Research into yoga health benefits may be sparse, but thousands of years of practice have shown that different types of yoga help you develop flexibility, strength, presence of mind and a host of other benefits.
Contrary to the misconception that yoga is a single discipline, it is actually a cluster of spiritual teachings and disciplines that evolved in India over the last 5,000 years. The word yoga refers to the union or harmony of body, mind and spirit. This union is achieved through various postures, breathing regulation, meditation, and other practices which vary among yogic traditions.
Some traditions emphasize postures and breathing. Others emphasize devotion, wisdom, meditation, or humanitarian service. Some types of yoga are more spiritual, others more physical. The main purpose and benefit of yoga is to cultivate and nurture the mind body spirit connection through intentional, regular practice.
You can enjoy holistic yoga health benefits by incorporating one or more styles of yoga into your wellness lifestyle. Proper breathing and form are important, so be sure to take classes from a certified teacher locally or via video, especially if you are a beginner.
The descriptions and videos below will give you a feel for different practices and their benefits. Enjoy!
Hatha yoga is the tradition most of us in the west are most familiar with. It means yoga for health and focuses more on the physical nature. This practice emphasizes breathing exercises and slower moving postures. It is a great practice for beginners and advanced practitioners.
Hatha yoga health benefits include improved flexibility and endurance and strength of muscles, joints and the spine. One popular series of movements called sun salutation squeezes all the muscles which in turn squeeze and pump the lymphatic system. Sun salutations increase energy circulation, lengthen and tone muscles, and helps you feel centered. You will realize the most benefit when poses are done correctly and regularly.
This video includes easy stretches and relaxing poses for beginners. If you choose to follow along, only stretch as far as you are comfortable to avoid hurting yourself.
Kundalini yoga is an ancient practice. It incorporates specific breathing techniques, chants, mudras (hand positions) and meditations into a series of repetitive and sometimes fast moving asanas. Kundalini exercises are designed to move the prana, or energy, from the base of the spine up the body through the chakra energy centers to the crown, or top of the head.
This type of yoga is believed to have spiritual health benefits. It is said to develop intuition, release the grip of your ego, strengthen your aura, and burn off karma. On a physical level it balances your glands, improves circulation, purifies the blood, and strengthens the immune and nervous systems so you calmer and more resistant to the harmful effects of stress.
My introduction to kundalini yoga was
a two hour class complete with a beautiful huge gong and a singing bowl. One pose, legs raised while we pounded the floor and yelled to release anger felt surprisingly good and felt emotionally healing.
This kundalini yoga video focuses on disease resistance.
Bikram, or hot yoga is a very popular new type of yoga developed by Master Bikram Choudhury in the 1970’s. Classes are conducted in temperature and humidity controlled rooms between 95 and 100 degrees. A 90 minute bikram class incorporates 26 asanas that flow one to another. You can expect to get very warm and sweaty in this class.
The purpose of the hot room is to raise heart rate, to allow deeper muscle releases, and to prevent injury during movements. Advocates claim it helps you release toxins. You may release some toxins through sweat, but for the most part sweat is mostly water and a few minerals. Other bikram health benefits include increased strength, flexibility, focus and breath control. Proponents claim that it can help heal old painful injuries and prevent new ones and ease symptoms of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Restorative yoga is very slow and gentle. Just about anyone can do it. The poses are great when you want to relax, rejuvenate, and feel nurtured.
You are fully supported by blankets, pillows, straps and/or blocks when you are in restorative poses. You are never straining. Your goal is to let go and relax into each pose, which you will hold for a few minutes. Your teacher will come around and position your supports so you get the most benefit from each pose.
Restorative poses help relieve stress, move the spine in all directions, and enhance blood flow and waste removal in your organs. Inverted poses, such as putting your feet up on a wall or pillow, reverse the negative effects of gravity and encourage blood and lymph to move from the lower body back up. To enjoy restorative yoga health benefits, you need to make adjustments to your position and props so you feel completely supported and relaxed. Continue letting go and allow yourself to 'melt' into the poses with the support of your props.
As with other forms of alternative complementary therapies, yoga health benefits can be indirect and cumulative. For example, keeping your muscles flexible fosters more flexible blood vessels as you age. It can also ease and keep pain at bay. Relaxation and focused breathing cools the stress response and switches on production of cell repairing DHEA hormone.
Whichever style or types of yoga you choose to practice, the ultimate goal of a lifelong practice is to sustain equilibrium of mind, body and spirit throughout the day. As you cultivate your practice and bring more mindfulness into it, transformation and healing are natural byproducts of relaxing. You will quiet your internal chatter and feel more centered, even in the face of challenges. Your body will be stronger and more flexible, and be able to move through its full range of motion with greater ease.