listen to your body
the key to safe yoga in the gym

Your yoga practice should not force the body to fit into a pose. By practicing the YogaFit basics of SAFE Yoga, you can keep yourself and your clients safe while delivering an experience in which everyone feels successful, says Beth Shaw.

 

Yoga is more popular than ever – why? The reasons are manifold. Yoga provides a total body workout that enhances strength, cardiovascular condition, balance and flexibility. It enhances body awareness, increases physical control and facilitates body mastery. And because it involves a highly comprehensive and integrated approach, yoga produces a lean and graceful physique.

The benefits don’t end there. It also helps reduce stress, tension and fatigue through its mindfulness, often-fluid movement and focus on deep breathing. All of which makes yoga the perfect complement to everyone’s training schedule, incorporating important elements of flexibility training in addition to muscle conditioning and stress relief.

Our yoga practice should meet us where we are, allowing the body to fit the pose rather than us forcing ourselves into the pose. Just as we all need various options and adaptations to our workouts, the same holds true for our yoga practice. This is how YogaFit’s SAFE Yoga works – by listening to the body.

YogaFit’s SAFE Yoga

So, what is YogaFit? YogaFit is designed for instructing in fitness facilities and group exercise locations rather than dedicated yoga studios. With a focus on safety, it combines fitness moves such as push ups, sit ups and squats with traditional yoga postures, all linked together in a flowing format. Essentially, it overcomes the mystery of yoga by delivering a practical, user-friendly style achievable by individuals of all fitness levels.

Defining SAFE Yoga
Secure (environment, instructor, student)
Attention (to detail, form, postures, levels)
Functional (offers modifications, options, mindful of exercise science)
Effective (provides flexibility, strength, ease of use, balance)

 

Breath and recovery

Each class should both begin and end with at least five minutes of deep breathing. This helps to clear the mind and prepare the body before practice and to then settle and absorb the poses at the end. The breath is the single most important part of our yoga practice. By breathing in and out of the nose we keep the heat in the body and focus the mind. Deep rhythmic breathing is the solid foundation upon which we build our yoga practice. As instructors, we must continually return to breath focus and constantly remind participants to do the same. Rest and recovery are also very important elements of yoga: we rest for at least five minutes at the end of class to rejuvenate, restore and revive the body.

Warming up

Warm ups are crucial as, unlike dedicated yoga studios, fitness studios are often cold. The best way to warm up the body prior to engaging in any complex or flexibility-oriented pose is with large body moves. Just as we don’t stretch before exercise, we don’t want to get into complex yoga postures before our bodies are warm and ready to be there.

Modifications

As we move into the work phase of class, transitions should be smooth from pose to pose, with a full body workout focus: all body parts are worked equally. Modifications and levels are offered to suit the needs of participants with differing levels of ability. YogaFit uses ‘transformational language’ whereby instructors speak in terms of ‘or’, ‘either’ and ‘modify’, encouraging students to take breaks, let go of expectations, judgment and competition and not push past their limits. Instructors should also avoid making any aggressive physical adjustments, instead allowing participants to find the pose for themselves through conscious awareness of body placement and breath. In essence, the aim is to help them discover for themselves their mind-body connection through proprioception.

The Seven Principles of Alignment

YogaFit teaches a hatha (physical)-based vinyasa (flowing) style of yoga with an emphasis on exercise science. The YogaFit SPA (Seven Principles of Alignment) help to create the optimal biomechanical position for the body during movement and while holding the poses. SPA increases safety while simultaneously providing functional mechanical principles that participants can use in their daily lives. SPA can be used to determine the safety of participants in poses, as well as the overall safety of additional poses.

  1. 1Establishing base and dynamic tension. We establish a firm base in the feet and hands, stacking our joints for maximum support, and contracting our muscles to become stable in a pose. Dynamic tension helps us pull energy up and lift out of the low back – thus moving us into ‘good posture’ naturally.
  2. Creating core stability. We use the muscles of the trunk (e.g. abdominals, erector spinae) to create core stability prior to moving into, and while holding, poses for greater strength and internal support. A strong core is imperative for excellent postural support.
  3. Aligning the spine. The spine is supported through core stabilisation in all applicable poses, and the head follows the movement of the spine. When moving into twists, flexion, or extension, we start in neutral spine. This encourages good posture and allows us to realise when posture is less than ideal.
  4. Softening and aligning knees. In all applicable poses, the knees stay in line with ankle and point directly out over the toes. In general, the knees, when bent, will also remain in the same line as the hips. To prevent hyperextension, we keep a micro-bend in the knees at all times. Protecting the low back is key to maintaining proper postural alignment – low back issues lead to a weak core. A weak core creates and enhances poor posture.
  5. Relaxing shoulders back and down. The shoulders are drawn naturally back and down in poses to help reduce tension in the neck and shoulders. This is an immediate cure for poor posture.
  6. Hinging at the hips. When moving into and out of forward bends, we hinge from the hips, using the natural pulley system of the ball and socket joint, keeping a micro-bend in the knees. Preventing the tightening and shortening of hip flexors will help posture.
  7. Shortening the lever. When hip hinging, flexing or extending the spine, we keep the arms out to the side or alongside the body to reduce strain on the muscles of the low back. Low back health is a key component to maintaining good posture.

Whether we are leading or participating in yoga classes, it is paramount to listen to our bodies. By doing so we can keep ourselves, and our clients, safe while offering a practice in which everyone feels successful, regardless of ability or mobility levels.


Beth Shaw
Beth is the president and founder of YogaFit Training Systems Inc, which has trained more than 200,000 fitness instructors on six continents. The author of Beth Shaw’s YogaFit (Human Kinetics, 2009) and entrepreneur behind fitness brands including YogaFit Sweat, YogaLean and the popular YogaButt, she has been extensively profiled in international media.