Yoga Answers and Solutions Go-to Guide

Find what you seek in the world of yoga. It's all here: How-to videos, FAQs and guides for getting started or reaching a new level. Plus: how to find the yoga style, class, program, gear or poses for your unique needs and goals. Whether you're new to yoga or just want to add something new to your practice, start here!

Yoga Styles and Poses

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Skimming the yellow pages or the class schedule at your gym for a good yoga class can be a real exercise in confusion. How can you tell the difference between Anusara and ashtanga? Or hot yoga and hatha? Learn which yoga style is best for you

Choose one that's a good match for your personality and lifestyle. Are you looking for a challenging power-yoga workout or cross-training activity? A better way to manage stress? 

 

Most classes are based on hatha yoga, a generic term for any type of yoga that teaches phsycial yoga poses, or asanas. To learn some of the poses or just get a better feel for what yoga is like, see our How-to Video Guide to 10 Essential Yoga Poses or try ConcentratiOm, our groovy matching game that helps you learn yoga pose names, how-to's and benefits.

 

Ashtanga and vinyasa are physically challenging practices that flow from one pose to the next; in ashtanga you do the same poses in the same order every time.

 

In a Bikram or hot yoga class, you'll sweat like crazy through 26 poses (again, same poses every time, but different from the ashtanga sequence).

 

Iyengar yoga was developed and popularized by B.K.S. Iyengar; it is a very meticulous style of yoga, with utmost attention paid to finding the proper alignment in a pose, using a wide array of props — blocks, blankets, straps, chairs.

 

Restorative yoga melts tension and stress using bolsters, blankets and blocks to prop students in passive poses, so the body can experience the benefits of a pose without exertion.

Yoga Start Guide for Beginners

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Should you go to class or practice at home?

Although most teachers will advise you to learn the fundamentals of asana (yoga poses) in a live class before getting on the mat at home, "Nothing replaces the home practice," says 25-year yoga veteran Rodney Yee

"Listening is the practice of yoga; it's so important to go into your own body and ask it to be your teacher. It is a time when you can find your own rhythm. It is where the genuine knowledge arises."

 

"I enjoy doing yoga at home with DVDs or virtual classes because I get to practice in the quiet and solitude of my own home without others looking at me," writes one Gaiam customer. "The main thing I know I'm missing with a yoga video is not having the instructor walking around the class fixing your hips, shoulders, what-have-you ... "

 

"Going to classes has many benefits," Yee acknowledges, "but I have observed time and time again that it is when people start to practice at home that the real insights occur." Get more tips on starting your yoga practice at home in Rodney's blog posts like Start Your Yoga Practice with 3 Building Blocks.

 

What time of day should you practice?

 

Mornings are ideal for many people, especially before other family members are up and the house is quiet so you can focus on your breathing and listen to your body. But any time of day is fine; just allow three to four hours to elapse after a big meal and one to two hours after a snack.

 

Choose a practice time that will let you begin each practice with an attitude of openness and exploration — you may find that your body and mind are the most wonderful teachers you will ever have.

Yoga Videos and DVDs

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So many DVDs, so little time ... How do you choose? Start by knowing what style of yoga (more on this in the "Yoga Styles and Poses" section above) you want to begin with or try next — then preview yoga DVDs online to help you find a DVD and instructor you like.

 

"I like DVDs that have voice-over prompts," comments one yoga enthusiast in our blog. "That way, if I'm head-down in Child's Pose or a Forward Fold, I don't have to see what the instructor is doing every second; I just have to listen to him."

 

"The instructor's voice and style of presentation are so important too," writes another reader. "You want to find an instructor you LOVE — someone whose voice you find calming. It's a very personal thing."

 

Another reader says the way a yoga video is filmed and edited is high on her list. "I've seen programs where the audio didn't sync up with the poses, and the backgrounds (or lack thereof) along with only ONE camera angle make it seem like it was just made for money rather than as a cohesive piece of instruction. Gaiam shows several different camera angles and that let you get a better feel for a pose; and the scenery is as integral to the presentation as the instructor."

 

 

Yoga Gear Guide

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Start your home practice with essential yoga props — a mat, strap, blocks, blanket, bolster, etc. As a beginner, you'll appreciate how blocks and straps extend your reach and help deepen stretches. And a well-made mat is a must-have!

A good yoga mat will keep you secure in poses that are easy to slip in, like downward dog.

 

If you plan to do yoga at a studio or group class outside your home, consider a yoga mat bag or mat sling — it will keep your mat rolled neatly, protected, and easy to shlep when your arms and hands are busy juggling your purse, keys, Starbucks, cell phone, shades, iPod, cab fare ...

 

You may also want to get one or two sets of yoga pants and tops. Your hands won't be free to keep your T-shirt from obeying gravity and exposing you in forward bends, inversions and yes, good ol' downward dog. Plus, you need your waistband and everything else to be non-binding and uber-comfortable so you can really bend and stretch without your clothes holding you back. But not TOO comfy: You'll find that stretched-out T-shirt and sweats get in your way in a different — but equally annoying — manner.

 

Look for fabrics containing at least 10% spandex for shape retention and best fit.

 

Want the latest in yoga gear? Check out our 2011 yoga trends guide!

Yoga FAQs

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A few of the most frequently asked questions about yoga:

Q. What if I do the poses wrong?

Many yoga teachers will point out that there's no "right" way to do yoga; that it's really about listening to your body and practicing the art of being present.

However, some teachers and some styles of yoga strongly emphasize meticulous alignment in every pose — this limb perfectly straight, that finger just so. The main thing, most instructors will ultimately advise you, is to really listen to your body and your instructor — and not get caught up in what others think about you or your form.

 

Q. Can I just do the poses, and skip the spiritual stuff?

 

Yes. Yoga is not a religion or cult, and you don't have to change your beliefs to practice yoga. While some approaches are more spiritually oriented, such as Seane Corn's "body prayer" yoga, you don't have to subscribe to any given belief system with yoga. In fact, there are so many styles and ways to do yoga that if at first you don't succeed with a given style or program, you can just move on to a different class, teacher, DVD, retreat center or online yoga program.

 

"You can engage in yoga on many different levels," says yoga expert Patricia Walden. "It can be a brief and relaxing interlude in a hectic life; a more demanding regime for strengthening and invigorating the body; a therapeutic practice for particular physical difficulty or ailment; or a path of personal growth. Whatever your motivation or level of practice, yoga offers profound benefits that affect all aspects of your life: work, recreation, eating habits, family life and relationships with others. It can help you face life with greater poise and openness."

 

Q. Do I have to be flexible to start doing yoga?

 

No! While you always want to practice yoga safely to avoid injury, you don't have to be able to bend into a pretzel, put your feet behind your head, or even touch your toes. That's why many yoga programs teach how to use props — to help people do the poses correctly without overtaxing muscles, ligaments and tendons.

 

Q. How long do I have to practice, and do I have to do it every day?

 

The short answer is, there is no right or wrong answer here. Ten minutes is worthwhile, and two or three chair-yoga moves to ease back pain at work certainly can't hurt. A one-hour practice a few times a week is pretty typical for many yoga practitioners.

How to Advance in Yoga

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Ready for what's next? Once you've gotten into a groove with yoga, you may want to start learning more advanced poses (like arm balances and inversions), add meditation, or try a different style of yoga. As you connect with more yoga enthusiasts and information, you'll also find yourself wanting to evolve your yoga practice "off the mat."

While you can take or leave any aspect of yoga, it has a great deal to offer beyond the physical poses.

 

The eight “limbs” of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras form the philosophical foundation for the practice of hatha yoga — a holistic way of life including guidelines for cultivating the health and well-being of the body, the mind and the spirit. In addition to the poses, there are precepts such as non-violence, honesty and service that lay the groundwork for the practice itself. You may also be interested in how yoga's sister science, Ayurveda, can help you heal and prevent illness and maintain optimal health.

 

Yoga for Sports and Cross-Training

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Yoga offers many benefits on its own, but it's especially beneficial when paired with other disciplines, such as swimming, golf, cycling, running, etc. For instance, tennis pros Pete Sampras and Venus and Serena Williams use yoga to improve core strength, increase flexibility, improve coordination, and help heal or prevent injuries.

And pro teams are integrating yoga into their training regimens. Some of these teams include NFL’s Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, and Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs.

 

“In yoga, if we do something to the right, we do it to the left,” says yoga expert Rodney Yee, explaining why yoga is an ideal way to cross-train. "Yoga helps strengthen the muscles that are underused while releasing the muscles that are tight from your sport. Your joints and your body will also last a lot longer if they get movement in all directions.”

 

“Injury prevention and core strengthening are the obvious benefits of yoga,” says competitive triathlete and former collegiate heptathlete Danielle Weiss, who now teaches yoga to the triathlon team at the University of Colorado. “But after practicing and teaching yoga for almost seven years, now I most appreciate the mental edge yoga has given me. It’s taught me to truly ‘go to my edge.'”

 

Below are some key cross-training yoga poses and therapeutic yoga poses for the most popular sports. Find more in our Yoga as Cross-Training article.

 

Swimming

Where it hurts: shoulders

Therapeutic yoga pose: The Sun Salutation series of poses will strengthen and open up your shoulders while also helping you work on coordinating breath with movement.

 

Tennis

Where it hurts: shoulders, hips, knees

Therapeutic yoga pose: Improve your overall flexibility and stretch your lower back with a Reclined Twist.

Yoga as Medicine

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Struggling with a chronic health condition, injury or major illness?

Yoga as a form of physical therapy, alternative medicine and preventive healthcare is the fastest-growing segment of the yoga market. See what Timothy McCall, M.D., has to say about yoga for health ...

"Yoga — by which I mean a broad array of tools including asana (yoga poses), pranayama, Ayurveda, meditation, chanting, service, etc. — has been shown in hundreds of scientific studies to benefit people with a wide variety of health conditions," he says. "Yoga lowers blood pressure, improves lung function, relaxes the nervous system, cuts cholesterol, boosts immunity, and makes you more content, to name just a few documented effects."

 

"Perhaps even more important," he adds, "yoga is a methodology to change dysfunctional habits and attitudes into ones that serve you better."

 

If you want to use yoga to help treat a specific condition, you may want to focus your practice with yoga therapy. Almost any form of yoga can be great preventive medicine, and wonderful stress reduction, as long as you’re not doing things that hurt you. But yoga therapy tends to be personalized to the individual. Even the masters who write books giving sequences for particular conditions don’t actually practice yoga therapy that way themselves. They look at the person in front of them and come up with something just for him or her, and modify it over time in accordance with the student’s changing needs.

 

Since group classes are actually an invention of the last 50 years or so, in a way modern yoga therapy, which is often taught in small groups or one-on-one, is returning yoga to its roots ...Read more of Yoga as Medicine

 

Yoga for specific conditions: 

 

Cancer:

Yoga for Cancer Patients and Survivors

Cancer Survivors Thrive with Yoga

Asanas for Cancer Patients

 

Weight loss: 

How to Lose Weight with Yoga

How to Shed Fat on the Yoga Mat

Can Yoga Help You Lose Weight?

Top 5 Fat-Burning Yoga Poses

 

Skin problems:

Asanas for Acne: 8 Yoga Poses for Vibrant Skin 

 

Detox:

Yoga for Detox

Kick Off Your Detox with a Restorative Twist

Seated Twist: Detox and Feel Better

 

Back and joint pain:

How Does Yoga Relieve Back Pain

How to Strengthen Your Back with Yoga

 

Gaiam's Mayo Clinic Wellness Solutions DVDs also include yoga poses for conditions ranging from I.B.S. to menopause to arthritis to insomnia. Browse the entire Mayo Clinic DVD collection.