It’s been a tough year.  The election cycle was particularly bitter this year, which caused a lot of anxiety for me and many others.  And the result of that election has only increased my anxiety.  Closer to home, while the loss of my job in March brings excitement at my future prospects, it also brings some anxiety over earning money freelancing.  And it appears that we’ve reached a plateau in my healing.  While I’ve regained flexibility, the back pain still persists, and I’ll be seeing a new Orthopedic doctor this month.  All of which is why yoga is more important this Christmas than ever.   I need the flexibility that yoga can bring to my body and my mind.

A Strong And Flexible Body

If you are strictly looking for physical results, yoga’s got them for you.  Strong arms?  Check.  Flat belly? Check. Yoga booty?  Check.  But don’t be fooled by all the skinny yogis and yoginis–we come in all shapes and sizes.  I, for one, certainly don’t fit the yoga mold, nor does Jessamyn, a proud, fat femme yogini.  And don’t be fooled by thinking that yoga is only for 20-somethings–we come in all ages, too. There is a California teenager who was only 12 when she became a certified teacher in 2014.  On the other end of the spectrum is Tao, who, at 98, is the oldest yoga teacher and is still actively teaching yoga.

Yoga builds strength by using your body weight in the poses.   It’s most obvious when you’re in chaturanga (yoga push-up) but it can also be found in poses like Utkatasana (chair pose) and Navasana (boat pose.)   A typical vinyasa or power yoga class will take you through several rounds and variations of these poses and many others that build strength.  You leave sweaty and sore and feeling good.

Yoga also builds flexibility through long stretches and holds for your muscles.  Poses like Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) which stretches out your backside, while Urdhva Dhanurasana (wheel pose) stretches out the front.  Along with so many other poses, these long stretches help to create flexibility. Flexibility will increase your range of motion, whether you’re trying to improve your game or improve your ability to twist around in the car to help your child.  Yoga can help with it.

Flexibility for Your Mind

This is the benefit that most people don’t know about when they take a yoga class.  People come for the yoga body but stay for the yoga mind.  It starts with the breath.  In most classes, you’re taught how to breathe and how to follow your breath.  Then, you start to realize how calm this makes you, and you start practicing yogic breathing outside of yoga class in stressful situations, which helps. (Yoga helped me cure my road rage.)  Yoga classes usually also include some type of meditation, just a few minutes each class, but this introduction to meditation can be just the small push you need to start exploring meditation on a larger scale.  I hate to quote cliches, but it’s so true:  Yoga isn’t about touching your toes. It’s about what you learn on the way down.

If you’re interested in starting a yoga practice, below are 5 yoga products that I use and recommend to anyone.

My Five Favorite Yoga Products

Jade Yoga Travel Mat
This is my favorite mat, and I’ve tried several.  It’s lightweight enough to travel with, but it has great grip and, for some reason, seems to grip even better when my hands are all sweaty–I can’t explain it. I also feel better using this mat because it’s made from natural rubber, which is a renewable resource.  Jade Yoga plants a tree for every mat sold.  Now that’s yoga giving back.

Yoga Jellies
What can I say?  My knees just aren’t what they used to be.  These jellies feel  good under my knees and allow me to do things like Balasana (child’s pose) and Ustrasana (camel pose.)  Yoga shouldn’t make your knees hurt, protect them.

Yoga Blocks and Strap
It’s ok to use props in yoga.  In fact, it’s really best if you’re a beginner.  The props will help to steady you and help you to find your best expression of the pose. Can’t touch the floor?  You shouldn’t force it when your hamstrings don’t cooperate.  Instead, the block will fill the space and save you from injury.  Can’t wrap two fingers around your big toes? That’s ok. Wrap the strap around your feet to maintain form while holding your position.

Lilias Complete Yoga for Beginners
Lilias is the mother of yoga videos.  She started teaching yoga on PBS back in 1972 and continues to do yoga today.  She has a Yoga Gets Better with Age DVD for those around us for the first run of her PBS classes.  But she also has a beginner’s DVD, which is great for anyone who wants to try yoga but isn’t ready to join a class yet.  Lilias will show you proper form as she gently guides you through a beginner series.

A Year of Living Your Yoga
I love this book.  Judith Hanson Lasater really breaks yoga wisdom down into daily snippets.  Each is a profound thought with a simple action.  “Responding appropriately is an art” is one example, and Judith encourages you to put just enough effort into each task today.  It’s perfect for just reading one per day and seeing how you can apply the action to your life that day.  Read one daily meditation before you start yoga, and let it sink in as you practice.  Then, as you go about your day, remember it and try to incorporate it into your daily life.

I hope you enjoy exploring yoga, and I’d like to know what you think of these products or if you have other suggestions for great beginner practices.