Looking for a more calming fitness routine? Try yoga, a practice that connects the body, breath, and mind. Striking a (yoga) pose can not only help improve flexibility, it can help relieve anxiety and pain, and reduce blood pressure for people with hypertensionDoes yoga therapy reduce blood pressure in patients with hypertension?: an integrative review. Okonta, N.R., Medical Center of Central Georgia, Macon, and Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA. Holistic Nursing Practice, 2012 May-Jun;26(3):137-41.. Studies also suggests yoga can help improve spinal mobility for individuals with chronic low back pain (and maybe even increase metabolism, too!)A comprehensive yoga programs improves pain, anxiety and depression in chronic low back pain patients more than exercise: an RCT. Tekur, P., Nagarathna, R., Chametcha, S., et al. Division of Yoga & Life Sciences, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation (SVYASA), Bengaluru, India. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 2012 Jun;20(3):107-18.. Read on to get the skinny on what to expect from that first yoga class.

Body n’ Soul — The Need-to-Know

It’s not all down-dog: Yoga blends a variety of poses (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation into each classIntentionality and hatha yoga: an exploration of the theory of intentionality, the matrix of healing–a growth model. Deary, L., Roche, J., Plotkin, K., et al. Professional Development Department, Baystate Health, Springfield, MA. Holistic Nursing Practice, 2011 Sep-Oct;25(5):246-53.. Poses range from standing to seated, upright to inverted (headstands, anyone?), with plenty of twisting in between. The goal: stretch and strengthen the body — and let the day’s stress away. But first, it’s important to find a style of yoga that fits your lifestyle, goals, and personality. For the sporty types out there, vinyasa and power yoga are more athletic styles, moving swiftly from one pose to the next and building strength and endurance. Feeling more adventurous? Consider hot yoga, which has been shown to increase flexibility and muscle strength in healthy young adultsBikram yoga training and physical fitness in healthy young adults. Tracy, B.L. and Hart, C.E. Neuromuscular Function Laboratory, Department of Health and Exercise Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2012 May 15. [Epub ahead of print]. (Just don’t forget to properly hydrate beforehand!) Looking for something a bit less intense? Try a more relaxing style like hatha, which focuses heavily on breathing and meditation and improving the connection between body and mind. Feel like you’ve done it all? There’s a wide range of new and innovative classes, from aerial yoga to karaoke yoga for all the singers out there.

Roll Out — Your Action Plan

Ready to get physical — and flexible? We spoke with Greatist Expert and certified yoga instructor Rebecca Pacheco to learn more about getting our spiritual groove on.

  • Commit. Yoga can be great cross training (once a week) or a dedicated practice (everyday!). “As modern yogis, you need to determine when you’re most likely to go,” says Pacheco. Find your level of commitment and set aside enough time for it.
  • Find the best fit. Look for a class with a certified yoga instructor. “A good teacher uses all of their life experience to make a positive mind-body experience for the student,” says Pacheco. Personality and energy level can also play into which instructor you connect with best.
  • Fuel up. Eat light before yoga and take at least one hour to digest. “Twists do not feel good on a full stomach,” says Pacheco.
  • BYOM (Bring Your Own Mat). Some studios provide yoga mats, while others require students to bring their own. Look for a mat that’s cushioned and provides a no-slip surface. Other essentials (usually provided) include props like blocks and belts to assist the body in reaching its full potential. Pacheco also recommends bringing a towel for your mat so you won’t slip to avoid injury, and a water bottle to stay hydrated and focused during class.
  • Dress for success. To allow full range of body movement, wear something comfortable. Just avoid loose shirts and shorts, which might be revealing when bending during poses. (Keep your eyes on the prize, not someone else’s behind.) Bare feet are ideal for traction when practicing poses.
  • Modify. Anyone can do yoga, (really, anyone — watch this), but don’t force the body. “Always give priority to proper alignment rather than doing the most advanced version of a pose,” says Pacheco. Need a rest? Return to child’s pose and listen for modifications given by the instructor during class. Be sure to always inform the instructor beforehand about any injuries, and make sure your doctor has given you the green light to hit the mat.
  • Keep breathing. Breath work is just as important to yoga as the physical poses.Check out the basic techniques here to breathe right during most forms of yogaHatha yoga practices: energy expenditure, respiratory changes and intensity of exercise. Ray, U.S., Pathak, A. and Tomer, O.S. Environmental Physiology Division, Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, Defence Research and Development Organization, Timarpur, Lucknow Road, Delhi 110054, India. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2011;2011:241294..
  • Say om (not cheese). Get to know the lingo, including names of poses, hand positions, and meditation techniques, to avoid feeling lost or stressed out during class. You’ll know you’re a pro when you start sounding like these seasoned yogis.

Why do you enjoy practicing yoga? Tell us in the comments below! Photo by Lisa Goulet