By Dorling Kindersley , Friday 1 March 2013

If you are a newcomer wanting to learn yoga, you may wonder how best to approach such a diverse subject. Five basic principles underpin all forms of yoga practice and these will provide you with a starting point to understand this vast and sometimes mystical school of thought.

Woman doing yoga1: Beneficial exercise

Sometimes viewed incorrectly as undemanding forms of exercise, yoga routines can provide you will a full cardiac workout and increase your aerobic stamina.

Practising yoga sequences will provide you with a workout that is strenuous and varied enough to be considered ‘proper exercise’. Yoga achieves this by massaging the internal organs, stretching and toning the muscles and ligaments, enhancing the flexibility of the spine and joints, as well as improving blood circulation. Any worthwhile exercise regime should take into account existing levels of fitness and stamina as well as any medical conditions. In yoga, postures can be modified or aids used to enable safe practice for people of different physical abilities.

2: Correct breathing

Yoga places great importance on the breath as it is considered to be a bridge between the mind and physical body. Breathing correctly in yoga requires you to breathe fully and rhythmically, actively employing your entire lung capacity in order to maximise your intake of oxygen. To achieve breathing that is deep, slow, and rhythmical, you need to be able to regulate the depth and duration of not only inhalation but also exhalation of the breath. Yoga encourages breathing in and out through the nose.

Yoga breathing techniques reinvigorate your body by maximising oxygen levels in the blood. Proper execution of the postures is needed to ensure that you breathe correctly. When adopting the poses, be aware of the position of the upper torso, ensuring the ribs can be lifted up and outwards, the chest is open, and you are connecting to the movements of the diaphragm. Deepening the breath also helps to remove the stale air from the lungs. As well as increasing energy levels, control of the breath also influences your mental state, helping you to achieve a calmer and more focused mind.

Familiarity with the concept of prana, or vital energy, will help you understand why such importance is attached to breathing in yoga theory and practice. Put simply, prana is the energy that animated matter and is present in all living things, including ourselves. By teaching how to control our breath, yoga enables us to ingest, distribute, and store prana more effectively.

3: Complete relaxation

Yoga defines a state of true relaxation as existing when the body consumes the minimum amount of energy required to exist. Yoga distinguishes between physical, mental, and spiritual relaxation, each of which may be accomplished in a different way. Physical relaxation, for example, involves using movements to loosen and eventually disperse areas of tension created by trapped negative energies. Relaxation sequences are designed to focus on these areas, applying pressure and massaging them to release tension in a similar way to acupressure.

4: Balanced diet

The yogic approach to food and diet has much in common with modern ideas about healthy eating. Yoga teachings advocate a diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products, and nuts and pulses. Great importance is placed on the way in which we consume food as this will impact upon the body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients. The general rules are to eat in moderation only when hungry, taking time to chew food properly, eating at set times each day, minimising fluid intake at meals, and generally having a positive attitude to food and its preparation.

5: Positive thinking

Yoga places great importance on positive thinking for sustaining mental wellbeing. Yoga uses meditation and relaxation techniques to consciously clear the mind of negative thoughts and emotions, and employs positive affirmations to bolster self-esteem. Having put your negative thinking and emotions to one side, you will be able to see your strengths and weaknesses more realistically. Shedding your previous mindset may be no easy task, but by choosing to practise yoga, you are beginning a discipline that will eventually bring you to a state of psychological harmony and serenity.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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