There are several “easy” and comfortable ways to start on the exercise path, regardless of your current physical condition. But make sure you check with your doctor before starting a program. These programs help stretch your muscles, give you better balance, increase blood flow to more of your body, release tension, increase your energy, and generally make you feel much better. A few of these exercise programs are yoga, tai chi, and chi gong. Yoga has become very popular in the U.S. and most people have a basic idea of what it is about. Many may have seen videos of large groups of people practicing Tai Chi in a public place and may have seen this also in the U.S. Chi Gong (or Qigong), not so much.
Yoga is normally and traditionally (we are talking about thousands of years) practiced as static poses. Tai Chi and Chi Gong are practiced with very slow and sometimes dynamic movements. Many people don’t realize that tai chi is also a form of self-defense. Tai Chi is amazingly good for increasing balance and stability.
I have been practicing yoga for the past 47 years. Most yoga practitioners in the US practice Hatha Yoga, which is just one of the yoga practices. The first thing to understand about yoga is that it is NOT a religion although the practice can make you closer to whatever religion with which you identify. It is a philosophy and a way of life when you delve into it. You can take what you want of yoga and ignore what doesn’t suit you. You will not be condemned for it. I personally agree with most of the philosophy but don’t pay attention to some of the details. But hatha yoga can be practiced non-traditionally as just a set of stretching exercises.
So let’s start with Hatha Yoga. This is the physical face of yoga. Unfortunately, in the West, it has often devolved into gymnastics and tricks that some use to show off. You still get the benefits of the stretching but when taught this way, so much is missing. Using hatha yoga for showing off and competing is totally contrary to the philosophy of yoga. Yogi’s are after becoming as egoless as possible. Hatha yoga has many benefits but the goal is to be able to sit comfortably and calmly in a certain position to practice the second type of yoga understood in the West: meditation. There are many types, groupings, and names of yoga “systems.” I prefer the yoga explained by Patanjali a couple thousand years ago that explains eight major steps to yoga . As a side note, anyone who worships by truly dedicating themselves to God, at a church, temple, or synagogue are practicing a form of yoga called bhakti yoga. This form is devotion to God, one of the several paths.
Basically, Hatha yoga has to do with posture and proper body alignment. If one is to sit in a meditative pose for any period of time, the position should not cause any discomfort. Imagine trying to empty your mind and then you get some stabbing pain in your back. That will ruin the mood! So there are a series of postures or asanas that help people become more flexible and helps them to strengthen their muscles, for example, back muscles. Since hatha yoga is excellent for this it has been used for other reasons and has other benefits. These include massaging internal organs, helping with blood flow, helping to regulate internal systems, and calming the mind. You can find more in-depth information about the benefits of hatha yoga in the introduction of the book “Light on Yoga” .
Anyone can practice yoga and most anyone can practice Hatha yoga. I suggest that you find a non-Hollywood type of teacher who doesn’t use gimmicks. Yoga should be pretty straightforward. If the teacher brags about what he/she can do, take a pass and find someone else. When you practice hatha yoga be aware that you are not competing with anyone, even yourself. Try the poses (asanas) and only go as far as you can go. When I started yoga, there were many asanas that I could not eve get close to doing. Following is Virasana, the Hero posture. It took me many months to be able to sit down between my legs.