Yoga has been around for centuries. For many, it is a both a physical exercise and a spiritual practice. In the United States, it has become such a popular fitness activity that there are even yoga competitions.
But accepting that becoming a yoga athlete may be taking it a bit too far, there are several important reasons why everyone might benefit from including yoga as part of their overall fitness routine.
Aside from increasing flexibility, yoga poses work the core muscles. Many of the poses will not only strengthen various muscle groups, but some yoga styles will also help develop muscular endurance. At the same time, yoga has been shown to help with balance issues and posture, which is especially important if you sit at a desk all day.
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But perhaps most importantly, yoga is about more than tightening your abs and being able to touch your toes. It is an activity that offers immense stress-relief. Stress is a serious issue in our society and can lead to chronic diseases such as hypertension and anxiety. While you can’t get rid of stress completely (nor would you want to as it is a natural response and helps us achieve many goals), you can probably manage it better.
Yoga is a great tool for stress management. By completing a series of poses while being mindful of the breath, a state of intense relaxation can occur. A regular yoga practice can help lower the heart rate, as well as blood pressure, two health issues often caused by poor stress management.
Yoga is considered a mind-body activity — it can not only help you become more supple and stronger but consistent practice will tap into your relaxation ability and help you achieve a sense of balance in your life. It has even been shown to have a positive impact on mood and mental health issues.
How to Pick the Yoga That’s Right for You
Many different types of yoga exist. So how do you know which to choose?
A Google search will likely reveal all sorts of schools in your area. What they teach may not be familiar to you or may sound intimidating. If a yoga school has a website, it might be able to tell you a little bit about the program or style they practice. But it’s important to pick the yoga style that works best for you — that way you get the benefits you’re after and you’re more likely to regularly attend class.
To help you, we’ve put together a list of the most common types of yoga you’ll encounter — and that you may want to check out for yourself:
If you are looking for a form of yoga that requires very little difficult movement, this is the style for you. In many ways, it is designed to manage your stress and quiet your anxious mind. Most schools will supply a variety of props to help students move from one pose into another, making this practice very easy and slow. It is a great not only for people wanting to de-stress but also for first-timers, as well as people recovering from a physical injury.
Hot Yoga and Bikram
At the other end of the physical intensity scale are the hot yoga schools. In these classes, a specific set of poses are completed while in a heated room (sometimes over 100 degrees). The heat and sweat allow for deeper poses and a much more intense focus. At the end of class, your mind will be clear and your muscles will feel great. Be aware, It is not for the faint of heart. Be sure to let the instructor know you are a newbie when showing up for your first class.
This is one of the most common yoga classes found just about anywhere, making hatha extremely popular. It is very beginner friendly, and the transitions from pose to pose are done both slowly and gently. More advanced practitioners or athletic types may find the pace a little too slow. It is a great all-around stress relieving exercise though.
When non-yoga practitioners think of yoga, this is probably the type of yoga that comes to mind. This type of yoga is for more spiritual seekers since it includes chanting, constant breath awareness (called pranayama), and the proper alignment of the chakras (specific energy spots in the body). Casual yoga or fitness practitioners may be turned off by the intense spiritual aspects of this training but for those looking to develop a spiritual lifestyle, it will be a perfect fit. Also, meditation is highly emphasized in kundalini, which makes it very useful for coping with stress.
Similar to hatha yoga, this form of yoga incorporates all the same postures, but the movement from pose to pose is done much more quickly. This quicker transition or flow gives practitioners more of a cardio workout than with many other types of yoga. This is a favorite form of yoga for many runners, cyclists and other endurance athletes. The basic pattern or sun salutations are a great mind clearing exercise as well; making it ideal as a stress management tool.
Try a Few Types of Yoga
All of these types of yoga will help you manage your stress and increase your fitness level. Actually seeing the results really depends upon how much time and effort you want to put into your yoga practice. And keep in mind that as you practice yoga continuously and consistently, your needs may change over time. Perhaps that hatha class is no longer challenging enough and you decide to try vinyasa or hot yoga.
In fact, you may need to try several different classes and schools before you find the right fit for you. Don’t give up, there is a yoga style for everyone. It is the original exercise for the healthy body, healthy mind concept.