As the new year starts, many people set a new year goal to achieve better physical fitness. Finding a mode of exercise during these winter months can sometimes be challenging, especially if you are not the outdoor type. So especially at this time of year I recommend that people of all ages try yoga as a form of exercise. Let’s review some of the history of yoga, what this form of exercise entails and a little about the different types of yoga.
Yoga is thought to date back 5,000 years and has been part of many cultures including Hindu and Buddhist cultures. It went through numerous transformations and several different directions through the centuries. It arrived in the U.S. in the late 1800s and was spread by yoga gurus who set up schools and centers in this country.
The basic system of yoga includes distinct parts:
1. Yoga exercise using specific postures or asanas; 2. Yoga breathing techniques or pranayamas, and 3. Meditation.
Most people practice yoga postures when they take a beginning yoga class. These postures are thought to help balance mind and body by having a positive effect on the central nervous system, organs and musculoskeletal system. The body becomes more aware, more flexible, stronger and more agile.
The breathing techniques are said to produce an increased amount of energy in the solar plexus area. This energy is thought to improve activity, increase immunity and improve brain function and memory. In general, by increasing the depth and the control of breathing, a sense of rejuvenation and vitality is enjoyed.
Lastly, meditation and positive thinking are often incorporated into yoga practice. Meditation or concentrating discipline of the mind can produce a sense of relaxation, but it can also be used with visualization for healing purposes.
Yoga has evolved into many different forms to meet the varying needs of individuals. Yoga styles offer everything from a very physical workout to a gentle form of relaxation for someone with chronic health problems.
The most popular form of yoga in the U.S. is Hatha yoga, which focuses on balancing body, mind and spirit through various poses. Many yoga forms have sprouted from Hatha yoga—each with a slightly different emphasis on execution of movement and the role of breathing.
Some of the more popular yoga styles include: Ananda yoga, Anusara yoga, Ashtanga yoga, Bikram yoga, Integral yoga, Kali Ray TriYoga, Kripalu, Kundalini, Sivananda, Svaroopa yoga, Iyengar yoga, Viniyoga and Jivamukti yoga.
For someone in good shape looking for a toxin-releasing workout, Bikram yoga, or “hot” yoga, may be right for you. As with any form of exercise, check with your doctor first. In this style, yoga is practiced in a room up to 100 degrees, so hydrating your body is a must. This form focuses on warming and stretching muscles, tendons and ligaments and on performing 26 asanas.
Iyengar yoga popularized the use of props such as blocks and belts to assist in the precise alignment of postures. It also minimizes the risk of injury and modifies poses to allow beginners to attain confidence. Mountain Pose is one of the most popular poses in Iyengar yoga.
Svaroopa yoga focuses on using poses to open the spine from bottom to top. The focus of this form is consciousness development to promote healing and transformation.
Although the use of video tapes or books to learn yoga may be less expensive and convenient, I encourage people to begin the practice with an experienced instructor in a class setting. The subtleties of precise poses and the cues for proper breathing are done best while being observed by an experienced, trained instructor.
If you decide to try yoga, remember that even when you have decided on a style, the various teachers may either be right for you or not.