Yoga: More than just a physical exercise

Different poses offer different benefits and work on specific body parts. Courtesy photos

What you need to know:

  • When many hear the word Yoga, the first things that come to their mind are physical exercises, stretching, and yoga poses.
  • However, the real meaning of yoga is “union”—union of mind, intellect, emotions, and body, and union of the individual with the universal.

Yoga is increasingly becoming one of the most popular, if not the most popular workout regime among those who are looking to gain flexibility, strength and even lose weight. It can be done from the privacy of your home or in a classroom. But if we are to be honest, it confuses most of us a bit; is it a religion, an ideology, a concept or an exercise?
Neepa Patel, a private yoga instructor based in Bukoto, says yoga is a Sanskrit word that means union. It essentially means, that which unites the physical and the spirit. Once you get into yoga though, you learn that it is so much more than just a way to work out and keep in shape.
“It is different things to different people. For some, it is a philosophy to others a passion and others a lifestyle. You might start it as an exercise but find yourself exploring and falling in love with the spirituality that is a part of yoga,” Patel explains.

Robert Damulira, a fitness instructor, says yoga’s greatest strength is that it can do a lot for the human body without interfering much with an individual’s lifestyle or schedule. “You can virtually do yoga from anywhere at your local gym, a yoga studio or from the privacy of your own home with a personal instructor or a DVD,” Damulira explains.
Cissy Nansera, a yoga instructor, says yoga through the practice of breath control, meditation and performing poses helps strengthen your body and relax your mind. “It is such a healthy practice fit for anyone to do including pregnant women and children. Yoga is basically a workout for both the mind and body which for me sets it apart from other fitness options especially since there is not much pain involved,” Nansera explains.

For beginners, Nansera recommends the mountain pose which teaches how to ground in to your feet and feel the earth below you, the downward dog which stretches and strengthens the entire body, the plank which is basically balancing on your hands and is a great way to strengthen the abdominals, and learn to use the breath to help us stay in a challenging pose and the triangle which stretches the sides of the waist, open up the lungs, strengthens the legs and tones the entire body.

Other poses include
Warrior 1 is a gentle backbend; and a great pose for stretching open the front body while strengthening the legs, hips, buttocks, core and upper body. Seated bend pose which is perfect for stretching the hamstrings, lower and upper back and sides. Bridge is a good beginner’s back bend that stretches the front body and strengthens the back body.

Child’s pose
According to Nansera, this is a pose everyone needs to do daily. It is great for when you are fatigued, in need of a mental break or stress relief. It is also perfect before going to bed to relax all the kinks in the body.

How to do it
Start on all fours then bring your knees and feet together as you sit your butt back to your heels and stretch your arms forward. Lower your forehead to the floor (or block or pillow or blanket) and let your entire body release. Hold for as long as you wish.

“Physically, it strengthens the body. You think lifting weights builds strong muscles? Try yoga. You will get lean and will be able to lift yourself even using only one hand because you gain not only body strengthen but balance too,” says Nansera.
She adds that yoga helped her fight depression and anxiety, refresh her mind and relax her body entirely which is known as Zen among the yogis. She recounts that she turned to yoga in 2015 during a particularly dark period in her life. “I was experiencing overwhelming anxiety, depression, addictions, low self-esteem and physical injuries in my chest following a car accident that almost cracked my chest open. I did not think I would recover yet here I am today, enjoying every sunrise with a relaxed smile,” she relates.

You need an outfit that is comfortable, with modest coverage that will not reveal too much. You will not enjoy the experience if you are constantly tugging at your clothes during the class.
Stretchable cotton-blend tank tops or t-shirts that hug the torso work well for both men and women. Avoid tops with loose necklines or collars; they get irritating during inversions, such as the shoulder stand experience.

Women should look for bra support built into a yoga top. Yoga pants with an elastic waist that conform to the body’s shape are best. For women, yoga pants are available with a foldable waist for extra comfort and warmth. Overly loose pants can slide and get in the way of yoga poses. Drawstring pants are uncomfortable when lying on the stomach. Avoid wearing shorts because they can bunch up in upside-down poses.

What you need
According to Robert Damulira, a fitness instructor, what you will need depends on where you practice.

Yoga mats
Yoga mats differ in thickness and length, unless you are over 6 feet, then a standard 68” mat will work. Those with joint problems are advised to get a thicker mat for that extra cushioning. Some gyms and studios actually provide mats but Damulira recommends getting your own for sanitary reasons.

Yoga towels are important to have because you will get sweaty and perspire while doing yoga. Your towel can be used to wipe the sweat from your body as well as the sweat on your mat. If your mat gets wet, it can be very slippery so keeping a towel handy is a good idea.

Yoga balls
These are purely optional and are not typically used, but they might be. The come in 3 sizes depending on your height. The yoga balls can help with stability, balance and strength.

Yoga bolsters are dense pillows of varying sizes used to support particular parts of the body in different poses. They help take the strain off the body as you ease from pose to pose and are a must have for those doing restorative and pregnancy yoga.