Yoga mat fitness involves putting the body in stretching, strength-bearing and restorative positions, called poses or asanas. By practicing yoga poses, a student develops better body and mind awareness, strength and flexibility. A yoga practice usually includes breathing exercises (Pranayama) and sometimes chanting and meditation. Many of the Sanskrit names of poses are included here.
At the beginning of most yoga mat classes, instructors teach students how to deepen their breath. Breathing exercises like Three-Part Breath help build lung strength and develop awareness of incorrect breathing habits. Alternate Nostril Breathing can balance the left and right sides of the body and get students into a focused, present state of mind. Helpguide.org mentions deep breathing exercises as a way to rapidly get stress levels down. Yoga instructors often cue students on when to inhale or exhale throughout a class.
Practicing Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) A and B is the most common way to warm-up in Hatha (pose-focused) yoga classes. The Sun Salutations are a blend of several poses linked together with the breath: Mountain Pose (Tadasana), Upward Hand Pose (Urdhva Hastasana), Half Standing Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana), Plank, Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana), Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) and Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Sun Salutation B includes all of the above as well as Chair (Utkatasana) and Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I). Other warm-up exercises for the yoga mat can include other combinations of poses depending on the training and creativity of the instructor.
The work section of a yoga class may include holding poses for longer periods of time (usually five to ten breaths). Practicing more intense or complex poses often occurs during this phase, as well. Common work phase poses are Warriors, arm or standing balance poses, Boat and Triangle. Power, Ashtanga and Vinyasa style yoga classes may stay in the work phase for much of the class. Gentle and Restorative yoga classes often have much shorter work phases.
During a yoga cool-down, students often practice back bends, such as Wheel, and inversions, such as Headstand or Handstand. This is also a time for restorative stretches like King Pigeon, Seated Forward Bend and Tortoise. Because yoga students have a great deal of muscle warmth by this point, it is a safer time for deep stretches. Note that yoga instructors might place poses at the beginning, middle or end of a class. For example, a yoga teacher could use Standing Foward Bend at almost any point during a class sequence. Yoga Journal writer Richard Rosen reiterates that yoga sequences may focus around a series of poses or a single complex pose or they may target a particular area of the body.
Rest & Meditation
Yoga often uses many styles of meditation. Some exercises involve focusing on a single object or mantra (phrase or word). Others guide students through various visualizations designed to help release stress or accomplish a emotional, spiritual or mental goal. Students can sit on their mat in a cross-legged position (Lotus or Padmasana) or lie flat on their back. Yoga instructors often encourage students to support the body with blocks, wedges or bolsters so they can more easily let go of all inward and outward distractions. The end of a basic yoga class usually includes five to ten minutes of Relaxation, which the student uses to rest and meditate.
About this Author
Clarissa Adkins is a freelance writer and 200-hour, registered yoga teacher. With a B.A. in English and a creative writing concentration from James Madison University, she has happily written and continues to write hundreds of articles about healthy lifestyles and yoga for various online publications.