Dipping your toes in the yoga pool? Trying yoga for the first time can be invigorating and enlightening. Taking the deep dive into embracing a daily yoga routine, however, requires vigilance, passion, and dedication.
Routine yoga practice boasts loads of health benefits for men and women – it can help to lower high blood pressure, build bone density, strengthen muscles, improve flexibility and balance, boost feelings of positivity, reduce stress, alleviate low back and neck pain, and even sharpen focus and combat cognitive decline.
The Yoga Alliance reports that yoga practice in the U.S. is up almost 50% since 2012, with women still representing the bulk of yoga practitioners, but men and especially older adults taking to the mat at growing rates too. Improvements in dexterity, coordination, mental clarity, strength and overall wellness are noticed and shared by new and veteran yoga practitioners alike. If you are looking to get started with yoga for the first time or refresh a yoga routine that has fallen to the wayside, don’t miss these tips.
9 Ways to Enhance Your Yoga Routine
Enhancing your yoga routine to get more out of the physical activity, breathing, and meditation is simple with a handful of clever ideas, techniques, and best practices:
Use a Yoga Mat
This one might seem obvious, but yoga leaders near and far will tell you that your hardwood floor, carpet, or old towel simply don’t do the trick when it comes to practicing yoga successfully. For one, yoga mats can serve as symbols, a space which represents your release from the stress and chaos of daily life, helping you center and ground yourself more deeply in the practice. And secondly, yoga mats that balance the stick/non-stick surface differential aid the strength and flexibility balance you need for successful yoga stretches and positions too.
Some of the most foundational moments of yoga practice are found in the seemingly most basic poses like “Mountain Pose” (tadasana) where you stand straight, feet planted to the ground, spine lengthened, and ground yourself feeling the upwards flow of energy through your body. Yoga is about a gradual progression of stretching, deep breathing, and mindfulness. Jumping right into more challenging and advanced yoga practice without building up to it can actually strain muscles and negate the foundational principles of yoga including self-actualization, kindness, and peace.
Practicing yoga incorporates visual, tactile, and audible senses through feeling the ground and yourself, seeing the world around you, and listening to your own breathing (and perhaps guided instruction from a yoga teacher). Activate your olfactory (smelling) sense as well by diffusing essential oils or burning a candle with a scent you enjoy while you practice yoga. Scents associated with relaxation include sandalwood, lavender, bergamot, vanilla, and jasmine.
If you’re following up yoga with a Big Mac and a diet coke, you can say goodbye to the health and wellness benefits you just achieved. Yoga practice complements a healthy lifestyle that is rich with self-care and a diet comprised of whole foods that fuel a strong mind and body. Whole grains, lean meats, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and Omega-3s aid the things yoga functionally requires of you – a clear mind, attention, energy, positive mood, and strong muscles and bones.
Ask a Friend to Join
While yoga is a grounding experience in self-realization and thoughtless focus, it can also benefit from social interaction and engagement with other people. Whether before class or together at home streaming a yoga video on Youtube, practicing yoga with a friend (or partner) can boost feelings of positivity and joy, as well as give you a deeper bonding experience than you had before.
Make it a Routine
The trouble with any new fitness regimen or exercise is turning it into a regular part of your daily schedule. Yoga will have a greater impact on your life and well being when you infuse your day to day life with it. Find a window of time that makes sense for yoga practice to happen each day – maybe it’s first thing in the morning or after work each evening. Sticking to the same time, trying to do it daily for a couple weeks to begin with, and telling your friends or spouse about your new goals can help you form a yoga habit and hold yourself accountable.
Are pain, aches, or discomfort preventing you from enjoying the activities you enjoy like yoga or exercising? Supportive aids, wraps, and braces may be able to stabilize painful joints and compress inflamed muscles to power your body mechanics and keep you moving. A groin support, ankle wrap, or knee brace, for example, can limit the stress yoga movement may cause to your injured or strained internal joints and connective tissues, allowing you to take part in practice pain-free.
Recognize Yoga in Your Life
With continual practice, you will start picking up on different ways yoga affects your life off the mat. Greater stress control, better posture, reduced pain, healthier eating, your positive outlook, and even improved interactions with others (especially under stress) may all become noticeable changes in your life. Embrace the benefits of yoga and appreciate them to enhance your practice even more.
The beautiful thing about yoga is its variety in approach and development. Switch up your yoga routine by seeking out new studios and teachers you really connect with, or trying different classes that focus on specific yoga practices. For example, vinyasa yoga practice involves short-held positions and faster rate progression through dynamic, dance-like movements, while lyengar yoga practice is more restorative and involves detailed attention to longer-held poses.
Yoga practice fosters a keen sense of body awareness and self-perception, and may even encourage you to seek activity with other exercises like running, swimming, bicycling, or dancing. The benefits are lifelong, especially when you make yoga practice a fixture in your daily schedule.