Yoga reduces stress, improves strength, and increases flexibility. Don't let fear or uncertainty discourage you from giving it a try. Knowing how to prepare and what to expect at your first class will ease your mind and increase the enjoyment of adding something new to your routine.
A welcoming environment
Select a beginner class and take comfort in the accepting and non-judgemental environment. Yoga requires internal mental and physical focus. No one is watching or judging you. Everyone is working to improve their own practice. Leave any self-conscious thoughts behind and enjoy your session.
Activity tailored to your fitness level
Yoga is about easing yourself into poses without stressing the muscles and joints. Poses can be modified to meet your strength and flexibility level, and the benefit of attending a studio class is that the instructor can help you do this. You should feel a small amount of tension as you challenge your flexibility, but this should never be confused with pain. If any pose is too much for you, follow the instructor’s direction to relax in child’s pose or a similar position.
Peace and quiet
Yoga classes provide a break from the radio, televisions, and sounds of cardio machines and clanging dumbbells. Don’t let the silence stress you out. Enjoy the break from conversation and constant noise. While yoga is quiet, remember that smiles, giggles, and even applause are welcome in most classes. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Equipment you will need
Many studios provide yoga mats to first time attendees, but there may be a fee. Considering that yoga mats cost about $15, having one of your own is worth the investment. If you don’t turn out to be a long-term yoga fan, they can be used for all kinds of floor exercises at home. You might also want to take along a bottle of water and a hand towel to wipe your face or to use as extra support under your knees.
Dress for comfort and movement
Baggy clothes aren’t ideal for yoga because they slide, shift and get in the way. Wear the most form fitting and flexible clothing you feel comfortable in whether it is a tee, tank, shorts, or pants. You will heat up quickly so if you start with long sleeves wear a layer underneath so you can remove the outer layer once you warm up. No socks are needed as they will prevent your feet from gripping the mat. Wear slip-on shoes that are easy to remove.
Up close and personal
Classes can get crowded so be prepared to line up next to your fellow classmate. If this makes you uncomfortable, choose a class that has a cap on attendance or one provided at a less popular time. Also, expect the instructor to touch you and help move your body into the proper position. Always speak up if you are uncomfortable or if they are asking you to reach beyond your limits of flexibility. If an instructor does correct your form, resist the urge to feel criticized. You are not being judged. He or she is helping you to practice safely.
No pressure to participate
Don’t let common yoga practices like chants and audible heavy breathing surprise you. It can take some getting used to when you are new to yoga. You shouldn’t feel pressured to participate, but consider stepping out of your comfort zone and join in. If you decide it’s not a good fit for you, simply perform the pose quietly.
Living a fit lifestyle doesn't have to take a lot of time. Small actions here and there throughout the day add up to big results. Here are a few healthy changes you can make in minutes.
Do a wall sit or plank instead of browsing your social media account
Time: 1 minute
The day is filled with short one minute segments that allow you to squeeze in simple exercises like the plank or wall sit that will tone your core and strengthen your lower body. The next time you are put on hold during a call or wait for a webinar to start, get yourself into position and hold for 60 seconds.
Take a stress break instead of tackling the next issue
Time: 5 minutes
Taking short breaks to ease stress throughout the day can reduce your blood pressure and the urge for emotional eating. Sit at your desk, clear your mind and breath deeply, or step outside for a five minute walk. Give your mind the chance to escape from what is causing you stress and you can return to it refreshed with new ideas for problem solving.
Prep your lunch instead of spending the time sitting at the drive-thru
Time: 15 minutes
It takes only 15 minutes in the evening to pack a healthy lunch for the next day. It will save you money and improve your nutrition. By having food ready to eat, you can also use the rest of your lunch hour for a short walk or stretching session. Throw together a salad, make a wrap or divide and package leftovers to reheat.
Exercise instead of watching television
Time: 20 minutes
It only takes 20 minutes of exercise three to seven days a week to stay healthy. The key is to pick up the intensity to get the heart rate elevated, build muscle, and burn calories. Try high-intensity circuit training (HICT) or create your own circuit that challenges you, but that is also a good match for your fitness level.
Cook dinner instead of waiting to be seated and served at a restaurant
Getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night helps control spikes in stress hormones and the food cravings that result. Adequate sleep will also help you feel more rested and alert so that you will be ready for tomorrow’s challenging day while working towards maintaining a healthy weight. (See Sleep, Stress and Weight Loss.)
Entertaining doesn’t have to result in unhealthy eating. You can dress up simple, healthy foods to leave a positive impression on your guests. The orange and kiwi in this salad give you a double dose of vitamin C and a boost of fiber. It makes a nice addition to a weekend brunch or it can serve as a nutritious dessert.
Yield: 6 servings
Preparation time: 20 minutes
3 navel oranges, peeled and sliced
3 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced
6 tbsp low-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp honey
6 to 8 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
Divide the sliced oranges into six equal portions. Do the same with the kiwi fruit.
For each serving plate, alternate slices of orange and kiwi to create a stacked salad.
In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, honey, and mint. Spoon about one tablespoon of the sweetened yogurt over each salad before serving.
Nutrition information for 1 serving: Calories 80; Total Fat 0.6 g; Saturated Fat 0.2 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 1 mg; Sodium 6 mg; Carbohydrate 18.2 g; Fiber 2.5 g; Sugar 14.4 g; Protein 2.6 g
Mindful exercise helps you remove your focus from negative thoughts and distractions, and apply it to your body and breathing for improved exercise performance. Practice more mindful exercise with these tips.
Target your training
When strength training, focus all of your attention on the muscle group you are working. Keep your eyes on the muscle when possible. When performing a single bicep curl or a leg extension exercise, place your free hand on the muscle being worked and feel it contract and relax. This increase in focus can help you push harder during your workout.
Your body’s demand for oxygen increases during exercise. Research shows that a greater supply of oxygen leads to improvements in exercise performance. The more oxygen, the longer and harder you can exercise. Focus on taking slower, deeper breaths to improve your respiratory fitness and to supply the body with more oxygen.
Mind over matter
During challenging exercise, your attitude and mental focus are just as important as physical strength and endurance. Sometimes increasing your running distance from 1.5 miles to 2, or staying in the plank position for 30 more seconds takes all you have. Cue the positive self talk, focus on the working muscles, and visualize yourself reaching your goal. All of these steps will carry you through the physical challenge of a tough workout.
Listening to music or watching a movie can help you through a workout, but their true role is to provide distraction. Break out of your distracted state, get outside, and pay attention to your environment. Outdoor exercise lifts the spirits and helps clear the mind. Concentrate on your movement, breathing, and the sights around you for a more rewarding workout and refreshing break from the daily grind.
Safe strength training
Distractions during exercise cause you to lose focus on the most important part of a workout - safety. Proper form, selecting a weight that is right for your fitness level, and mental focus ensure you execute each move correctly reducing your risk for injury.
Dried fruits often contain added sugar and oils making them more like candy than a nutritious snack. Seek out unsweetened varieties or make your own with a kitchen dehydrator. Freeze-dried fruit is another option. Most are made without added sugar and they can satisfy a crunchy food craving.
Buying granola at the store requires a close look at the nutrition label. While it may contain fiber-rich ingredients like oatmeal, a small serving can also be loaded with calories, saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. Try making granola at home. You can control the added sugar and oils, and improve the nutrition. (Try this easy Apple, Banana, and Peanut Butter Granola.)
Soups have long been a light lunch staple. They can be filled with nutritious ingredients like beans, vegetables, and lean meats. Unfortunately, they can also be loaded with sodium. Some canned versions contain as much as 700 milligrams per serving. Keep your soup healthy and make a large pot at home on the weekend to eat throughout the week. Use unsalted ingredients and add salt, herbs and spices to your desired taste. This can reduce the sodium content for a healthier meal. (Try this Spicy Basil Lemon Gazpacho.)
Nutritious salads can easily be ruined by toppings and dressings. While a sprinkle of cheese or nuts can enhance the flavor of greens, a heavy-handed addition of meats, dried fruits, salted nuts and seeds, croutons and cheese can send the calories, fat, and sodium soaring. Focus on the greens and add a variety, such as romaine, arugula, spinach, and baby kale. Add on vegetable toppers like broccoli, bell peppers, and red onions with a small amount of meat or cheese. A dressing with heart-healthy olive oil will help you absorb vitamins from the vegetables. Combine it with flavored vinegar to add plenty of flavor without saturated fat and excess sodium. (Try this Mixed Green Salad with Cranberry Dressing.)
Sandwiches and Wraps
These lunchtime favorites often contain loads of deli meats, cheeses and dressings that are surround by thick slices of bread or extra large wraps. It’s no surprise some can have as many calories and as much fat and sodium as a burger. For a healthier option, go easy on the meat and cheese and load up with vegetable toppings. Choose mustard or yogurt based condiments over mayonnaise and cream-based sauces. (Try these Chicken Wraps with Creamy Olive Dressing.)
Fruit is a great addition to yogurt, but not when it contains added syrups and artificial flavors. Sweetened, fruit-flavored yogurts can be loaded with added sugars. Buy natural, plain yogurt and add fresh fruit and honey or all-fruit jam for a treat that is more of a healthy snack and less of a high-sugar dessert.