Jane says her daily practice of yoga makes her more flexible, improves her focus, and gives her an aerobic workout.
"It's a really comprehensive kind of exercise that not only affects my physical well-being, but creates an important connection between my body and my mind. I feel more energized and also refreshed mentally after practicing yoga."
Many people agree. Yoga is an exercise made up of a series of poses. It is based on an ancient Indian spiritual discipline. The safest way to start is by finding a beginner yoga class. They are often slower paced. Many Western yoga classes are performed in hot rooms, so make sure your beginner class is in a place where it is not overly hot.
Yoga became popular in the 1960s. There are many types of teachers, styles of yoga, and organizations. Finding the right type of yoga can sometimes be hard. A good teacher and the right practice can lead to enjoyment, growth, and understanding. A good teacher can also influence whether you continue to gain the benefits from your practice.
How Yoga is Used in the United States
Yoga combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation. Its purpose is to increase relaxation and balance the mind, body, and spirit. Yoga means "union" or "yoke." It is thought that this describes the union between body and soul. Yoga was developed to help people reach spiritual enlightenment.
Yoga may also provide health benefits to people who have problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, anxiety, osteoarthritis, and loss of balance. Yoga may be good for your health, but it should never be used as a substitute for traditional care. If you have a health problem, talk to your doctor before starting yoga.
Types of Yoga
Your doctor may have advised yoga to help you relax. Or maybe a friend invited you to her annual yoga retreat. Don't be fooled by the simplicity of some yoga poses. Yoga isn't a sport, but it can be as challenging as an aerobics class.
There are many different schools and styles taught in the US. Some teachers have been certified in particular traditions. Others offer a synthesis based on their own practice with Indian masters. Some major traditions are:
Ashtanga yoga is a physically demanding form of yoga. It uses a concept of flow that has people moving jumping from one posture to another. This helps build strength, flexibility, and stamina. This is a real workout and not for those looking for stretching exercises.
Bikram yoga, founded by Bikram Choudhury, uses yoga postures in a heated environment.
Integral yoga was developed by Swami Satchidananda. It relies on breathing exercises and meditation as well as postures for the practice.
Iyengar yoga is a style of yoga that uses props like blocks and belts to help people do more difficult postures. Posture alignment is reinforced.
Kripalu yoga focuses on the wisdom of the body and allowing each student to gain an awareness of mind, body, emotion, and spirit. It is broken into three stages: learning the postures and exploring the body’s ability; holding the postures and gaining an inner awareness; and moving from one posture to another in an unplanned movement.
Kundalini yoga involves postures, meditation, and the coordination of breath and movement. The practice is said to create a controlled release of kundalini energy. This is a creative force thought to sit at the base of the spine.
Sivananda yoga involves a set structure that includes relaxation, breathing, and classic poses.
Viniyoga was developed by Krishnamacharya, a teacher whose disciples have created many other yoga forms. Viniyoga is a gentle form of flow yoga that focuses on a person's ability rather than on idealized form.
The Yoga Site website for more information on other types of yoga.
Finding a Teacher
Yoga books can explain postures and contain photographs and illustrations. But a teacher can help you understand the poses and the practice in a way that a book cannot. A teacher can also help you with correct alignment in the poses so that you get the greatest benefit.
There is still an emphasis on yoga as exercise, but many teachers now focus on the more spiritual aspects it as well. There are many teaching styles that fit all different types of people. The goal is to find the one that is right for you. Take the time to look around. Ask people you know who practice yoga. With a little bit of research, you may find the perfect fit.
"My teacher includes a meditation practice and sprinkles our class with aphorisms about letting go and being in the moment," says Dale.
Some may help you push your boundaries within your own physical limits. Other teachers take a holistic or even therapeutic approach with students.
Elisa opted to attend a more structured class with a more reserved teacher.
"I just want a teacher who corrects my postures if they are sloppy," she says. "Not someone who seems to have some advice for other aspects of my life."
There is no national certification program for yoga teachers. This is because standards for teacher training and certification are different for each style of yoga. The Yoga Alliance is large, well-known, non-profit yoga association that accredits many, if not the majority, of teacher training programs across the country. Before choosing a teacher, learn as much as you can about their training, such as who they trained with, whether they have any specialized training (such as teaching yoga to children or people with disabilities), and if they continue to study and train.
The word yoga refers to a broad category of types of mental, physical, and spiritual practices. If you want to learn, you should take some time to get familiar with the different schools and styles. Yoga is a personal kind of exercise. The benefits develop slowly and subtly over time.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health https://nccih.nih.gov
The Yoga Site http://www.yogasite.com
Canadian Yoga Alliance http://www.canadianyogicalliance.com
The Yoga Association of Alberta http://www.yoga.ca
What is yoga? American Yoga Association website. Available at: http://www.americanyogaassociation.net/what-is-yoga-577.htm. Accessed October 21, 2021.
Yoga. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: https://www.ebscohost.com/academic/natural-alternative-treatments. Accessed October 21, 2021.
Yoga styles guide. The Yoga Site website. Available at: http://www.yogasite.com/yogastyles.html. Accessed October 21, 2021.
Yoga: what you need to know. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website. Available at: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga-what-you-need-to-know. Accessed October 21, 2021.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board
- Review Date: 10/2021
- Update Date: 10/21/2021