Anyone, regardless of age, sex or physical condition, can practise Yoga. Physical and mental benefits will be felt by anyone who practises regularly. However, it is advisable to check with your medical practitioner before embarking on a new exercise programme, particularly if you suffer from any specific medical condition.
To practise Yoga you need a quiet clear space in a warm, well-ventilated room (or outside on level ground); try to make sure that you will not be distracted or disturbed. The floor should be firm and level and, for increased comfort, can be covered with several blankets or rugs.
Yoga can be performed at any time of day, but the body tends to be more flexible later in the day. Allow two to four hours after eating a meal as Yoga poses compress theand can cause discomfort; the bladder and bowels should also be emptied. Remove jewellery, belts and watches and take off your shoes and socks. Wear light, loose or stretchy clothing that allows free movement. Keep an extra layer of warm clothing nearby in case you become cold.
Always begin and end your Yoga session with at least five minutes of total relaxation. A short period of complete relaxation gives the mind an opportunity to become still and focused, and relaxed muscles will enable you to practise the Asanas more effectively.
The following relaxation method can be used at the start or end of your Yoga session, or it can be used to help reduce stress and promote deep relaxation on a day-to-day basis. The pose is known as the Corpse pose (Savasana), and is one of the most basic of the Yoga Asanas.
Begin the exercise lying on your back with the feet about hip-width apart and the arms about 15cm (6in) from your sides, palms up. The legs should be straight but not tense and the feet should be allowed to turn outwards. By tilting the chin down and in slightly, the neck is fully extended. The chest is lifted away from the abdomen. With your eyes closed, relax the jaw and the muscles of your face and feel whether the body is fully and evenly aligned. If lying flat is uncomfortable, bring your knees up so that your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are pointing upwards; the head can be supported on a flat cushion.
When you are completely comfortable, rest in this position, and bring your thoughts gently round to focus on your breathing. Breathe deeply from the abdomen. If other thoughts come into your mind, be aware of them momentarily and then let them go, bringing your mind back to your breath. If outside noises disrupt your concentration, again, allow them to pass across your mind, then return your thoughts to the breath.
The state of relaxation can be enhanced by mentally relaxing each part of the body in turn. Starting at the toes, bring your mind to focus on each part of your body: toes, feet, shins, calf muscles, thighs, buttocks, hips, belly, chest and so on. When you have completed this, bring your mind gently back to your breathing, and remain in this state of relaxation for at least a further 5 minutes.
The Child’s pose is another relaxation method that can be used between the various Asanas. It is particularly beneficial after any Asana that involves backward stretches.
Begin the exercise sitting on your heels and resting the forehead on the floor. Place the arms alongside the body with the hands level with the feet and the palms facing upwards. Relax the body into this position and rest there for a few minutes.