Practice yoga with care, caution

RIVERSIDE COUNTY – Though it might once have been considered a trend, yoga has long since moved on from trendy territory to become a more widely accepted discipline that is practiced by millions for its positive impact on mental and physical health.

Though yoga is an ancient practice, only recently has it become so popular in the western hemisphere, where sports marketing surveys found that roughly 20 million Americans over the age of 18 practiced yoga in 2012. That’s a considerable increase from just four years earlier, when just under 16 million Americans admitted to practicing yoga.

The growing popularity of yoga likely comes as no surprise to its many practitioners, who often credit yoga with relieving stress and improving overall fitness. In addition, yoga can also help alleviate chronic pain and, according to the Mayo Clinic, reduce risk factors for chronic conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure.

While yoga is beneficial in many ways, it’s important that men and women not mistake yoga for medical treatment. Though yoga may be part of an individual’s treatment plan, it’s still necessary that men and women with medical conditions rely on their health care providers for treatment.

For example, doctors may recommend yoga to individuals dealing with elevated stress levels, but doctors also may want their patients to take certain medications in order to lower those stress levels. Yoga on its own may be effective, but men and women should still seek professional medical treatment when dealing with health problems.

It’s also important that men and women beginning a yoga regimen not take it lightly. Though the atmosphere in a typical yoga studio tends to be serene, yoga is a physically demanding discipline, and those unprepared to deal with such demands often find themselves suffering from injuries.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, injuries to the neck, shoulders, spine, legs, and knees are possible when practitioners of yoga do not exercise proper technique and caution. So it pays for beginners to heed the following warnings when beginning a yoga regimen.

Work with a professional

No matter how long your neighbor insists he or she has practiced yoga, it’s still best that you learn the discipline from a certified instructor. Your neighbor might know all of the poses, but an instructor with credentials can help men and women with preexisting medical conditions avoid poses that can exacerbate such conditions.

Novices might not know that certain poses can increase injury risk for sufferers of osteoporosis, spinal problems and high or low blood pressure. When trying yoga for the first time, always work with a professional, making sure to discuss any preexisting medical conditions before your initial session.

Take things slowly

Its reputation as a calming discipline often gives beginners the mistaken impression that yoga is an easy discipline to grasp. However, it’s best for beginners to take things slowly before attempting to perform difficult stretches and poses. Yoga is not a competition, so give yourself adequate time to learn proper breathing techniques and figure out ways to maintain your balance. Once you have mastered such techniques, you can then begin to try your hand at more advanced poses.

Warm up before each session

Men and women should warm up before beginning any exercise regimen, and yoga is no exception. Stiff, cold muscles can lead to serious injury whether you’re playing basketball or stretching into a yoga pose. Warm up your muscles with a few minutes of light cardiovascular exercise before beginning a yoga session to reduce your risk of muscle tears or pain when you start stretching or posing.

Dress appropriately

Flexibility is essential when practicing yoga, so make sure your clothing is not restrictive. Women can buy pants made specifically for yoga that stretch easily, making it easier to perform various poses and stretches. Men may also be able to find pants made specifically for yoga, but if not, athletic shorts or track pants can work just as well.

Stop if you feel any physical problems

It is not uncommon, especially for beginners, to experience feelings of dizziness or feel as if your body is becoming overheated during yoga. In such instances, stop immediately, as yoga is supposed to be a pain-free discipline.

Ask the instructor for help the moment you start to feel faint, dizzy, overheated, or injured. Physical problems during yoga may be a byproduct of dehydration, so be sure to begin your session fully hydrated and remain so throughout your workout.

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