What is yoga?
Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing. The main components of yoga are postures (a series of movements designed to increase strength and flexibility) and breathing. The practice originated in India about 5,000 years ago, and has been adapted in other countries in a variety of ways. Yoga is now commonplace in leisure centres, health clubs, schools and hospitals all over the world.
Purely physical exercise, such as press-ups, can be done almost without thinking. But yoga postures must be approached with concentration and awareness. You are targeting the whole body, not just one area. Yoga works to stretch muscles rather than contract them, so it tends to complement other forms of physical exercise, such as running or swimming.
What are the health benefits of yoga?
Most studies of yoga suggest that is a safe and effective way to:
- increase your physical activity
- Increase your muscular strength
- Increase your flexibility
- Improve your balance
- Improve the effectiveness of your lungs
- Improve your posture
Regardless of your sex, age or ability, it will make your everyday life easier. It is particularly popular for people with high blood pressure, lower back pain, depression or heart disease. As you get older, the emphasis on balance, co-ordination and flexibility is helpful to minimise the risk of falls. There are even forms of yoga that can be done sitting down, particularly good for those that find it difficult to get down and up from floor mats.
Yoga is a strengthening exercise, and at least two sessions a week will help you meet the recommended guidelines on muscle-strengthening activities.
What style of yoga should I do?
There are many different styles of yoga, some more vigorous than others. Some may have a different area of emphasis, such as posture or breathing. No style is necessarily better or more authentic than any other. The key is to choose a style that suits you, a class at the appropriate fitness level and a teacher you feel comfortable with.
This is a generic term that refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. Nearly every type of yoga class taught in the West is hatha yoga. It typically has slow movements, and you will hold poses for a few breaths. You probably won’t work up a sweat in a hatha yoga class, but you should end up leaving stretched and more relaxed.
This pays most attention to finding the proper alignment in a pose. If you have an injury or chronic condition, this is probably your best choice to ensure you get the knowledgeable instruction you need.
This is known for its flow from one pose to another, and tends to be quicker with more fluid movements. It may be easier to learn the poses first, rather than start with this.
This is a rigorous style of yoga that follows a specific sequence of postures. It tends to be hot, sweaty and physically demanding.
This always follows the same sequence, and takes place in a hot room. By sweating profusely, you will release toxins from your body.
This is very like Bikram but not does not always follow the same sequence of poses.
This holds poses for much longer and heals your mind and body.
How to get started
A weekly class is a great way to learn the techniques and gain inspiration. To fully realise the benefits, though, you need to practise regularly more often, even if it’s only for 15 minutes a time. Classes with qualified instructors mean that you know you’re doing the moves correctly. Once you have mastered the basic poses, you may want to supplement the classes with a DVD or Youtube videos at home.
Our easy to follow beach yoga workout can be performed in any setting. Why not download our handy workout chart and start feeling the benefits of yoga today.