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A Beginner's Guide to Yoga

Yoga Styles, Props, and Fitness Plans
  -- By Nicole Nichols, Fitness Instructor
Yoga, which comes from the Sanskrit yuj word meaning "union," originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. There are many forms of yoga, but in general, yoga focuses on breathing techniques (pranayama), postures (asanas), flexibility, and meditation (dhyana). It can be very spiritual, linking the mind, body, and spirit.

But you don't have to be a Birkenstock-wearing vegetarian to enjoy or benefit from a regular yoga practice. Yoga offers all practitioners—whether you do it once a week or twice a day—an increased mind-body connection, greater flexibility and strength, improved balance and coordination, and stress relief. Here's what you need to know to start your own yoga practice today.

Styles of Yoga
If you're new to yoga, you might not be sure which class or video to start with. Here are a few of the most common yoga styles that are popular today: Yoga Props
Even if you don't practice yoga regularly, you can really benefit from using yoga props—especially if you are new to the practice of yoga. Here's an introduction to common props and how they are used: It's easy to incorporate props into your workout in a matter of seconds (when they're within reach). Many yoga studios will have most of these props (and more) available for students to use during classes, but you can also purchase your own to use at home or take with you to the gym.<pagebreak>

SparkPeople Yoga Poses
Several of SparkPeople's exercise demonstrations are based on yoga poses. Here are a few that will help you improve your muscular strength, flexibility and coordination: Adding Yoga to Your Fitness Program
We often hear questions about where yoga fits into a fitness program. Is it cardio? Strength training? Stretching? Yoga is a unique form of fitness that encompasses some of these principles. A good fitness program includes cardio (at least 20 minutes, three days per week), strength training (for every major muscle group, at least two sessions per week) and flexibility training (ideally every time you exercise or at least three times per week).

Yoga itself cannot provide you with the same benefits as cardio and strength training. However, SparkPeople's experts consider yoga to be a great addition to a well-rounded fitness program. Yoga is great for flexibility (especially if you tend to skip stretching altogether). And while athletic yoga styles (such as Ashtanga) may elevate your heart rate to an aerobic level, the average calorie burn of a yoga class is not comparable to running or other forms of cardio. Consider yoga to be a restorative practice, offering diverse benefits that enhance your overall fitness level and mind-body connection.

The following links will help you begin a yoga practice:
You can practice yoga as often as it fits into your schedule, whether once a week or daily. Each session can be as long or as short as you'd like, whether you choose a few poses that you enjoy or take a 90-minute yoga class. No matter how often you do yoga, you will begin to see positive outcomes with consistent practice. Namaste!