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Chapter 1

What are your wellness goals?

Congratulations! You have decided to begin a yoga practice. Firstly, you need to set wellness goals to know the class that you fit-in and the pose sequences you need to practice at home.

Our major wellness goal is to feel good. However, we need to be more specific to know the type of yoga class that we need and the poses we need to practice at home.

You will need to have goals for long-term results and goals for a particular session, depending on how you feel. Maybe you aim to develop muscle mass, or you have been hiking and want your yoga session to be focused on releasing muscle tension and to facilitate the recovery cycle.

There are 5 key wellness goals to consider for your practice:

Improving cardiorespiratory performance

Cardio is often confused with your ability to sustain physical activities like running or swimming, but it is not quite that. In reality, it is your capacity to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. A healthy heart sends more blood with fewer pumps. 

Several studies already confirm how yoga does well to your heart and lungs. You should pay attention to these organs because cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death among Americans over 65.

Growing Stronger

After 30, we lose up to 8% of your muscle mass every decade, which is usually higher in women.  And it is very important to keep our muscles, not only because we want to stay strong, but also because it keeps our metabolism high. When we lose muscle mass, our metabolism slows down and our body starts developing more fat tissue, which in turn would make us heavier and weaker. Aside from all the typical effects of overweight, the risk of injuries could increase too.

 

Yoga has many poses that develop muscle growth using your body as weight resistance, and it is the principle behind all callisthenic

exercises. Using your weight allows you to work out many different muscles at the same time while developing a sense of coordination.

Becoming more flexible

Men tend to prioritize strength over flexibility. However, they are both critical. Our range of motion reduces over time. By the time we are 65, there are 30% chances of developing severe mobility limitations with a high risk of frailty. Earlier than that, it is probable that we are already suffering from neck or back pain due to bad sitting or standing postures, while sitting or standing, which in most case is related to reduced flexibility of several hip muscles.

 

You can reduce the risk of chronic pain by developing mobility and flexibility doing yoga. It is not a practice for flexible people, but one to develop this capability. There are yogic techniques that focus mainly on developing mobility without getting into a painful or uncomfortable pose.

Keeping your mind healthy

Many studies concluded that Yoga helps in preventing some mental conditions as well as mitigating some of their symptoms. However, more important is the effect it has on anxiety and depression.

Stress affects the population to almost epidemic proportions. There is a body of evidence highlighting how stress increases the risks of health problems like cardiovascular complicationsdigestive disorders, deterioration of cognitive functions like memory or concentration, and could lead to chronic depression and anxiety. Additionally, there is clear evidence of the acceleration of the ageing process in cells.

Yoga, meditation and other mindful-activities are promising treatments for stress-related mental disorders. When we do Yoga, we develop our capacity to focus and to calm our minds.

Eating healthy

Overweight is a common problem nowadays. We tend to worry for aesthetic reasons, but by doing, so we miss the big picture. Obesity has a big impact on our health in many ways.

By addressing other goals, we will be getting closer to our ideal weight. Cardiorespiratory activities momentarily boost our metabolism, burning fat and glucose. More muscle mass requires more calories to perform, also elevating our metabolism.

However, most expert’s opinions agree that changing our eating habits is the key factor in weight loss. Diet is obviously a very complex issue that I will address in another article. However, from personal experience, I can say that Yoga helps us to recognize and deal with bad habits.

Matching your goal with your practice

Because you are a busy person and can only invest a few hours a week to Yoga, you will need to prioritize your goals:

  • If you want to develop your cardio capacity, you need to include a vinyasa flow on your practice. A flow is a fast-paced sequence of pose synchronized with your breath.

  • To gain muscle mass, you need to invest time on standing and balancing poses, or slow, challenging flow sequences

  • To become more flexible, you need to practice seated, supine, and prone poses, exposing your muscles to prolonged stretches of different durations and levels of intensity.

  • To calm your mind and to find focus, you will need a mix of poses depending on how stressed out and how lethargic you may feel at the time of practice. The more stressed you feel, the more time you have to spend on seated poses, doing passive stretching. The more lethargic you feel, the more time you have to spend on flow and standing poses.

In the following articles, I will explain the specifics of how to structure a session based on wellness goals.

 

Prepare for your first Yoga session

Once you have established your priorities, you are ready to start your practice. Some people like to do the practice alone at home, while others can only do it in a class. Both are good options, and a mix of them is probably the most beneficial

A personal practice allows you to address your specific emotional and physical needs, and you might find it easier to concentrate when there is no one around. 

In a studio class, you have a teacher that can give you some adjustments while practicing the pose and that can answer any related question to the practice. In some case, people find motivation when surrounded by others that share the same challenges and goals.

In any case, you will need:

  • Yoga Mat: Investing in a good mat pays back. A lousy mat can distract your mind from the practice, and make you lose focus. It also helps you to commit to your practice. The more you invest into something, the more personal value you give from it. You don't need to spend over $100 to get a good mat. Just make sure it is reasonably thick (close to half an inch) because we are sensitive around our knees, ankles, and the back of our head. It should also be sticky, and the slightest sensation of slipperiness will make you feel unstable and will affect your balance on standing poses.

  • Yoga Blocks: If you are not flexible, you will need blocks. Some of my students usually feel bad about it for different reasons. They feel like they are "cheating" or that it takes the challenge out of the pose, but it doesn't. Sometimes you need the blocks to get the best from any pose. Always try a variation of the pose using blocks. See if you feel more balanced or notice that if you are feeling a deeper stretch on the targeted muscles.

  • Yoga Strap: Similar to the blocks, a strap will help you with poses that require a bind between hands and feet. It is also a necessary prop for restorative poses.

  • Blanket: It can be used as a cushion to elevate or support a part of the body or to assist extra sensitive areas like your knees when kneeling.

 

Moving ahead

Now you are ready to begin a yoga routine, whether it is at home or a yoga studio. In the following articles, I will explain the different stages of yoga practice in details. However, like any other practice, you will learn more by practicing. You will have to try new things and learn from your experience. It will be frustrating at times, but most times, it will be rewarding. Exciting times are coming ahead!