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Top 10 Questions about Yoga and Wellness

A quick reference to some of the common questions about yoga, exercise and feeling good.

I’ve been in the wellness business in one way or another my whole professional career. Certainly though, in the past 10 years as a yoga teacher, my focus has shifted specifically to yoga, running, mindfulness techniques and overall wellness coaching. Here are some of the more common questions about wellness that have come up in my work with people:

1. Is yoga a good way to lose weight?

One of the wonderful things about yoga is its versatility. It can be practiced for varying lengths of time, in varying temperatures and with variety in terms of the poses that are done. Also, the pace of a yoga practice can vary as well. Generally speaking, exercise that raises your heart rate to your target zone and maintains that pace for at least 20 minutes or longer will result in calorie burn. (See http://www.wikihow.com/Calculate-Your-Target-Heart-Rate to learn how to calculate your target heart rate).

If losing weight is one of your wellness goals, look closely at your caloric intake, be sure you’re consuming a reasonable number of calories per day, based on your needs and look for yoga classes that are called “power” or “vinyasa.” These classes tend to keep you moving and elevate your heart rate.

I also suggest including a purely cardiovascular activity such as running, the elliptical machine or brisk walking. The same guideline applies as above; whatever you are doing, your heart rate must increase to that target rate and stay there for at least 20 minutes.

2. How hot does it get in a heated or hot yoga class?

This also depends on the style of yoga you’re doing. Bikram yoga classes are above 100 degrees but heated power yoga classes (what I teach) tend to be about 80 degrees. The actual temperature will vary depending on the weather outside, how many people are in the room, the studio’s HVAC equipment and what the teacher does to adjust the room temperature.

Heated yoga is a great way to increase flexibility but you should use caution when going into poses to be sure you’re not pushing yourself beyond what your body can handle. Also, be sure when attending class, you are relatively hydrated. Bring water and a towel.

3. What is the best way to start a yoga practice?

One of the best ways to start is to attend a class tailored to people who are just starting out. These classes tend to have a bit more instruction around how to do each pose. Try to attend class at least 2-3 times per week for six consecutive weeks so your body develops the necessary muscle memory in both the sequence and the postures. If you can invest in a private session, ask one of the teachers you like if they offer private lessons. Even taking just one can give you personal instruction you’ll use for a lifetime.

4. I’d love to try meditation but I don’t know where to start.

Meditation is the practice of stillness in body and mind. To begin, set a timer for 2 minutes. Sit on a hard surfaced chair (not a couch or soft chair), close your eyes and take deep breaths. If your mind is racing, let it do its thing, while you stay focused on your breath. Do this every day and increase the length of each session from week to week. Notice how you feel for the hours after your meditation practice. If you enjoy how you feel, keep up the practice. Typically, people experience a sense of calm and connectedness to their body.

5. When is the best time of the day to exercise?

This really depends on your body and how your energy levels run during the day. Try exercising at different times and see where you feel the most benefit. Some people like the morning because they exercise on an empty stomach; some like the evening when they can work off the stress of their day. There is no rule; only that you pick something and stick with it. 

6. What should I eat before I go to yoga or go for a run?

Typically, you don’t want to eat anything significant within an hour of exercise because blood will be focused on digesting food versus fueling your muscles. However, something light an hour or so before is fine as long as you feel, once you’re going, that you tolerate it well. Things like yogurt, a piece of fruit, some nuts and cheese or hummus and a few vegetables are good choices.

7. I’ve been increasing my running mileage and my knee hurts. Should I stop running?

This is a very common sensation with runners, especially new runners. While it’s never a good idea to generalize, what can sometimes be the case when this is the symptom is that your iliotibial band is tight and it’s pulling on your knee. This band of thick tissue on the outside of the knee can get tight from running and the only way to relieve the pressure is to stretch the muscle. Yoga is a great way to do this and there are many poses that stretch the hip. As always, check with a physical therapist or physician and verify that this is what you are experiencing.

8. I don’t have a great deal of time to exercise each day and sometimes I can only exercise a few times a week. What is the most efficient thing for me to do?

The best thing to do is find something you love to do for exercise. Many people start bootcamp classes, yoga, Cross Fit or running simply because they are looking for a quick fix to weight loss and fitness. There is no quick fix. There are only lasting changes in the body toward health are brought about by doing something regularly that you enjoy. Keep the target heart rate in mind and whatever you are doing, do it long enough that you can hit that rate for at least 20 minutes. The most efficient thing to do will vary depending on the person’s body type, fitness level and wellness goals. If you can work with a wellness coach, yoga teacher or physical therapist, they can create a program for you. Some ideas include a 20-minute daily yoga practice; a daily 3-mile run, followed by 10 minutes of stretching; a daily brisk walk followed by a session with light weights.

9. I have a great deal of stress in my life and it’s affecting my ability to sleep.

Generally speaking, be sure to turn away from all computers and phones a half-hour before sleep. Clear your room of TV and computers and your phone. If you’d like, do some light reading before bed. Have a cup of hot tea and try to go to bed the same time each night. If you wake up in the middle of the night, repeat these steps.

10. What is the best way to increase the feeling of happiness in my life? This is, of course, a very tough question and also a very individual one. But one of the things I have found helps me the most (and a theme that regularly occurs in yoga and personal development texts) is to stay in a state of self-referral. This doesn’t mean being selfish but is more a reflection of making yourself and your health a priority. In the world we live in, especially where things are so influenced by the opinions of others (“like” something on someone’s Facebook page lately?), it’s hard to stay focused on yourself and what you need. The more you can do this, the less you’ll be affected by the drama of others and the less your moods will shift.   

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