Magazine photos, TV depictions and even YouTube fitness videos often portray yoga as a practice tailor-made for the young and supple: men and women with beautiful bodies, easily touching their toes and staying focused during a 90-minute workout.
That’s not a complete picture, though, according to Julie Levinson, registered yoga teacher at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.
“Yoga can be adapted and modified for every body type, young and old alike. It’s also much more than a fitness practice — it’s a practice focused on healthy living and well-being,” she says.
How Yoga Can Improve Your Life
While exercise can enhance mood, work the heart and boost immunity, yoga goes one step further by calming the central nervous system and balancing hormones and metabolism — all of which get thrown off by chronic stress. A bonus: regularly hitting the yoga mat can also help alleviate stress, depression and anxiety.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to attend a full 90-minute yoga class to experience the benefits (though that’s certainly an option). You can practice poses anytime, anywhere, completely on your own. Yoga can be a do-it-yourself program.
Here are a few basic sequences Levinson suggests you can incorporate into your day:
- Upon waking. Move gently after waking to get the blood flowing to your joints, limbs and even your fingertips. To begin, lie on your back and breathe deeply from you diaphragm for a few minutes, then practice a series of pelvic tilts. “Press your pelvis into the mattress or the floor, contract your abdominal muscles as you exhale and then release slowly as you inhale,” Levinson says.
- Before a big presentation or interview. Channel your inner superhero and mimic the classic stance. Spread your feet hip-width apart, place your hands gently on your hips and stand tall for two minutes. Studies show that this superhero pose has powerful effects, lowering the stress hormone cortisol while simultaneously boosting testosterone. (Women produce testosterone, too, and it’s been linked to energy and vitality.) Need a quick anxiety-reducing fix before taking the podium? Try “beak breathing” — breathe in through your nose and extend your exhale through pursed lips.
- When you’re feeling stressed at your desk. Take a few minutes to stand up and stretch, especially if you sit at a desk all day. Move your spine in six directions: forward, backward, leaning side-to-side, and twisting left and right. Feeling tired or stiff but also a little adventurous? Try the cat/cow pose, while either sitting in a chair or standing and propping your hands on a desk or countertop. Round your spine like a cat as you exhale, then reverse direction and arch it like the curve of a cow’s back as you inhale.
- To energize during the mid-afternoon workday slump. Backbends are invigorating and relaxing at the same time, and they can be done in a variety of ways. If you’re sitting, bring your hands to the back of the chair, arch your back and lift your chin slightly. Standing up? Interlace your fingers behind your back, then open and stretch the front of your body while gently contracting your back.
- Before you turn in for the night. Consider finishing your day the same way you started it — with breathing from your diaphragm, which quiets the mind and body and prepares you for sleep. The morning’s pelvic tilts can also be repeated, since they massage the back, easing tension and stress.
“While yoga is designed to promote health and well-being, people can get injured during practice, just as they can with any form of exercise,” Levinson says.
Before dipping your toes in, ask your doctor if yoga is a safe practice for you and always pay attention to your body’s cues.
Check out all the options for yoga classes available through Henry Ford Health.
Julie Levinson, BFA, ERYT, C-IAYT, is a certified Yoga Therapist at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.