What is Yoga? How is it Helpful?

When people hear the word “yoga”, there are immediate (and often negative) connotations that come to mind: slow, intimating, weak. Yoga is a movement practice and everyone can benefit from movement. What most people do not realize is just how inclusive and personal a yoga practice can be. Yoga is beneficial and diverse, there is a practice for everyone. The movements associated with yoga are conscious and deliberate, the term “mindful movements” is often linked to yoga. A connection between mind and body, and often spirit as well. There are many, many types of yoga practices that achieve different aims so it is wise not judge the field based on one style of yoga (said from personal experience). In regards to fitness, the key purpose of yoga, the intention for every style of yoga, is to create movements that equally combine strength, flexibility, and balance

484,341 Yoga Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock
Yoga is about mindful movements

The goal of yoga is to find a flow of movement that combines three main principles together in harmony: strength, flexibility, and balance. Many types of workouts focus on just one or two of these aspects and often not equally, which lead to disproportions in the body that often cause pain or discomfort. For example, weight lifting focuses on strength building but without flexibility or balance to counteract the strength training, the body is left with strong muscles that have been constricted by repetitive movements. Coupled with the fact that most people have a dominant side that they tend to train more often and it is very easy for the end results of weight lifting to be a very strong person who has limited and often lopsided mobility. The same can be seen in runners, the focus in running is on the lower body so the legs have strong muscles built up by endurance training but lack of flexibility training that often creates “shortened” hamstrings and a noticeable imbalance in the neglect of upper body exercise. This is not only true for strength-based workouts, but also flexibility focused disciplines like dancing which can create stretchy limbs but also weak joints that are prone to injury without additional training, such as wrists and ankles. The best exercise for overall comfort in the body is one that combines strength and flexibility and balance all together, and one way to do that is by practicing yoga.

As mentioned above, there are different styles of yoga so there is a type of practice, often more than one, that works for everyone. Hatha yoga is traditional yoga, focusing on balance, and is usually used as the umbrella term for most physical types of yoga. Hatha yoga classes consist of poses, breathwork, and meditation. Hatha yoga includes ashtanga yoga, vinyasa yoga, and Bikram yoga, to name a few; but what are these types of yoga? Ashtanga yoga classes cover six specific series of poses, one set of moves must be perfected before moving on to the next series. Ashtanga is physical and flowing and great for students who like structure and growth. Like ashtanga yoga, vinyasa yoga is a flow-focused and constantly moving yoga practice. Vinyasa yoga combines movement with breathwork and can vary in intensity. Bikram yoga is often called hot yoga, the temperature in the studio is turned up and the practice consists of a specific series of 26 moves. Bikram yoga is for students who want to work up a sweat while keeping to a routine. 

484,341 Yoga Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock
Vinyasa yoga is a dynamic practice

While many yoga styles are physically active and dynamic, the other side of a yoga practice is restorative yoga. Slower yoga styles are available for those with restricted mobility, whether due to age, fitness level, or injuries. Restorative yoga includes yin yoga with its relaxed speed and Iyengar yoga because of its assistance with props, including aerial yoga. Yin yoga classes, also known as gravity yoga, often only consists of a handful of poses that are held for minutes at a time. Maintaining a pose for a longer period of time can be a meditative experience due to the physical stillness. Iyengar yoga is a practice that is often slower, more static, and incorporates props. Chair yoga is one aspect of Iyengar yoga but not the only one, as Iyengar yoga can also use straps, blocks, and bolsters too. Iyengar yoga uses props to boost the practice and one substantial prop that can drastically change a yoga practice is a hammock to create aerial yoga. Aerial yoga is also called anti-gravity yoga because the hammock brings another dimension to the practice. Yoga poses that are grounded on the mat can now be taken into the air to bring in a new level of excitement to a traditional practice or provide support in what would otherwise be impossible moves.   

Aqua Yoga - Aerial, Acrobatic, Aqua: 5 Types Of Yoga That Are Becoming A  Fitness Trend | The Economic Times
Aerial yoga uses a hammock
to lift your practice

Whether you want to be challenged in a dynamic and athletic practice like vinyasa yoga or want to slow down and be meticulous with a yin yoga practice, yoga has the ability to enhance your strength, flexibility, and balance all at once while bringing mindfulness to your physical exercise.

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