Yoga is becoming increasingly popular as a way to relieve stress, live in harmony with nature, and enhance the well-being of mind and body. One reason for its growing popularity is that so many people live pressure-filled, fast-paced lives. As stress and pressure affect their mental and physical beings, and as they come to accept the connection between mind and body, more people are seeking holistic approaches to manage their stress.
Believed to have originated in India, yoga is considered an ancient form of active meditation in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. This ancient practice links mind, body, and spirit through a combination of postures, breathing, and conscious relaxation and meditation.
By emphasizing postures (to strengthen the body), controlled breathing (to create a chemical and emotional balance in body and mind), and meditation (a form of prayer), yoga stimulates powerful healing abilities in its practitioners.
Additional benefits include increased strength, stamina, and flexibility; enhanced body awareness; and improved concentration. It may also reduce high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and chronic pain, and improve heart disease. As a form of exercise and stress reduction, yoga may reduce the symptoms of asthma and the risk of many diseases such as diabetes mellitus, heart disease, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been effective in reducing medication use and improving nerve function.
Types of Yoga
- Ananda yoga is a gentle, classical style of yoga. Not athletic or aerobic, it is designed to maintain relaxation.
- Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic, physically demanding, and fast-paced practice that uses breath to link the flow from one movement to another. It is also called power yoga because participants jump from one posture to another.
- Anusara (“flowing with grace”) yoga is a spiritually oriented yoga using postures with a mind-body emphasis.
- Bhakti (“devotion”) yoga seeks the pathway to God through devotion and love through practices that take the form of ritual, love-intoxicated chanting, singing, dancing, and meditation.
- Bikram yoga is practiced in a room heated to at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with a goal of cleansing the body and increasing flexibility. Consisting of 26 postures that are always done twice in the same sequence, this challenging form of yoga can also be called “hot yoga.”
- Hatha (“force”) yoga uses physical purification and body strengthening as an arduous means of self-transformation and transcendence. This form of yoga is based on the development of Tantrism (techniques and rituals outlined in Hindu or Buddhist scriptures). Many of its practices attempt to stimulate the chakras and to clean and improve the condition of various physical organs.
- Iyengar yoga is a slower paced form that focuses on the precise alignment of the feet and body. Blocks, belts, bolsters, and other props are used to achieve this alignment.
- Jnana yoga, the yoga of the intellect, has the goal of attaining prajna, or transcendental wisdom through meditation and thought.
- Karma yoga, the yoga of service, emphasizes doing for others as a remembrance of God. The individual who practices this form of yoga acts in daily life to lessen lawlessness and restore virtue and harmony.
- Kripalu yoga uses traditional sitting postures (asanas) but emphasizes meditation and reflection by encouraging self-acceptance, objectively observing the mind’s activity, and applying what is learned in class to daily living.
- Kundalini yoga incorporates chanting with powerful breath work and specific postures designed to awaken sacral energy (“serpent power”).
- Mantra or nada yoga focuses on the vibrations and radiations of life energy using sound.
- Raja yoga (“royal union”), formulated about 200 BC, is an orthodox system of Hindu philosophy in which the mind is king and the body must first be tamed through self-discipline and purification. Social and personal codes of conduct prepare the mind and body for higher stages of meditation by reducing attachment and inducing tranquility.
- Yin yoga focuses heavily on stretching the joints and connective tissue. Poses are passive and often held for long periods.
Finding a Yoga Class
Find a yoga class that’s right for you! Make sure it’s right for your age and ability
- Check with your doctor before taking a yoga class to make sure it’s safe for you.
- Look for a class that includes poses, breathing, and meditation rather than just exercises with a yoga emphasis.
- Ask the instructor about his or her training.
- Make sure the instructor creates a safe environment and helps people modify poses to meet their abilities and limitations.
- Wear comfortable workout clothes.
- Use a thick yoga mat to provide extra cushioning and support.
- Stay hydrated and drink water during class.