Fitness Magazine

6 Ways to Take Care of Yourself with Yoga

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

6 Ways to Take Care of Yourself with Yoga

Mother's Kiss by Mary Cassat

Last week when I wrote about mortician Caitlin Doughty Welcome to Your Mortality, I mentioned that I’d heard her say in her Fresh Air interview that she “took care” of herself by “doing yoga.” When I heard her say that, I laughed to myself because that very same subject—using yoga to take care of yourself—was on my mind as something I wanted to write about because it was what I had been doing myself the last few weeks (see Friday Q&A: Practicing to Manage Stress). Of course, the statement “I do yoga” was a rather vague, and it made me want to ask her, “What exactly do you do?” But the vagueness also made me think. Because there are really two different levels to taking care of yourself by doing yoga. The first level, which is enough to satisfy many people, is just to take yoga classes on a regular basis. It seems that the combination of exercise and time spent focusing on mindful movement, with some relaxing practices added into the mix, can help many people deal with difficulty and stress in their lives.But to take it to the next level, you need to start practicing yoga at home! When you practice at home, you can customize your practice not only for your particular body but also to help you deal with whatever is currently going on in your life and/or with your body. Recently, I’ve been using my home practice to gradually recover from a particular stressful period. For a time, I focused exclusively on practicing quieting poses and practices, and avoided stimulating poses, such as active backbends and challenging poses. Now that I’m feeling better, I’m gradually becoming more and more active in my practice, and returning to an asana practice that is more typical for me, including standing poses, backbends, and Sun Salutations. Soon I’ll be adding in some of my challenge poses. And because I have arthritis in my right hip, I’ve continued to incorporate hip stretches into all my practices to maintain my range of motion and nourish my hip joint.To encourage you to take your yoga practice to the next level, here are six basic ways you can customize your practice to take better care of yourself:1. Manage Your Stress. When you are going through a stressful period, focus your practice on reducing your stress levels. You have a lot of choices for relaxing poses and practices that you can include in your sequences (see The Relaxation Response and Yoga) or just practice on their own. For some people, including active poses to release physical stress is helpful, but when you’re stressed out, it’s always a good idea to follow up your active poses with a nice, long relaxing pose or practice. If you’re having trouble sleeping, consider practicing yoga for better sleep (see Five Tips for Better Sleep).2. Balance Your Emotions. If you’re feeling off balance emotionally—whether that means feeling depressed or anxious or angry—you can include poses in your practice that help improve your emotional state and avoid those that seem to aggravate it. Although the way poses, breath practices, and meditation affects your emotional body can vary from person to person, we do have some general guidelines that may help you design your practice (see Yoga and Your Emotions and How Your Breath Affects Your Nervous System). 3. Balance Your Body. Depending on your particular body and the activities you already do in your daily life, you can focus your practice on improving your strength, flexibility, balance, and/or agility as needed. You should also consider the activities you already do—and what you love to do—and design a practice to support your ability to continue to do them. For example, I love to walk and garden, so after a weekend spent doing those activities, I’ll focus my Monday practice on balancing my body from all that hiking around and forward bending. See Being Able to Do What You Love for information.4. Practice for Physical Conditions. If you have a physical problem or illness, you can often target your asana practice to help improve it. These include common physical problem, such as low back pain or mild arthritis, and some more serious problems, such as heart disease, osteoporosis, or Parkinson's Disease. In the past three years, we written about a great many medical conditions, so if you’ve got a medical problem, try looking it up on the blog using the Search functions—see How to Search). For chronic pain, see Yoga and Pain Management. If there is a condition we haven’t addressed yet that you want to learn about, drop us a line (see Contact Us).5. Practice with an Injury or Disability. Often people assume that if they have a physical injury, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or a sprained ankle, or permanent disability that prevents them from doing the full range of poses, they have to stop practicing yoga entirely. But there is almost always something you can do, and you can often come up with a nice sequence that doesn’t involve the injured or disabled part of your body (see Doing Yoga Without). And, of course, you can always practice meditation, breath work, and supported restorative poses. 6. Read Yoga Books. While some yoga teachers discuss yoga philosophy and history during class, many simply lead an asana class. So if you haven’t read any yoga philosophy, you may find it be a revelation (see Why You Should Study Yoga Philosophy). And finding just a single gem of wisdom to guide you in your daily life can make a huge difference. Reading yoga practice books can give you new ideas for poses and practices to try at home. And reading yoga history books can give you a deeper understanding of how the yoga practice evolved and what are some of the myths about yoga that really need debunking. Because one of the niyamas is self study (see The Power of Self Study (Svadyaya), Part 1 and Part 2), this is definitely practicing yoga! To help you put together your own sequences, we have a number of general posts on sequencing. See Iyengar-Style Sequencing, Part 1 to start. I hope this inspires you!Subscribe to YOGA FOR HEALTHY AGING by Email ° FollowYoga for Healthy Agingon Facebook

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