Yoga is the latest craze, particularly in the health and fitness industry, but why is it so great? Yoga is a form of mind-body exercise that involves a combination of muscular activity and awareness of the self, breath and energy. The principles of yoga are very similar to the principles of osteopathy; that the body is a holistic entity that has self-healing mechanisms. In addition to this, yogis also believe that the quality and state of an individuals mind is crucial to healing; when the individual has a positive mind-state healing happens more quickly.
As a keen yogi myself, I have seen first hand the benefits of practicing yoga regularly over the past four years. As a student, sitting at a desk for long periods I would suffer from migraines & neck pain and after taking up yoga I saw a considerable decrease in the frequency and intensity of these conditions. Now, working as an osteopath, a very labor-intensive occupation, yoga helps to maintain my strength and prevent any injuries. Below is a list of some of the major benefits of yoga:
- Improves flexibility –Tight, shortened muscles result from sitting in the same position day in and day out or from repetitive strain on the body (eg, lifting). They can lead to many musculoskeletal problems such as back pain, headaches and muscle strains. To achieve the proper alignment of most yoga poses it involves lengthening or stretching the muscles.
- Improves strength – During a yoga practice you will develop muscle strength and endurance, as you are required to hold poses for different lengths of time and transition between poses. Yoga poses target the core and deep stabilising muscles, which is essential for developing good posture and preventing injury.
- Reduces pain – During a yoga session, joints are taken through their full range of motion. This encourages blood flow to the area bringing fresh nutrients and oxygen and can help prevent symptoms of arthritis and chronic pain. In addition, loosening of the muscles & connective tissue surrounding the bones & joints is associated with reduced aches and pains.
- Reduces stress – Yoga encourages one to relax, slow the breath and focus on the present, shifting the balance from the sympathetic nervous system or the ‘fight or flight’ response to the parasympathetic system or the ‘rest and digest’ response. Yoga induces relaxation and a balanced mental state, which helps to improve sleep, lower anxiety and depression, encourages greater-self-awareness and cultivates a sense of calmness and well-being.
- Improves overall health – The parasympathetic nervous system promotes a decreased heart rate, decreased breathing rate, decreased blood pressure, decreased cortisol levels and increases blood flow to the intestines & vital organs.
You may be thinking, this all sounds great but where do I start? Sometimes it can be quite daunting finding the right yoga studio or class, as there are many different styles of yoga and they all range in intensity.
To help you out I have compiled a list of the main styles of yoga and what they involve:
Ashtanga is a more vigorous style of yoga, which involves moving rapidly through specific sequences to breath. In an asthanga class you will perform the exact same poses in the exact same order in each class. It is a hot, sweaty and physically demanding practice that will get your heart rate up.
Bikram yoga is a 90 minute practice that consists of a sequence of 26 different yoga poses, each performed twice. It was designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles as well as compress and rinse the organs of the body. Bikram yoga is for anyone who loves to sweat as the room is heated to 40 dergrees. This is to facilitate the release of toxins.
Hatha yoga is a generic term that refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures, therefore most types of yoga come under the Hatha umbrella. When a class is listed as Hatha, it generally means that it will be an introductory class going through the most basic postures and breathing exercises.
Iyenger yoga focuses on finding the proper alignment of each pose. Yoga props, including blocks, straps & bolsters, are commonly used to help achieve this. Iyengar classes are quite mentally and physically challenging, as you are required to actively hold poses for varying lengths of time. However, it will not get your heart rate up as there is not a lot of jumping around.
Vinyasa classes are an active, dynamic style of yoga in which you flow from posture to posture with breath. It is similar to ashtanga yoga however vinyasa does not stick to the same sequence of poses, rather each class varies depending on the teacher. During a vinyasa class you can work up quite a sweat and it also helps develop your cardiovascular fitness.
Yin yoga is a slow, meditative practice in which you hold poses for extended periods of time in order to relax the muscles and lengthen the connective tissue. Yin poses are passive so props such as bolsters, blankets and blocks are used so that the body doesn’t have to exert any effort. Yin yoga is a great way to learn the basics of meditation and stilling the mind.
If you have a pre-existing injury and/or are unsure whether yoga would be beneficial to you make sure you ask your osteopath. Namaste!
- Woodyard C (2011). Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. International Journal of Yoga; 4(2): 49-54.
- Ross A & Thomas S (2010). The Health Benefits of Yoga and Exercise: A Review of Comparison Studies. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 16(10) 3 – 12.
- Types of Yoga. Womens Health Mag. Retrieved from: http://www.womenshealthmag.com/yoga/types-of-yoga on 16/06/2015