Yoga is a mind-body exercise that combines physical postures, controlled breathing and meditation to achieve relaxation. The origins of yoga are ancient—perhaps dating back as many as 5,000 years. Derived from the ancient Sanskrit word yuj, meaning “union,” yoga celebrates the union of the mind, body, and spirit. Yoga is practiced in four main ways: as a method of maintaining physical fitness and health, as therapy to restore health or relieve ailments, as a lifestyle, and as a spiritual discipline.
The positive health benefits of yoga are proven! People may use yoga to help with certain health conditions, such as stress, anxiety, and asthma. Research suggests that yoga may improve your mood and sense of well-being. It may also help develop your overall physical fitness, flexibility, and strength, as well as increase your lung capacity and lower your heart rate and blood pressure. It could also help you deal with stress, depression, and insomnia. More research is needed to evaluate yoga’s use for specific health conditions.
Hatha yoga is the style of yoga most often practiced in the U.S. And while there are many types of hatha yoga, they all focus on combining physical poses (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayamas). It’s the distinct way each style combines poses and breathing that sets each of them apart. While some styles of yoga involve lots of movement from one posture to the next, others focus more on breathing or holding each pose for a certain length of time.
Iyengar yoga focuses on the precise alignment of the postures. Students often use a variety of props such as belts, pillows, and blocks to refine their postures during class.
Ananda is a gentle type of yoga that focuses on using the energy of breathing and posing to increase self-awareness.
Ashtanga is a more aerobic, high-energy style of yoga. During the class, students move quickly from one pose to the next. Ashtanga yoga is often done in a heated room.
Bikram yoga is known for being practiced in intense heat, and is not for the faint of heart. With the heat turned up high, students work through a series of 26 postures.
Kundalini yoga focuses on release of the energy in the base of the spine, known as kundalini energy. It also focuses on breathing exercises and postures as well as harmony between breathing and movement.
Restorative yoga is a gentle form of yoga in which students use props to support their bodies as they focus on their breathing. These classes may be especially helpful if you are recovering from an injury or illness.
Yoga poses may be done lying down, seated, standing, or a combination of all three. Breathing exercises may include concentrating on your breath as it enters your body or breathing out of one nostril at a time.
If you’re thinking of trying yoga, start by looking for classes at a local yoga studio, gym, or community center. Don’t be afraid to ask teachers about the kind of classes they teach and the type of training they have had. If you have a health condition, check with your doctor before starting yoga.
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Yoga for Health. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. National Institutes of Health. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction.htm#use