Yoga is a comprehensive mind-body approach to fitness and health. Imagine stretching, detoxing, relieving stress, toning and healing, all in a single session!
In this series about Yoga, we will cover
- a introduction to yoga followed by
- basic poses or asanas, and then,
- specific asanas, how to do them and their benefits (we bet you can’t wait for these!)
An introduction to yoga and its benefits
If you thought yoga was a series of impossible poses that only a select few super-fit people can practice, we have good news for you. Yoga is for everyone, regardless of age, fitness level and economic status. Also, it is inexpensive, and does not involve special equipment.
As a complete mind-body workout, there are few exercise programs that can be as enduring as yoga. Besides burning calories and toning muscles, this ancient practice is a combination of strengthening and stretching poses or asanas, and includes deep breathing, meditation and relaxation.
In fact, these days even schools have started incorporating yoga into their curriculum. The benefits? Children who are less stressed, have better focus, can concentrate better, are more confident and have positive body image, all of which lead to healthier kids who perform better.
This applies to everyone who practices yoga.
But there’s more:
Regular yoga practice brings the following health benefits:
- Increased flexibility
- Better muscle tone and strength
- Enhanced circulatory and heart health
- Improved metabolism
- Better sleep
- Higher energy levels
- Weight loss
- Fewer injuries
- Better posture
- Organ detox
- Chronic pain relief
- Anxiety and depression management
- Better mood
If you are still wondering if yoga is right for you, the answer is most likely yes.
There are many types of yoga, ranging from the peaceful hatha to high-intensity workouts offered by power yoga. Each one results in a certain level of mind-body connection, helping you relax and focus while improving flexibility and strength.
Even if you are the sort who prefers fast, competitive workouts, it is worthwhile to add yoga to your fitness regimen to enjoy the physical and mental benefits. There is a type of yoga for every need and fitness level. And as a holistic approach to mind and body strength, yoga is just perfect.
There are books and videos to teach yourself, but it is a good idea to find an instructor who can show you the right way to do the postures or asanas.
There are more than 100 types of yoga, but let’s look at the most popular forms:
- Hatha—which combines basic movements and breathing. Great for beginners, it loosens and relaxes the body and relieves stress
- Vinyasa—a sequence of poses flowing smoothly, gently, with a mix of intense workouts
- Power—fast, high intensity yoga for muscle-building
- Ashtanga—a sequence of poses with unique breathing technique
- Bikram—or hot yoga, a 90-minute rigorous series of 26 poses in a sauna-like environment
- Iyengar—is a form of Hatha Yoga with emphasis on precision and alignment of posture using props. Develops strength, mobility and stability
- Kundalini—involves chanting mantras with synchronized breathing and movement
Depending on the type you choose, the intensity level will vary. Techniques such as Hatha and Iyengar yoga give you a gentle and slow workout, while Bikram and Power yoga are faster and challenging.
You can get started with something as simple as a yoga mat and comfortable clothing. Most basic poses and stretches can be done by people of all ages and fitness levels. And you can do it anywhere—outdoors or at home, alone or with a group. No special equipment required, as you’ll be relying on your own bodyweight for resistance. However, it is good to invest in a yoga mat to prevent slipping when you do standing poses, and when you are seated or lying down. Optional equipment ranges from a yoga ball for balance, perhaps a block and straps to help you reach your feet and so on.
Can you do yoga if you have a health condition?
Here is the best part: if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart disease, yoga is highly recommended. It improves strength, flexibility, and mind-body awareness. You’ll need to combine it with brisk walking, biking or swimming if the type of oga you choose does not include intense workouts.
Ideally, start with a gentle program, with walking.
Note: Consult your doctor if you have diabetes, heart problems or high blood pressure as you may need to avoid certain poses that may require more balance than you have right now, or poses that involve being upside down.
If you have arthritis, yoga can build flexibility and strength without stressing your joints. An added benefit is the mind-body approach that helps you relax and gently energize.
Pregnant women can use yogasana to stay relaxed, strong, and in shape, after talking to their doctor first. Find an instructor who is experienced with prenatal yoga.
- If you have neck/back/joint pain/flexibility problems, do talk to your doctor before starting any exercise routine.
- Never push yourself to the point of hurting.
In our next post in this series, we will look at some basic poses you can get started with. Whichever style you choose, there are some key moves common to all.
Do you practice yoga? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Here is an infographic created by Health Central as a quick primer on types of yoga and their benefits