Everybody say ohm…
On the beach, in studios, at home, on rooftops and in hotpods, people have been practicing yoga in numerous venues for thousands of years. Exercise fads have come and gone (anyone remember the power balance bracelet craze?), but the art and discipline of yoga has stood the test of time. So what exactly is yoga and why the hype?
Let’s start with what yoga isn’t. Yoga is not a religion. It is not only for vegan ‘hippies’. It’s not boring. It’s not just for women. And it is not only about performing seemingly impossible poses where one has to balance on one hand while your toes touch your forehead.
So what IS yoga?
The practice of yoga is a form of science that unites the body, mind and spirit. (The word ‘yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuji’ and literally means ‘union’.) Based on five principles which all work together for optimal physical and mental health (breathing, movement, relaxation, nutrition, and positive thinking), yoga is about using poses, meditation, and breathing to create self-awareness, forge harmony within the body, calm the mind, and embrace one’s environment.
The benefits of yoga
The benefits of yoga extend far beyond the mat.
- Yoga helps you manage stress and eases anxiety
- Yoga relaxes you, which in turn aids sleep
- Yoga improves balance and flexibility
- Yoga builds strength
- Yoga helps with pain relief and reduces inflammation
- Yoga could improve heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease
- Yoga encourages healthy eating habits
- Yoga increases energy levels
- Yoga boosts your mood
- Yoga introduces you to a wide, inclusive and supportive community
The different types of yoga
Yoga offers a number of different styles to suit everybody’s preference, goals and personality. All yoga styles will leave you feeling relaxed and will increase strength and flexibility, but it is best to find the style that suits you and your needs for maximum return and enjoyment. Here are five of the most common ones:
- Hatha yoga is great for beginners as it incorporates a combination of many styles. You’ll start with a series of breath-controlled exercises, followed by a series of poses (or ‘asanas’) to tone the body, and end with a simple meditation to clear the mind.
- Ashtanga yoga is a more advanced style comprising a more energetic routine, flowing from pose to pose.
- Bikram yoga is done in a heated room to encourage sweating which releases toxins. The sequence comprises 26 set movements and two breathing exercises with the aim of detoxing, stretching, relieving stress, toning your muscles and healing chronic pain.
- Yin yoga offers a slower pace targeting your deep, connective tissues, releasing energy and cleansing the body. It focuses on the meditative aspect of yoga.
- Iyengar yoga focuses on detail, precision, posture and alignment, ideal for those with a chronic medical condition or injury.
Can you lose weight by doing yoga?
In short, yes. But not in the traditional ‘get-your-heart-rate-up-and-burn-more-calories’ sense. Yoga teaches self-awareness and mindfulness, and as such you tend to be more in tune with your body, and the purpose the food you are eating serves. It also keeps you in the right mental space so you can make the best decisions for maintaining healthy eating habits. If weight loss is the goal, then regular participation in ashtanga and bikram are great options. Whether it is to complement an exercise programme, manage stress, clear the mind, or all of the above, yoga is a way of life. Have you tried it? Comment below and let us know what you thought.