Fitness trends ebb and flow, but yoga’s popularity has grown steadily over the last decade. There’s no shortage of resources for those new to the practice, but Dr. Abigail Ellsworth, owner of Pilates, Therapy and Wellness Center of Westchester, N.Y., felt something was missing. Her latest book, Anatomy of Yoga, features the 50 most common yoga poses, illustrated by full-color photographs as well as detailed drawings that explain the muscles worked in each move. Also included are skill levels, benefits, contra-indications, and hints for improving your form on each pose
“The premise is to give the power back to the person who wants to learn and do yoga,” she says.
Dr. Ellsworth chatted with Spry about what beginning yoga practitioners should know, and here’s what she had to say:
Spry: Why did you decide to write the book?
Dr. Abigail Ellsworth: I wanted to illustrate the exercises so you can see how you’re supposed to really do it, and what the benefit is for you. That way, if you go to a class, you understand a little more than what they can explain during that time, and then use the book at home, too.
Spry: What are some of the most common mistakes people make in yoga?
AE: I’m a physical therapist, so I see what goes on in yoga! The biggest mistake is that everyone wants to do the moves perfectly the first time they try. A lot of times a move requires an unbelievable amount of flexibility, or an ability to separate and control a certain body part. Instead of taking the time to learn it, people try to force themselves into the motion. That’s where a lot goes wrong. It’s not just beginners who do this—it’s anyone who’s trying something new. I’m guilty of it, too. You go gung-ho into it, and suddenly you’re stuck in the pigeon pose and you can’t get out!
Spry: What yoga-related injuries do you see often in your practice?
AE: I see a lot of back pulls from extension, low back injuries due to pulling out of the pose through the back instead of pressing out of the arms or lifting the chest. It’s just a matter of getting used to where the motion should put you. The second-most common injury is shoulder.
Spry: Is it possible to really seriously injure yourself?
AE: As with any exercise program, you have to be reasonable and know your limitations. If you’re in a shoulder stand and it goes wrong, you seriously can injure your neck and actually paralyze yourself. So you don’t want to go there.
Spry: What recommendations do you have for beginners who want to start practicing yoga?
AE: Find a class that fits you, an instructor and style that you like. There are at least 12 types of yoga. A lot of people just try one, and decide they like it. But do a little variety and see what works best for you. Then just take it slow and easy. Breathe through it, don’t force yourself into any positions that you don’t belong in, but have fun with it, too.
Spry: Is there a certain type of yoga that’s better for beginners?
AE: Actually no, because it’s going to depend on your personality and what you’re using the yoga for. If you have a high-stress job and you want a little downtime, you probably are not going to do a high intensity class. You’ll want to use yoga for a little inward introspection, reflecting on your body and what you can do.
If you’re doing OK with stress, but you want to get a really good workout, maybe you’re up for Bikram yoga—hot yoga. There are so many kinds out there that you can tailor to whatever your personality is.
Spry: Is it possible to get fit just from yoga?
AE: It depends. If you’re a little bit heavier, and you want to lose some weight, usually you want to couple yoga with some kind of cardio workout that raises the heart rate, like walking or riding a bike. Yoga will definitely tone and strengthen your body, though, to make that cardio addition much easier for you.
Spry: What about “trendy” new forms of yoga, like hot yoga or couples yoga—are those worth trying, or just fads?
AE: I think anything that gets you up and exercising is a benefit, as long as you’re doing it safely and you enjoy it. It’s much better than sitting at home on the couch. So if you and your partner can do something together and share time, or you and your best friend want to go do it, I think that¨Ìs fabulous. As far as hot yoga, I think it’s great, though I recommend you bring your own mat and watch out for potential health problems. People who tend to get lightheaded or have low blood pressure really need to be careful in that hotter temperature.
Overall, the fads are just there to add a variety to your workout and get you into it. How often do you drag yourself home tired and think, “Wow, I’m gonna go work out! So you want to have something that you really enjoy to keep yourself healthy.”