By Elizabeth Henshall
Yoga has a long history as a practice used by ancient sages, yogis and monks in the East to help them achieve their goal of spiritual enlightenment. However in the last 50 years it has gained considerable popularity as a way for us in the West to keep fit and healthy. Introduced to Western mainstream consciousness by such celebrities as George Harrison in his days as a Beatle – and even having a Yogi master presenting at the legendary Woodstock concert in the 60’s – yoga has gradually and powerfully infiltrated our culture. Most gyms and even small villages have their yoga classes weekly and they are always very well attended by local women who form nice friendships through the classes as well as getting fit. It is less common for men to attend yoga sessions and many women really appreciate a quiet space, just for them, with no men around for 90 minutes while they concentrate on their fitness and inner peace.
Yoga is a different way to keep fit. If you are not keen on team sports, or if running/jogging doesn’t float your boat then you may well find that yoga is a better way forward for you. It also has the advantage of being safe for your body as you are being lead through appropriate poses by a qualified teacher and they will guide you in ways to adapt the pose if you need to do it in a modified way to suit your body.
Another advantage of yoga as a fitness routine for women is that it focuses on building strength and flexibility gradually and therefore you tend to notice a big difference after a while, but it is so easy to do that you don’t exhaust yourself or feel stressed getting to that state. Men tend to prefer full on, power building fitness programmes where they quickly see results but often hurt themselves as they challenge their bodies too hard. Women’s fitness programmes, especially if you are starting this route after a period of relatively little exercise as you had a family and worked, is better tackled gently and steadily. Gym sessions where you work with weights and equipment tend to be harder on your body and also harder to keep up as you are doing them alone – and they can be very boring!
Yoga has a reputation as a good weight loss programme as well as a women’s fitness routine. It steadily shapes your body into new curves and smooths out lumps and bumps but it does it in a way that is long lasting and becomes part of your life style rather than a crash and burn approach which some of the gym based programmes tend to do. Many women find that as they enjoy the other benefit of yoga (calmness) they don’t go for food as a prop nearly as much so their weight drops as well as their dress size through the body reshaping. The secret to success with yoga as a women’s fitness and weight management programme is to keep at it and do it with a friend so that you both enjoy the camaraderie and get the peace of mind that comes with yoga practice – then the other benefits follow automatically.
Lastly, there is a great benefit to yoga as a fitness programme for women. It helps to lower your stress levels enormously at the same time as it steadily sculpts your body into a new shape as I outlined above. There are many studies showing the health benefits to yoga and how the regular practice of it reduces blood pressure, changes breathing patterns to much more beneficial levels and reduces asthma attacks. People report feeling calmer, having better decision making skills as their minds are clearer and sharper and also that they sleep much better. Although any women’s fitness programme sensibly tackled will bring many benefits there are few that are as safe and as wide in their benefits as yoga.
Next time you go to your local gym ask the yoga teacher if you can try it out and see if it is something that appeals to you. Any yoga teacher will be delighted to let you join in with the class and experiment. Enjoy.
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