Looking to get more yoga in your life? Current research suggests that practising yoga may provide a range of health benefits, from reducing lower-back pain and mental stress to lowering heart rate and blood pressure, among many others, according to the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. But getting to the nearest yoga studio isn't always convenient or practical, and busy Americans tend to need both to develop consistency in a fitness routine.
Thanks to technology, you're no longer stuck performing the same yoga routine on DVD, where boredom is sure to creep in and kill your practice.
Stephanie Snyder, a San Francisco-based yoga instructor who teaches in-person and online classes via the website YogaGlo, considers streaming instruction a great entry point for those who may feel intimidated by the thought of entering a studio. "A lot of people avoid the studio because they don't think they have the body for it, but that's like saying you're too sick to see the doctor," she explains.
Snyder, who has been teaching for over 14 years, actually sees online instruction as a continuation of yoga's rich meditative history. "Although there's benefit to being in a community, yoga is ultimately an individual practice. It's about turning within yourself and witnessing how you are in the poses," she says, noting that doing it in the home offers the sort of privacy you can't get elsewhere.
You also can't beat the convenience, which inevitably helps people maintain their practice. "The biggest thing people need to have is continuity," says Tiffany Cruikshank, a Los Angeles-based yoga instructor, author and serious celebrity in the yoga world, who also teaches on YogaGlo.
She suggests people start lower than they think they would to maintain commitment. So, for example, commit to 10 to 20 minutes of yoga a day instead of an hour. Online classes are ideal for this, as they offer classes in a range of time frames.
Sites like YogaGlo (yogaglo.com) and YogaVibes (yogavibes.com) create content with both beginners and experienced practitioners in mind. With a matrix of filters to choose from, you can customize your class based on everything from level and duration to the style of yoga and which body part(s) you want to work on.
New classes are always being added, so nothing gets stale, and each site offers a large roster of instructors for you to try out.
"It's just like a yoga studio, where you attend classes and develop favourites," says Snyder. "Some teachers are more philosophy-based and others are more physical, so you can find what's right for you."
The classes are also filmed with little to no editing, which helps provide a better sense of reality and community. "There's a natural flow to each class; it's not staged and the people aren't perfect," says Mary Alice Mitchell, a yoga instructor and the creative director for the Yoga Journal's YogaVibes streaming service.
Streaming classes don't have to be a replacement for in-studio yoga. "There are benefits to both, and marrying the two is the absolute ideal," says Snyder. But Mitchell adds that proper form is critical to any yoga pose, and it's impossible to see yourself the way an experienced instructor can. Cruikshank suggests those who have an illness or an injury not attempt any poses without hands-on instruction and says those who are new to yoga will really benefit from having someone in person to provide guidance.
Online classes aren't just for beginners either, as regular yogis are encouraged to practise daily: "Self-guided daily practice can be very intimidating," says Mitchell. "You might get overwhelmed or bored when trying to come up with your own routine, and then quit after five minutes."
Whatever level you are, it's important to be careful to avoid injuries. That means starting slow and not pushing your body. Also, make sure you're streaming classes from a reputable site with appropriately trained, experienced instructors. (YouTube may be free, but you may not know what you're getting.)
Regardless of which reputable site you stream from, it's good to remember to start small but consistent. "Some people feel like it has to be all or nothing," says Cruikshank. "But really as little as seven minutes a day will keep up your metabolism and offer health benefits."