How and why to fall into yoga this season

Yoga for Couch Potatoes
Yoga for Couch Potatoes

Whether you like it or not, Labor Day weekend is over. School is officially in full swing, summer vacation is over and – ready or not – the winter will soon be upon us.

The fall signals a transition back to a routine. Why not make it a healthy one? Committing to a new health or fitness goal like beginning a regular yoga practice can result in lifelong, positive changes.

Why Yoga

There's a reason we no longer hear so much about faddy aerobics classes. "Quick-fix" workouts dissolve quickly, while yoga has evolved with time.

Yoga challenges you without the competition central to some other workouts. The practice teaches you to focus on yourself – and only yourself. As soon as you try to compare yourself to others, your ego is in the driver's seat and the risk of hurting yourself increases.

Yoga is different every time and has depth. Each class is an opportunity to practice an infinite number of poses and variations, and there's even more variety in how you approach them. In this way, yoga will likely capture your interest more than doing the same, boring routine over and over again. If you are not excited about your workout, chances are you will quit and bounce around from one program to the next without making any progress.

Alignment and safety are top priorities in yoga. The practice is most concerned with creating the most optimal biomechanical blueprint for everyone. This is why each yoga practice is individualized.

What to Expect

There are many different styles of yoga, which range from the most gentle classes (such as a restorative or yin class) to the very athletic and sweaty classes (such as vinyasa flow or Bikram yoga).

Before you head to class this fall, do some research online to make sure you know what you are getting into. No matter what style you choose, you can almost always expect some movement and exercise. If you decide to go for the more physically demanding classes, be ready to sweat and get one of the best workouts of your life. Some poses will be very doable, while others will seem impossible. With time, you will get a really clear sense of how to approach all different levels of poses with ease.

Classes are usually crowded if you are going after work in the evening. During the first class, try your best to follow the teacher's instructions. If you find yourself lost or confused, it's okay to look around the room to get a sense of what you "should" be doing. By the third or fourth class, you will be moving right along with the group fluently. Always tell a teacher if you have an injury, and never push yourself if you are in pain.

Just attending your first class is the hardest part. Once you have that first class under your belt, it only gets better.

See photos of this year's International Yoga Day:

What to Wear and Bring

Make sure you wear something comfortable and easy to move around in. I recommend a regular pair of gym shorts and a T-shirt or tank top. Bring a water bottle and a towel.

If you are in it for the long haul, invest in a quality yoga mat. Something that has a good grip and gives you ample padding works best. Most yoga studios provide you with props, which can be used for many different reasons – namely, to modify poses and keep you safe. My suggestion is to have two yoga blocks, a blanket and a strap handy while you practice.

How to Find a Routine

The fall can become hectic with school and work schedules, which is why the morning is the best time to practice. In the early hours of the day, your mind is fresh and nothing can prevent you from having that time to yourself. Otherwise, life happens and you risk missing your evening yoga class.

After three weeks of classes, you should become familiar with the basic yoga poses. When you are comfortable with the basics, get into the habit of practicing for 10 minutes every morning as soon as you wake up.

Here's a sequence to practice every morning: down dog, standing forward fold, lunge, locust, side angle, triangle, wide angle forward fold, pigeon, bridge and seated twist. This is a great way to make sure you stay committed and maintain all of the progress, strength and flexibility you have built.

How to Complement Yoga With Healthy Habits

To complement your yoga practice and contribute to your overall health, you can also integrate other self-care techniques into your routine. These are simple changes you can easily implement immediately. When you wake up, drink a tall glass of warm lemon water. This will help curb your appetite and aid in digestion. Eat your largest meal for lunch. This way, you are not going to bed on a full stomach. If you drink alcohol, limit your consumption to once a week, and do not drink too much.

How to Stay Motivated

Find a yoga buddy and hold each other accountable for showing up. If you cannot practice together, check in with one another on a regular basis to support each other and stay on course. Write down your goals and post them in a place where you can see them often, such as your computer screen or mirror. Your goals should be reasonable, and keeping them somewhere visible will give you direction. Make a yoga playlist just for something fun to look forward to when you practice at home. Just the fact that you are taking steps toward a healthier life might be motivation enough.

What You'll Get Out of It

If you practice yoga regularly – three to five times each week – you can expect many benefits. Within the first month, you will notice major gains in strength and flexibility. You will become more lean than bulky. After a month of a regular practice, you will alleviate most pain, particularly in your lower back and joints. You will feel lighter physically from burning fat and calories, and lighter mentally from yoga's emphasis on deep relaxation and self-care. The focus you have on the mat will translate to more driven and focused practices off the mat. Beyond that first month, it depends just how far you want to advance your health. Yoga helps you optimize your well-being; it is a practice that supports all facets of vibrant living.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report