Pose for sport: welcome to competitive yoga

2016Apr4_Yoga_ACompetition and yoga are two words you don’t see put together very often. It’s also quite difficult to imagine yoga as anything more than a class that you go to after work. However, it’s a thing, and the world of competitive yoga is making great leaps to establish itself as an Olympic sport. Already celebrating its 13th year, the International Yoga Sports Federation claims that the purpose of competitive yoga is to inspire others to take up the practice and gain from its health benefits. So how does competitive yoga actually work? Here’s everything you need to know.

How do you compete?

In competitive yoga, yogis are given three minutes to perform six different poses. Each pose has to be held for at least three seconds to be counted as a successful pose. Yogis have some freedom on the choice of poses that they wish to execute. However, four poses are mandatory and must contain variations of a stretch, a twist, a forward bend, and a back bend. Of course, judges factor in the difficulty of various poses too. For example, a forearm stand or a one handed tree pose are likely to be awarded more points than a downward facing dog.

So how do they decide the winner?

A panel of judges, from professional yoga studios, are positioned in front of the stage, where they decide the fates of many hopeful yoga contestants. Much like gymnastics point systems, competitive yoga is weighted on a scale of 60. This means that the maximum amount of points a pose can be awarded is 10. However, not many people have been able to achieve a perfect score. In fact, the highest number of points that have been awarded to a competitor is a 42.

What the judges are looking for in each performance is the difficulty of the pose, if they can maintain balance, breathing and the perceived concentration of each contestant. Although it does sound ridiculous at first, many gymnasts and contortionists have underestimated the difficulty of competitive yoga. While an individual’s body is contorted in an impressive yoga pose, it can be extremely difficult to remember proper breathing techniques, which can cause their entire performance to fall apart. Basically, if you can make a pose seem effortless, you get more points.

What’s the environment like in competitive yoga?

Putting yoga, a traditionally calm and judgement free hobby, into a competitive scene can seem quite contradictory. But, apparently, contestants are actually quite supportive of each other and don’t resort to trash talking like you would see in other competitive sports. Most people see the competition as an opportunity to improve on their poses and see the result as extra motivation.

Similar to other performance competitions, audiences cheer and applaud the competitors when they are impressed by the number of ways the yogis can bend and twist their bodies.

Any backlash from traditional yoga practitioners?

As you’d expect, some traditional yoga practitioners would disagree with the practice of competitive yoga. They believe that it places too much importance on comparing yourself to others and encourages the idea that different poses have more value over the other. For instance, no contestant performs a corpse pose during the competition since it won’t give them any scores.

At the end of the day, the great thing about yoga is that it can be interpreted and practiced in so many ways. While some may think that mindfulness can only be achieved through traditional yoga, it’s possible that some can find it through friendly competition. Competitive yoga is already being practiced in over 32 countries and, if it’s inspiring more people to take up yoga, we can’t simply dismiss it as an illegitimate practice.

Want to learn more about the latest trends in competitive yoga? Call us today.

Published with permission from FitnessAdvisory. Source.

How yoga can benefit Alzheimer’s

2016Feb22_Yoga_ANerve Growth Factor (NGF) is a key protein that helps diminish neural degradation. People with Alzheimer’s, however, are found to have significantly lower NGF levels causing them to be more vulnerable to the disease. Breakthrough research has revealed that NGF levels can be increased by introducing yoga into your fitness routines. Here are two easy exercises you can practice as a preventative measure.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a condition that normally occurs in older adults. Symptoms include gradual memory loss, confusion and eventually death. Currently there are 3.2 million women in the US with Alzheimer’s. Actually women have a 1 in 6 chance of developing the condition compared with men who have a 1 in 11 chance. As of today, there is no known cure for the disease, but there are measures you can take to help prevent it.

Inhale, exhale

Research reveals that yoga breathing exercises help boost NGF levels, according to a 2015 study published by the Journal of International Psychogeriatrics Association. This conclusion is supported by an experiment conducted during the study.

Twenty volunteers were divided into two groups: one taught a yoga breathing program and the other was asked to read quietly for 20 minutes. The breathing program consisted of 10 minutes of Om chanting and 10 minutes of yoga breathing regulation after which volunteers’ NGF levels were tested. The results revealed that the yoga group displayed a 60 percent increase in NGF levels compared to readers.

Dr. Sundara Balasubramanian, study researcher, biochemist and research assistant at the Medical University of South California, said, “Being a systemic exercise, yogic breathing could be a powerful tool in preventing and/or managing neurodegenerative diseases.”

The power of chair yoga

As the name suggests, the exercise routine is conducted on a chair that takes up little space. The 2014 study published in Research in Gerontology Nursing claimed that chair yoga helps improve balance and quality of life of Alzheimer’s patients. The conclusion was put to the test when the chair yoga program was administered to nine patients for eight weeks, where two sessions were held weekly.

The 50-minute session comprised of 10 minutes of breathing exercises, 20 minutes of chair yoga postures, 5 minutes of balance-enhancing postures and 10 minutes of relaxation and meditation. Researchers noted that participants had significantly improved balance and also showed improvements in walking and gait speed. Positive changes in physical measure brought about a positive turn neurally as well. This created a more positive mindset, especially since they were capable of moving and doing more, the patient’s initial focus was partially shifted from the disease itself.

Want to find out more on how yoga can prevent Alzheimer’s? Want to sign up for a class? Call us today. More information awaits.

Published with permission from FitnessAdvisory. Source.

How to perfect your yoga balance

Yoga_May25_ADespite being an athlete who sweats it out nearly every day, you still find yoga difficult to perform. If you’re an avid exerciser, you’ll most likely have tight and firm muscles, which is all fine. However, your muscular body is an obstacle in yoga, since it is less flexible and can give you a hard time balancing on some poses. That’s not to say you should abandon yoga completely – even the most experienced yogis have difficulty in balancing from time to time.

Let’s take a look at a few methods to perfect your balance and avoid toppling over every time you try for a balancing yoga pose.

Don’t lock your standing leg

Some yoga moves require you to balance on one leg while moving the rest of your body. It may seem like a good idea to get your base leg as straight as possible. But when you lock it straight, you’re no longer engaging your muscles – you’re putting bone on bone. The best way to increase balance is to put a tiny bend in your standing leg. Keep engaging your quadriceps, and this will help give you the power to stabilize your balance.

Breathe properly

Attempting a difficult yoga pose can be intense – so much so that it forces you to hold your breath. But breathing actually helps when it comes to balancing, since the quality of your breathing is so intimately related to the state of your nervous system and body. It releases physical tension and relaxes your mind, allowing you to stay calm and focus better when performing yoga poses. So make sure you keep a consistent breathing flow in and out of your nose.

Calm your mind

Yoga aims to unite the mind and body. In order for the balance to be there in a pose, you need to calm your mind. If your mind is distracted by what happened before class, or all the things you have planned for afterwards, it won’t be able to focus on balancing in the moment. Find a nice, quiet spot to meditate for a few minutes before your class in order to restore your mind’s focus. A determined mind gives you a better chance to ease into your yoga practice and maintain your body balance.

Take it slowly

All too often, people rush into poses and then get frustrated when they can’t maintain their balance and end up falling over. There are simple ways to fix this. You should start building balance from the foundation up by moving slowly and mindfully without rushing. Distribute your weight evenly to all your body parts. Spread your toes to give a wider, stronger balance. Whatever you do, don’t rush things! Whether you had too little to sleep or are dehydrated – all these factors add up. Don’t push yourself too hard – simply do your best and move on.

Looking to add yoga to your exercise program? Contact us today and our trainers will be more than happy to help guide you in the right direction.

Published with permission from FitnessAdvisory. Source.

How to yoga yourself to a younger you

Yoga_Feb16_AMost of us wish we could stop, reverse or simply slow down the body’s natural aging process. And while the first two options might be difficult or even downright impossible, reducing the speed at which those wrinkles begin to appear is within our reach – and one way to achieve it is through regular yoga practice. Those stretches, combined with meditation and breathing exercises, can do wonders for both your physical and mental health. Read on to find out how to put yoga to use in maintaining your youthful glow.

Turn things upside down

One of the best ways to turn aging on its head is to do just that – literally turning yourself upside down. Poses like headstands and shoulder stands bring you into a position where your head is lower than your heart. This in turn reverses the flow of blood around the body and the pull of gravity against you. There can be positive effects for your cardiovascular and nervous systems, but the impact goes beyond physical health – your mental wellbeing can benefit from yoga inversions too, including helping to combat stress and anxiety.

Think yourself younger

As well as the positive effects of yoga on your physical health, practicing meditation can help you keep your mind young and active, enhancing your mental wellbeing. Whether you choose to go all out with a full-on meditation practice each day, or only have the time for a few moments of quiet, eyes-closed contemplation at your desk, it can increase blood flow to the brain, help improve your memory and attention span and even beat stress.

Deep breaths

Even if you don’t have the time or discipline to get into regular yoga or meditation practice, a few deep breaths can go a long way to keeping you young and healthy. Of course, the beauty of breathing is that you can do it anywhere – in fact, you don’t have a lot of choice about whether you do it or not, so you might as well put it to some added use. Oxygenation of your body’s cells, regulation of the heart rate and calming of the nervous system are all beneficial side effects of some slow, focused breaths. Breathing exercises can be even more effective when combined with yoga and meditation; deepening and enhancing your practice while giving you a sense of calmness and serenity.

It’s easy to build yoga, meditation and breathing practice into your efforts to keep your body and mind looking and feeling young and energetic – get in touch with us if you’d like to find out more.

Published with permission from FitnessAdvisory. Source.

Yoga strength with inversions: Pt 2!

yoga_Nov27_AAs we covered earlier this month, inversions are powerful yoga poses that can strengthen your muscles, inspiring balance and stability and reinvigorating your circulation and lymphatic system. Yoga inversions provide a great physical challenge that boosts energy and inspires relaxation. While certain inversions may prove strenuous, many poses are accessible to all levels of fitness and experience.

An inversion, where you head is lower than your heart, does not necessarily entail standing on your head. There are poses of varying degrees of difficulty. Here are three inversions which you might want to try, always checking with a medical and yoga practitioner that it is safe to do so given any injuries or health issues you may have.

Downward Facing Dog

This is perhaps the most well-known inversion in yoga and whilst not overly difficult to get into position, it is a strong pose to maintain and a real solid strengthener.

  • Start on all fours, making sure that your hands are firmly pressed into your yoga mat. Your upper arms and shoulders need to be rolled out and your forearms straight and slightly rolled in.
  • Inhale with a deep breath and as you exhale bring your hips up, starting to straighten your legs, keeping your back straight and pushing against the mat with your hands.Your body should look like an upside-down V.
  • Press your shoulder blades down as you lengthen your spine, as you bring your knees back to a straight leg position, if possible, with your feet slightly apart and facing forward and the soles of your feet and heels flat on the mat.
  • Make sure your fingers are slightly splayed and that you are putting your weight onto the firm grounded palm rather than on your wrists. Likewise, make sure your feet are parallel and hip-width apart.
  • Your hands need to be under your shoulders and keep your elbows from pinging out as this could put undue pressure on your elbow joint.
  • It is easy to lurch-forward and lose balance with this pose, so consciously move your weight from your arms through your hips, to create greater stability.
  • This inversion really stretches your hamstrings but be wary of overstretching or creating an unbalanced pose by trying to fight against tightness in this part of the leg. Instead, bend your knees slightly and shift your body into the correct posture, keeping a central square shape between your hands and feet.

The Hare

A far more relaxing and less challenging inversion, which can really lengthen and relieve pressure in the spine.

  • Start in a kneeling position with your hands resting lightly on your thighs, before raising your arms with the palms facing, being careful to keep the shoulders from hunching.
  • Breathe in deeply and as you slowly exhale bend forward with a smooth movement, so that the arms move forward and your forehead rest on the ground.
  • Turn your arms so that the palms rest on the mat as you stretch them out without pulling the neck muscles or tensing the shoulders and back.
  • Relax further into the pose by staying in position and breathing deeply, before drawing the arms in and gently curling the spine to get into your starting position.

Next week, we look at even more inversions for beginners and you can join our dynamic yoga sessions by getting in touch.

Published with permission from FitnessAdvisory. Source.