So this week I’m feeling well enough to start working out again, but clever enough to remember that I’m weakened and won’t be able to jump right back into working out at the level I could before getting sick.
Every time I feel this way — every time — I return to fitness through yoga.
Why? Because it’s really hard, if not impossible, to “overdo” yoga. Because you are constantly in communication with your body during the poses, or asanas, because you are quiet, breathing, concentrating, you can’t push your body to injury without wanting to. The kind of yoga I’m likely to engage in additionally adds a lot of deep breathing – obviously good for me right now – replenishing me with lots of oxygen, and leaving me feeling both stronger and more energetic, rather than depleted as I sometimes am after a big anaerobic (weight training) workout.
And when I’ve been out of touch with my body, Yoga wakes up every bit of it, putting my toes and fingers, face, and neck, back and abs, hips and knees and elbows and shoulders through their paces. After even a little bit of Yoga, I’m juiced, all over. Lubricated. Ready to roll.
So. Convinced? Yes, well I am.
How to get started? Tapes are good, but class is better. Ask around. Or find a yoga studio through yogajournal.com. If you’re just starting out, consider a studio with lots of teachers and ask to observe classes first, if you’re uncomfortable or worried. I think it’s important to find a beginning class taught by someone who also teaches very advanced classes. That is, begin by working with someone with plenty of study and teaching experience who will help you get the postures right right from the start.
The postures can be adapted for any body and any challenge. You won’t begin with the strength and flexibility of your teacher, but will work toward achieving good form in postures as you become stronger and more flexible. A good teacher can help you achieve the best possible challenge for you, no matter your size or ability.
I also shop for a great voice. Because Yoga classes are so inward, your yoga instructor’s voice will crawl right into your head. You want a voice and a person you’re willing to invite into your inner mind. You know? That’s no small thing.
I’ve recommended Lilias Folan’s work before, because I grew up with her class on PBS-TV, and she will always have a place in my head and heart. But I also recently saw an excellent pull-out poster and article in Shape magazine, February 2003, featuring Sara Ivanhoe of yoganation.com, demonstrating a dozen basic poses you’ll encounter in most beginning yoga classes. If you’re shy of class right now, but want to try Yoga, check out her Basic Yoga for Dummies video. Give it some time. You’ll know soon enough if this form of exercise is right for you.
What to expect… When I first tried Yoga, it took several classes before I could relax and breathe naturally. I was big enough that I needed to use some props and blankets to achieve many poses, like child’s pose (curled up with your legs under you, face down, forehead resting on the ground, arms resting comfortably at your sides), comfortably. It was three or four weeks before I first felt that “yoga high” that comes from breathing well while stretching and strengthening. But I was sore after the very first class. Yoga poses challenge you without you realizing it. Each pose, even at beginning levels, works to quickly build strength and flexibility. You’ll feel a Yoga workout right away in your arms and shoulders, thighs, calves, abdomen and back. Okay, everywhere.
The first time you feel “yoga high” you will never need to be convinced to try yoga again. I recommend you keep at it for that feeling. If you need further incentive, notice the people who study yoga regularly over long periods. They tend to be wirey, flexible, lean, calm types. You get a lot of runners and athletes in yoga classes, who find the strength and flexibility work complements their regular workouts, helps build concentration.