Yoga’s roots are in Eastern philosophy. In the last few decades, however, it has found itself at the forefront of Western fitness and exercises concerning mental health. The mind-body combination that yoga provides is a welcome alternative to the impersonal practicality of weight lifting, conventional gyms, and the private trainer. Instead, yoga offers flowing practice targeting multiple facets of the body’s physicality, a homey and communal atmosphere, and the yogi.
Certainly, the main reason so many have flocked to yoga is its benefits. Even for the well-practiced yogi, so much can be learned, perfected, and attained. Whether their yoga practice is a supplement to their regular work-out regiment, or is a pure practice in every way, people find the balance that’s right for their lives. Yoga as a flexible system makes it perfect for anyone who wants to improve their health in a universal way and at their own pace.
Yoga is a discipline of the body. It uses nuanced breathing techniques in conjunction with deliberate movement. The movements are fluid when transitioning from one posture, or “asana,” into another. This flow, or “vinyasa,” of both breath and body gives the practitioner an experience, even as a beginner, that is challenging yet relaxing. Mastery of these poses are not physically empowering, but emotionally. Yoga helps you find the power sleeping within you.
The result of daily or even weekly yoga regime is at best sculpted, lean body. In its least, it offers a vast improvement in flexibility and body awareness. The body of the yogi or yogini is the body of a dancer whose movements are not sweeping and dramatic, but small and deliberate: the angle of an ankle or knee, the height of a raised arm to the nearest centimeter, and the position of your shoulder blades. A good yogi within the context of a yoga class will watch and touch. They will come to a student and move their bodies or support them so that they may sink deeper into a pose – stretching, pulling, elongating muscles most students did not know they had.
Some may think they do not have what it takes to begin practicing yoga. When they think of yoga, they imagine complex poses and impossible stretches that can only be attained by contortionists, but it is not so. Some of the main poses targeted in a beginners yoga class are as simple as standing, sitting, and breathing. Many very athletic people have found these movements to be challenging. Sitting simply to sit can be one of the hardest workouts a student has ever had. For some, it’s a whole new way to see the mundane. It can make these everyday movements feel so powerful. That power comes with you when you leave your yoga mat. Suddenly, every physical movement you make throughout your day has meaning and significance. At times, these movements can be frustrating and other times liberating.
Yoga does not only target the body. The mind is integral to the success of the yoga practice. Without the discipline of the mind, the body is not actually doing yoga. The student can go through the physical poses, but if the mind is not present, it is not a real exercise in yoga. It is all about balance. The mind-body balance on the yoga mat correlates directly to balance in daily life. It relieves stress, anxiety, and allows for optimum relaxation. Consider it a kind of therapy for the self.
Meditations vary within yoga practice. If someone is doing a self-guided sequence of poses in their home, the goal may be mental clarity: thinking of absolutely nothing. In a class, your instructor may lead the students through a guided meditation. In this case, you may explore more deeply into your subconscious. This, too, is a kind of yoga. Your mind is led through a series of exercises while your body is experiencing a single posture. In these guided meditations, you may visit a beautiful place, imagine yourself in different stages of your life, or explore your anxieties. The potential for mental and emotional growth is limitless and directly impacts your physical health.
There are many yoga variations. Quite a few of them are new or have only been developed in the last century. The history of yoga itself spans over 5,000 years. Therefore, one can say, the common yoga we practice today in studios and homes all over the world is quite new. Its roots, however, are deep and span millennia. Below are some of the most common types of yoga practiced today.
This is the most common form of yoga practiced by the modern world today. The main focus of Hatha Yoga is three-fold: breathing, meditation, and exercise. Generally, it consists of practicing “asanas,” or poses. Once breathing and asanas are mastered on their own, they are combined. Once the student masters both skills at once, they are often introduced to “vinyasas” or flowing sequences such as sun-salutations or moon-salutation (and variations therein). These sequences allow the student to move fluidly from one pose into another without stopping. This is definitely the class to take for beginners. More advanced learners will move into headstands and balancing poses as opposed to basic standing and sitting asanas.
This is very similar to Hatha Yoga. The main difference is that Power Yoga is not a flowing practice. Indeed, it’s a very fast-paced, heart pumping workout that resembles basic calisthenics. It’s an American take on Ashtanga Yoga, a very athletic form of yoga. This form of yoga is probably best for intermediate and advanced yoga practitioners without any major health issues.
Bikram or “Hot” Yoga
Hot Yoga is currently very popular in the United States. Basically, Hot Yoga is Hatha Yoga that is performed in 90-minute periods in a very hot (95-105°F room at 40% humidity) room. The reason for the hot space is that it encourages safe stretching of the ligaments and muscles (not to mention sweating!). However, safety must be considered as dehydration and hyperthermia are real concerns. This form of yoga is great for healthy people looking for an extra challenge in their yoga practice.
Pilates is NOT a form of yoga, however, it is similar in its mission. Unlike yoga, it does not target the mind so obviously and aggressively with mediation. However, it does understand that control of the mind is necessary for control of the body. Pilates, like yoga, practice is a sequence of poses done slowly and deliberately, and it incorporates breathing. Pilates can be done on a yoga mat or can include a multitude of gear and machinery to assist in the correction and perfection of the exercises. It falls under the umbrella of a training system far more than yoga does. Many people practice yoga and Pilates in conjunction. Their similarities are enough that it makes it easy to transition from asanas to Pilates exercises. Pilates classes are available at all experience levels.