Yoga for every body

Strength, flexibility, agility and relaxation — they’re not just goals for gym buffs and professional athletes. If we want to remain active, fit and independent throughout our lives, experts warn we should make them a priority in our fitness routines.

So you thought aerobic activity had you covered? Not quite. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, adults should work in muscle-strengthening activities two to four times a week. Flexibility and agility activities should be part of our lives almost on a daily basis (that is, four to seven times a week).

With hectic schedules and a serious time crunch, it’s no surprise that “multi-tasking” forms of exercise like yoga — which benefit the mind and the body — are gaining in popularity.

Why give it a try?

Have visions of turning yourself into a pretzel? Don’t worry — yoga will actually help you unwind thanks to its focus on breathing and meditation. (After all, the goal is to unite the body, mind and spirit.) Yoga is more than just movement. Even if you don’t adhere to diet, behaviour and philosophy, the exercises offer many health benefits and can help:

– Prevent falls and injuries. The stretching, movements and control help improve balance, flexibility, range of motion and posture — thereby protecting us from future harm while doing other activities. It can help mitigate the damage we do to our bodies when we’re inactive — like working at a computer 40 plus hours a week.

– Increase muscle strength. Unfortunately, we lose muscle tone as we age. With yoga, you won’t bulk up, but you will develop long, lean muscles.

– Reduce stress. Yoga is often recommended for people who are under a lot of pressure, like caregivers. The breathing techniques can be used outside of exercise sessions — like those “need to count to 10” moments.

– Manage chronic illnesses like arthritis, asthma, depression, anxiety and fatigue. Relaxation and exercise are beneficial for many health conditions.

– Improve sleep. More vigorous types of yoga can help tire you out, and relaxing poses and some breathing exercises can help target insomnia.

– Reduce heart rate and blood pressure. Yoga isn’t an necessarily an aerobic activity, but it its overall benefits are good for the heart.

– Improve awareness of one’s body. You’ll be more aware of your movements, feelings and posture.

– Prevent mid-life weight gain. A recent study showed that people who practiced yoga gained less weight than those who didn’t. Researchers think part of the reason was due greater awareness of their body — like a better awareness of feeling full. (For full details, see TheZoomer Report: Yoga and Weight Gain.)

Where to start?

Like Pilates and tai chi, yoga is low impact and there are many different types that can be modified for people of any age and ability. Some of the many options include Hatha Yoga (which is slower paced and focuses on breathing along with asanas or poses), Ashtanga Yoga and Power Yoga (which are more intense, faster paced and involves continuous movement), Iyengar Yoga (which focuses on holding poses for longer times) and Vinyasa Yoga (another vigorous form of yoga). Another “hot” form is Bikram Yoga, which is done in a place heated to 105 degrees F to help loosen the muscles and sweat out toxins.

If you’re not sure where to start, many experts recommend Hatha Yoga for its gentler poses and stress-relieving benefits. (For more information about the various types, see Understanding the different types of yoga)

Fun options to get you moving

Of course, you can practice more than one kind of yoga — including some out-of-the-ordinary forms — and you don’t even have to take a class. Here are some fun options worth a try:

Exergaming: You’ve heard of those fitness video games with the built-in virtual trainer? While a game system like the Wii Fit won’t replace a qualified instructor, the programs can guide you through some basic poses and routines. You can even get some feedback — those special mats, sensors and balance boards send information to the system to help you correct your poses and improve your technique.

Laughter yoga: Ever since it’s invention by Dr. Madan Kataria in 1995, people around the world have been taking classes and joining clubs just to laugh. The “exercises” promote the healthy benefits of a hearty guffaw. You might feel a little silly, but it doesn’t matter if the laughter is forced at first. Kataria notes that even going through the motions releases the chemicals that make laughter a powerful healer. (For more information, see Laughter is the best medicine).

Kitchen yoga: Busy schedule? Strike a pose while you make your morning toast, steep your tea or cook dinner. If you can manage five minutes a day, that’s an extra 30 minutes of exercise a week. To make it possible, instructor Ruth Shaw has developed a book, e-book and printable cards to help you squeeze some yoga into every day life — even if you’re travelling. (More information, visit

Yoga for golfers: Yes, the physical and mental conditioning of yoga can improve your golf game. Fitness expert Katherine Roberts has even developed a training regime specifically for golfers that focuses on balance, proper alignment and breathing along with movement. The program is especially effective for older golfers too.

For more information and some sample activities, see Yoga for golfers , Yoga for golfers: Building core strength and stability and Yoga for golfers: The basics of stretching .

Kama Aerobics: In a previous article, we told you about hybrid activities like Yoga Booty Ballet® (a combination of yoga, body sculpting and dancing) and Yogilates (yoga meets Pilates), but one of the latest to hit the scene is Kama aerobics.

Yes, that’s “kama” as in “Kama sutra”. This new exercise trend (started by former Miss Canada Runner-up, Halyna Natalia) is part yoga, part Pilates and part sensual dance. The exercises target the sexual core pelvic muscle group and target problem areas for fitness and appearance — like the abdominal muscles, hips and legs. Improved posture, flexibility and muscle tone is the goal — but the perks are increased confidence and sexuality.

The activities are suitable for all ages — Natalia even tried them out on the crowd at this year’s ideaCity conference. Here’s a quick demonstration:

Before you try it…

– As with any exercise where proper form is paramount, don’t try to teach yourself at home. Get some guidance from a qualified instructor when you’re first learning, and leave the DVDs and video games for later.

– Try before you buy. Look for drop in classes, demonstrations and other free events that let you try out a class before you commit.

– When in doubt, talk to your doctor if you have any health concerns. If you have any pre-existing health conditions like poor balance or vision or joint problems, look for an appropriate class and a yoga instructor who has the experience and know-how to adapt exercises.

– While it’s convenient to practice at home — but you may want to put a little effort into creating a suitable space. To help you get in the right frame of mind, try reducing clutter, making sure there is plenty of light and providing good air circulation. (For more tips, see Yoga at home: Creating a space of your own.)

– Shop around for gear and clothing. You want to buy good quality items, but you don’t need trendy designer labels. Many retailers carry reasonably priced lines of clothing, and sales and promotions can help ease the costs too.


This article provides a quick overview. For more information on yoga and where to find classes in your area, contact your province’s yoga association (like Atlantic Canada’s Yoga Teacher Association or the Yoga Association of Alberta .) Many cities and regions have yoga groups and directories as well.

Additional sources:,

Photo © Stephan Zabel

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