Week 3: Open Your Mind & Body To Yoga

After I was injured, paralyzed, and later regained mobility, I found yoga. Not only did it save my body, it saved my sanity as well. I was totally new to the practice (my doctor had suggested it) and I had no idea where those first steps on the mat would lead me. I discovered that yoga allowed me to be in tune with my breath and nurture my body. With each class I took, it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

So let’s start with the basics: What is yoga, and can everybody do it?

Yoga is a mind-body practice that brings together physical and mental disciplines to help you achieve peacefulness. It can relax you and help you manage stress and anxiety. Yoga comes from the theory that there is union of mind, body, and spirit and that the discovery of self is possible through this physical practice. It originates from a Hindu spiritual discipline that includes breath control, simple meditation, and specific bodily postures practiced for health and relaxation.

That may sound like a lot to take in, but one of my core passions is making the practice accessible for everyone. You can imagine some of the reactions people have had when they encounter me, a former football player, in tree pose! Part of my work is to dispel the longstanding belief that yoga is for women only, or the super-fit, or any other stereotype you’ve probably heard.

The general components of yoga:

  • Poses
    Poses are also called postures. They are a series of movements designed to increase strength and flexibility. They range from laying still to stretching into poses you might not even imagine!
  • Breathing
    The breath is central to yoga. Yoga teaches us that controlling our breathing can help us control our bodies and quiet our minds.
  • Meditation or relaxation
    While doing yoga, you may incorporate meditation or relaxation techniques (like the mindfulness exercise we covered in week 1).

Some of the health benefits associated with yoga:

  • Stress reduction
    Studies have shown that yoga helps reduce stress and anxiety. It can also enhance your mood and overall sense of well-being.
  • Improved fitness
    Practicing yoga leads to improved balance, flexibility, range of motion, and strength. For those of you who want to stretch, or are overcoming certain injuries, these are great perks.
  • Management of chronic conditions
    Yoga may also help support health in patients with chronic diseases, high blood pressure, depression, pain, anxiety, and insomnia.

The best way to learn more about yoga is to experience it. I recommend an introductory or foundations class, which will help you find familiarity with the sequences, and will teach you the etiquette of yoga. In the beginning, you will discover your limits, as well as your potential. But don’t judge yourself! Yoga presents an opportunity to grow. You’re not going to have the perfect pose the first time around, and that’s OK.

If you make a commitment to showing up to your mat, you will experience expansion and infinite possibilities. You will realize that you can manage stress and find peace, inside and out.

Before your first class, try out these moves, which are designed for physical relief. After a long day hunched over your computer or sitting in traffic, they can really come in handy.

Extended Arm Opposite Leg Extension

  • Begin on your hands and knees. The toes can be flexed or flat depending on your comfort level. (You may find that flexing your toes offers better stability.)
  • Extend your right arm forward and breathe. Hold this for a five-count breath. Do this with both arms, two times.
  • Be sure to actively engage the length of your arms and fingers.
  • Now, extend the right leg on the opposite side out. Make sure your palm is planted firmly on the ground, aligned in place with your shoulders. Your left knee should be supporting you while floating the right leg back.
  • While the right leg is lifted, be sure to flex the toes and extend through the heels. Hold for eight breaths and repeat two times. Switch sides.

Note: Be conscious of holding any tension in your body—especially the neck. Try to relax and maintain a neutral spine.