Imagine a workout that will strengthen and tone your muscles, invigorate your mind, increase your flexibility and reduce stress, all without putting too much strain on your body. Lucky for you: There is such a magical workout, and it’s called yoga. Want to learn more? Keep reading to learn about this amazing all-in-one exercise.
What is Yoga?
Yoga began in India about 5,000 years ago as a way to work the mind, body and spirit together as one. Since then, several studies have shown an active yoga lifestyle can help treat dozens of conditions including high blood pressure, mood disorders, diabetes and carpal tunnel syndrome.
A typical yoga class lasts 60 to 75 minutes and starts with a warm-up period of slow steady breathing and stretching. It gradually works up to 30 minutes of deep stretching, longer pose-holding movements and then wraps up with 15 to 20 minutes of relaxation exercises.
Types of Yoga
There are dozens of yoga disciplines around the world. Each has its own philosophy and each moves at a different pace. Some of the most popular in the US include:
Hatha: Easily the most popular type of yoga in the US, Hatha yoga is a great way for beginners to get into the activity. Workouts are slower and easier on joints and the focus is on controlling breathing and stretching.
Lyengar: This is another form of yoga that’s good for beginners. Like Hatha, movements between poses are slow and steady, but in Lyengar, the focus is less on breathing and more on balance and holding poses.
Bikram: Growing in popularity over the past decade, Bikram is practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees F, with the main objective of loosening muscles (to encourage deep stretching) and to sweat out impurities. In general, Bikram is not recommended for anyone with heart or cardiovascular problems (because of the temperature of the room combined with the intensity of the exercise).
Ashtanga: Known as power yoga, this is one of the most hardcore yoga practices. Instead of focusing on slow and steady movements or pace, Ashtanga is like a weight-lifting course where the sole focus is on strength building and endurance.
Who benefits from Yoga?
Everyone can benefit from the relaxation, cardiovascular and strength building exercises of yoga. However, some groups may find special health-boosting benefits.
Seniors: Posture, balance, flexibility and fitness levels diminish with age. Recent studies suggest an active lifestyle including yoga (like Hatha or Lyengar) can improve a senior’s balance and posture.
Pregnant women: Prenatal yoga is a new trend that claims to alleviate all sorts of symptoms associated with pregnancy like fatigue, swelling and poor digestion. And because the focus is on breathing and slow, steady stretching, the poses you practice may help out in the delivery room.
Asthma: Because the focus in many classes is on breathing, asthma sufferers can benefit from a consistent practice of the activity.
What equipment you need?
As physical activities go, yoga is relatively inexpensive.
- A mat
- A towel (to wipe away sweat)
- A blanket (in case the room gets cold)
- Sweat-wicking, loose-fitting clothes (so you can bend, twist and move comfortably)
Tips on getting the most from your class
1. Yoga is not a race. Unlike other activities, yoga is not competitive. The only person you are working for is you. So move at your own pace and try not to pay attention to what others are doing. It’s how you do that counts.
2. Listen to your body. If your body tells you you’ve over-stretched or are holding a pose for too long, stop. It’s never worth it to injure yourself.
3. Get enough H20. Whether you take part in a relaxing class like Hatha or opt to try something like Bikram, drinking enough water before and after class is essential. Stay adequately hydrated.
4. Talk to your doctor. Some people should avoid yoga because of pre-existing health conditions. It’s best to check with your family practitioner before starting any exercise routine.