Stability Balls and Yoga
With a stability ball, use your core muscles―not just your feet―to keep your balance. Those big, bouncy balls in the gym help intensify any workout that is performed either seated or lying down―shoulder raises, biceps curls, triceps extensions, crunches, and bench presses. The reason? "Working out on an unstable surface forces all muscle groups, especially your core, to engage to help your body remain stable," says Gunnar Peterson, a Beverly Hills―based personal trainer. "It gives you more bang for your exercise buck."
Staying on the ball can be a challenge, however. Some people make the mistake of using only their feet, planted on the floor, to keep steady. But you'll balance better if you keep your abdominals tight. If you still have trouble, sit or lie closer to the center of the ball to take some of the weight off your feet.
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Watch your neck. For seated exercises, keep your feet flat on the floor, abs in, shoulders down and relaxed, and chin neutral. Lifting your chin too high or tucking it can strain your neck muscles. "You should be able to fit a baseball in between your neck and chin," Peterson says. When lying down, position your knees over your ankles (not your toes), and protect your neck by not letting your head drop back over the ball.
With yoga, remember to breathe. No matter how much yoga instructors emphasize the importance of breathing, their students rarely pay attention. Most people are focused on getting themselves into the poses. Smooth, deep, regular breaths "open up" your muscles, says Sutat Waddington, a former Buddhist monk and a yoga instructor in Mill Valley, California. For instance, when your muscles are relaxed, the poses come more easily. "For beginners, if you are grunting or your muscles are shaking, it may mean you are pushing yourself too hard or staying in a pose too long and not breathing enough," Waddington says.
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Lose the competitive instinct. It's tempting to compare yourself with others in the class, but yoga is not a competitive sport. "The poses were created to facilitate breathing and help us live in the moment," Waddington says. Besides, forcing the body to go deeper into a pose than it's ready to can lead to injury.