Self Health Therapies

Yoga101
The Path to Happiness

girl doing yoga on beach
Written by Lissa Reidel

In studios across the nation, as many as 20 million Americans practice yoga every day.

Of current non-practitioners, 44.4 percent of Americans call themselves “aspirational yogis”—people who are interested in trying yoga. The top five reasons for starting yoga were: flexibility (78.3 percent), general conditioning (62.2 percent), stress relief (59.6 percent), improve overall health (58.5 percent) and physical fitness (55.1 percent).

If you are one of the 44.4 % aspirational yogis, you suspect that yoga can change your life. Don’t worry about those perfect bodies or expensive workout clothes. Yoga is for every body. Congratulate yourself for your courage, and, even if you sit in a chair, find the class that is right for you.

Yoga is a mind and body practice with origins in ancient Indian philosophy. The various styles of yoga typically combine physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation. There are numerous schools of yoga. Hatha yoga, the most commonly practiced in the United States and Europe, emphasizes postures (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayama). Some of the major styles of hatha yoga are Iyengar, Ashtanga, Vini, Kundalini, and Bikram yoga.

Yoga does promise—and can quickly deliver—a smorgasbord of enhancements to flexibility, strength, health, and beauty, as well as the possibility of meeting new people in a relaxed environment with few pressures and even fewer clothes. However, it is the peaceful glow that a yoga practitioner is sure to feel even after the first class that usually brings people back. This ineffable sense of contentment, clarity, and presence can awaken us to the possibility of something far greater. What may spring originally from the desire to enhance oneself can be transmuted over time into a quest for what lies beyond the self and its desires.
Chip Hartranft, translator of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

The 2007 National Health Interview Survey found that yoga is one of the top 10 complementary and integrative health approaches used among U.S. adults. An estimated 6 percent of adults used yoga for health purposes in the previous 12 months.

Benefits of Yoga Infogram

Yoga classes may also include instruction on breathing, call and response chanting, meditation, or an inspirational reading by the teacher. The variety and amount of this will depend on the individual teacher and the tradition in which they have trained.

Typically, a yoga class at a gym will be more focused on the purely physical benefits of yoga, while one at a yoga center may delve more into the spiritual side.

Some people find that the physical practice of yoga becomes a gateway into a spiritual exploration while others just enjoy a wonderful low-impact workout that makes them feel great. Whatever your tendency, you will be able to find a yoga class that suits your style.

Yoga Approaches

Hatha

Hatha is a very general term for slow-paced and gentle yoga, and can provide a good introduction to the basic yoga poses.

Vinyasa

Vinyasa, which means breath-synchronized movement, tends to be a more vigorous style based on the performance of a series of poses called ‘Sun Salutations’ in which movement is matched to the breath.

Ashtanga/Power Yoga

Ashtanga, which means eight limbs in Sanskrit, is a fast-paced, intense style of yoga practice. A set series of poses is performed, always in the same order. Ashtanga practice is very physically demanding, because of the constant movement from one pose to the next.

Ashtanga is the inspiration for what is often called ‘Power Yoga’. If a class is described as Power Yoga, it will be based on the flowing style of Ashtanga, but not necessarily keep strictly to the set Ashtanga series of poses.

Iyengar

This style of practice is most concerned with bodily alignment, which is the precise way in which your body should be positioned in each pose in order to obtain the maximum benefits of the pose and avoid injury. Iyengar practice usually emphasizes holding poses over long periods versus moving quickly from one pose to the next.

Kundalini

The emphasis in Kundalini is on the breath in conjunction with physical movement, with the purpose of freeing energy in the lower body and allowing it to move upwards. Kundalini uses rapid, repetitive movements rather than holding poses for a long time, and the teacher will often lead the class in call and response chanting.

Bikram/Hot Yoga

Pioneered by Bikram Choudhury, this style is more generally referred to as Hot Yoga. It is practiced in a 95-100 degree room, which allows for a loosening of tight muscles and profuse sweating, which is thought to be cleansing.

Strength And Cardio

Very vigorous types of yoga practice such as Ashtanga and ‘Power Yoga’ are cardiovascular exercise and may help you lose weight, if done regularly, along with a diet plan.

Doing any type of yoga will build strength, but some types may not raise your heart rate enough to constitute the only form of exercise necessary to a weight loss regime. So don’t use this as a substitute to weights and cardio.

If you are brand new to yoga, you may want to take a few Hatha classes to learn the basic poses. However, Hatha is usually slow-paced, so if you are the kind of person who likes to move around more, Hatha may turn you off.

Even if you are already in great shape, take a few beginners’ classes to learn the poses and avoid the risk of injury. And while there are many great yoga books and videos available, there is no substitute from learning directly from a good teacher in a yoga class.

Anyone may practice yoga to keep their bodies fit and supple or for relief from back or joint pain, injuries or stress. Others want to feel the joy and energy yoga imparts. Hatha Yoga helps free people from limiting beliefs, even those who feel they are too old, too stiff, or too out of shape.

About the author

Lissa Reidel

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