"What a workout! Yoga is the safest and most thorough system of physical conditioning I've tried." So said an enthusiast we interviewed--a dedicated athlete who turned to yoga several years ago when tennis, then running, and then weight-training all proved too injurious.
That fan is not alone. Yoga classes are now available throughout most of the West. You can even take a yoga vacation or go on a yoga retreat.
Even so, too many Americans still think yoga is for people who charm snakes or walk on nails. Yoga is not a religion or a doctrine, but a comprehensive system for conditioning the body--increasing flexibility, building strength, developing balance, and releasing tensions created by stress. Its isometric pressures strengthen specific muscle groups; its stretches relax deep muscle layers from within.
You don't have to be young or in top condition to join a yoga class. As a beginner, you participate in the yoga poses at whatever level you can attan: you start where you are and build from there. It's attentive, regular effort that counts.
You may want to supplement yoga with jogging or other aerobic exercise to condition the cardiovascular system; if so, you'll find the flexibility and body awareness yoga gives can mke these activities less stressful.
Why join a class?
You can study photographs of yoga positions or watch demonstrations on television. What's special about a class?
In a group, you're likely to put out more effort. You'll hold the positions longer--the slow hold is the secret of yoga. And you can get feedback. It's possible to think you're replicating a posture faithfully when in fact you're misaligned and not getting full benefit from the position.
Under the supervision of a teacher and with the help of yoga breathing techniques, you can safely find your own "edge"--the point at which you are neither babying yourself nor risking injury. Yoga may bring you some muscle pain, but it shouldn't cause joint or nerve pain. If you get that, you need to correct your approach to the pose.
How to choose a class...what to wear
For beginners, a class of 10 to 12 is about right--big enough that you hve the support of a group, but small enough that the teacher can check each student's work.
Your teacher should emphasize keeping to your own pace: in yoga, you're not competing with anyone. A good teacher will demonstrate poses carefully, and also give plenty of individual attention. …