The Benefits of Yoga
By Sabina Brownstein
Yoga was introduced to the West many decades ago, but it has only been during the past 15 years that it has exploded in popularity. Yoga studios have seemingly sprung up on every corner and classes are available in a variety of different styles. Even more impressive is the fact that the growth of yoga has extended well past the community of people who usually take part in alternative lifestyle activities. Anyone and everyone, from business executives to your grandmother, are feeling the pull to try a yoga class and see what it’s all about. It is even becoming common to see pictures of flash mobs of hundreds of people doing yoga in the streets of our largest cities.
This ancient Vedic practice of mind, body and spirit provides benefits on many levels for those who do it regularly. On a physical level it brings us balance and strength. Your body grows stronger, more toned, and more flexible as you move from one asana (pose) to another. It also allows you to feel the natural grace and beauty of your body as you flow with the movements. In addition, the exercises of yoga help to maintain a balanced metabolism which promotes overall health and also helps to regulate weight.
As you can see, yoga is a great way to achieve fitness, but it is much more than just a ‘spiritual work-out’. Deep breathing and meditation practices are integrated into most yoga classes. These are designed to clear the mind and relieve stress. Yoga teaches you to be aware of your breathing while you hold the poses, and this attention to the breath gives you more focus and inner stillness. At the end of most yoga classes there is a time for silent meditation; a time that allows you to be still, which is a rare gift in our busy world. These feelings of peace and tranquillity achieved through focused training are an important part of yoga’s appeal and its benefits.
There are many different types of yoga to practice, so it’s important to find out which style is right for you. Some classes are more physically demanding while others are more relaxed and restorative. Many teachers also use music to enhance the feelings that arise in the class. Here’s a brief introduction to some of the most common and popular styles of yoga that are being regularly offered:
Hatha Yoga: This is the classic style that is focused on slow and gentle movements. It works well either to re-focus at the end of the day, or to get going in the morning.
Iyengar Yoga: This is a form of Hatha Yoga that emphasises detail, precision and alignment in the performance of both the postures (asanas), and your breathing (pranayama). There is also a strong focus on alignment so Iyengar can be helpful for physical therapy.
Vinyasa Yoga: This is commonly called “Vinyasa flow” or just “flow”, and you will definitely be moving, and flowing from one pose to the next. It’s a great workout that offers a variety of asana combinations, and it has become extremely popular.
Ashtanga Yoga: Sometimes called ‘Power Yoga’, Ashtanga is physically demanding. It’s probably best suited for those who are really looking to push their bodies.
Yin Yoga: These postures are more passive and are mainly done on the floor. The longer, static holds enable you to access deeper levels of the body – fascia and connective tissue. Holding the postures in this slower sequence opens your muscles resulting in physical and emotional release.
Anusara Yoga: This was founded in 1997 by John Friend, and it is inspired by “the celebration of the heart”. You can expect many heart-opening poses like backbends along with guided imagery.
Kundalini Yoga: “Kundalini” refers to the powerful energy that rises from the Root Chakra, which is located at the base of your spine. Often the class is focused on working with your “core” area – through the centre of your torso. These classes are known to be pretty intense.
Bikram Yoga: Get ready to practice in 40 degree heat and 60% humidity – that’s why they call it ‘hot yoga’. Bikram uses 26 poses with a lot of work on alignment… and a lot of sweat!
Restorative Yoga: Looking to wind down after a long day of work? Or perhaps you want to quiet your mind? Restorative yoga might be the answer as it is focused on relaxation.
Prenatal Yoga: As the name suggests, this is specifically designed for expectant mothers. It strengthens and prepares for birthing by working on the central core muscles and focusing on the breath.
No matter which style of yoga you choose, you will surely be doing yourself a favour as it will improve your physical, mental and emotional well-being. •