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What Is Yoga and What Are Its Benefits?

By Donna Stark

What Is Yoga and What Are Its Benefits?

If you are looking for a new fitness routine that has proven results, and you aren’t interested in the latest and greatest fad at the gym, look no further than yoga.

Yoga is a great example of something that has stood the test of time. It is rooted in Indian philosophy and began as a spiritual practice thousands of years ago, but since that time, it has become a popular method for people of all ages and physical conditions to support optimal physical and mental well-being.

This low-impact workout focuses on movement, posture, breathing, relaxation, and meditation, and aims to create an impenetrable connection between the body, mind, and spirit.

What Is Yoga?

When the topic of yoga comes up, discussions usually revolve around the many different poses practiced on yoga mats in local studios, and how those poses reduce pain and improve flexibility. While there is nothing wrong with the direction those conversations take, yoga poses and mats are only two components of this form of exercise.

The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit language and can be translated as “union.” Those who practice yoga aim to create a connection, or union, between the body, mind, and spirit, and it is during this process that the other aspects of yoga come into play. These components of yoga include specific breathing exercises, as well as postural, relaxation, chanting, and other meditation techniques.

The philosophy behind yoga is that when these techniques combine with the poses, the mind and body can finally realize their highest potential. What does that mean for you? Simply put, it could mean a lot! Here are some of the health benefits commonly associated with the practice of yoga.

  • Anxiety and stress - Reduces anxiety and stress through meditation and breathwork
  • Muscle function - Stretches, tones, and strengthens muscles, increases flexibility and range of motion
  • Bone health - Builds and maintains bone health, reduces the risk of falls and injury
  • Weight loss - Aids in weight loss by minimizing the impact that stress, pain, and poor lifestyle choices can have on the body
  • Immunity - Boosts immunity by combating chronic stress, supporting the lymphatic system, and reducing inflammation
  • Sleep - Promotes relaxation, improves duration and quality of sleep
  • Chronic pain - Alleviates pain and discomfort by reducing muscle tension and joint dysfunction
  • Mind-body awareness - Enhances mind-body awareness, strengthens the body’s natural intuition

What Type of Yoga Is Best for Me?

The good thing about yoga is that there are plenty of different styles that suit a variety of skill levels and needs. Do you want an intense yoga class that requires a lot of physical activity or a more relaxed class that focuses on meditation? Or, are you completely unsure of what would be best? Whatever your answer, the following information may help you understand the differences between a few of the styles so you can make the right decision for yourself.

Hatha yoga - Hatha yoga is a good choice for beginners as it is less intense and demanding than other types of yoga. Hatha yoga encourages the body to move slowly and deliberately into poses that build core strength and increase flexibility. There is also a strong emphasis on posture, controlled breathing, and relaxation with this style of yoga.

Bikram yoga - Bikram yoga is a set of 26 specific poses that must be performed in exact order and repeated twice. However, the thing that sets it apart from the others is that it is practiced in a sauna-like room. Bikram classes last for a strict period of 90 minutes and are extremely steamy due to the temperature and humidity levels of the environment.

Kundalini yoga - The oldest of all traditional forms, kundalini is considered the mother of yoga types. It is a combination of movement, breath, meditation, and chanting, and is more spiritual than some of the other exercise-based forms of yoga.

International Yoga Day is observed on June 21. It was proposed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United Nations General Assembly in 2014 as a means of educating people about yoga.

How Can I Get the Most Out of Yoga?

If you are new to the yoga world, you may not be familiar with the Yoga Sutras, a collection of ancient texts, or verses, that serve as a guide for those who wish to attain wisdom, self-realization, and purposeful life through their practice. The Yoga Sutras is considered one of the most important texts on yoga philosophy, and since it’s been established that yoga extends far beyond physical activity, the Sutras should be a regular part of everyone’s yoga journey.

Are There Alternatives to Yoga I Can Try?

It’s easy to see how beneficial yoga can be when it comes to spirituality and health care, but like anything else, it may not be for everyone. If you have joined a yoga class and didn’t like it, or if you just don’t think the idea of it is appealing, don’t despair. Here are some other exercise programs you may like instead.

Tai chi - Often called “meditation in motion,” tai chi is a wonderful alternative to yoga. The practice of tai chi focuses on controlled breathing exercises and slow, fluid, and meditative movements. It can help build strength, increase flexibility, and improve balance.

Qigong - Unlike tai chi, where a series of movements is used to work the entire body, the movements of qigong focus only on certain internal things. These movements are also simpler and gentler than those of tai chi, so it may be more adaptable to certain physical conditions and needs.

Pilates - Pilates is a low-impact exercise designed to enhance physical performance by correcting alignment issues, restoring mobility, and improving muscle function. It’s a class that is suitable for most people because the movements involved can be adapted for a wide range of physical conditions and fitness levels.

Dance - With the endless array of styles you can choose from, dance is another alternative to yoga that shouldn’t be overlooked. Dancing is a great way to express yourself while keeping your body active and moving. Just keep in mind that the health benefits of one style may not be the same as another. So try a few different classes to find the one most suited to your body and goals!

Will Yoga Continue to Improve Bodies and Minds Worldwide?

There is something to be said about the things that have been around for centuries and that continue to provide incredible benefits to people across the world. It’s easy to see why yoga has become a global phenomenon. The only question that remains is … does it work for you?

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