Do You Really Need Yoga?

Madonna does it. So does Sting and Ashley Judd. What began as a meditative practice in the East became a fitness trend around the world. While yoga has been practiced for hundreds of years, it captured the West’s attention in the 1960s. When interest waned in the succeeding decades, it got a boost again from major celebrities. Pretty soon, it became one of the most popular ways of attaining physical and mental fitness.

Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word which means ‘union’ and its concept refers to discipline. For most practitioners of yoga, its practice promotes the union of the body, mind and spirit. For most Buddhists, Hindus and Jains, yoga is one of the methods of attaining release from karma and rebirth.

What we commonly know as yoga, that is, the series of physical poses is referred to using asana, another Sanskrit word. Although asana is just one of the many types of yoga, it has become synonymous to what many recognize as yoga.

What are yoga’s benefits?
When people think of yoga, stretching exercises automatically come to mind. Although the practice does include stretching, it is only a means to create and achieve balance in the body by developing the practitioner’s flexibility and strength.

Yoga poses look deceptively easy and effortless, but they are in fact designed to challenge the body’s limits and each pose has a physical benefit that is specific and targeted to a certain body part and function. Yoga poses are also created in succession and the effort of doing so creates heat in the body and trains the muscles.

Since poses are also required to be held for several seconds or even minutes, physical stamina is increased. More importantly, yoga also involves a lot of breathing and specific breathing patterns are required for certain poses. The succession of yoga poses will induce sweat, allowing the body to release harmful toxins.

Who needs it?
Yoga is basically for everyone and even children can practice it, as long as there is adult supervision involved. Yoga is beneficial to anyone who is concerned about the proper way of breathing, increasing strength and flexibility and developing stamina without using the rough and tough approach of more conventional methods of physical exercise such as aerobics and bodybuilding.

People who want to develop inner calm and peace can also benefit from yoga, since it not only emphasizes physicality but spirituality as well. It is also a discipline that can accommodate anyone since different styles offer varied degrees of ease and difficulty.

Which yoga type is for you
Yoga is a general term to refer to at least 8 types of practice, each one slightly different from the other. Probably the yoga practice that can be considered as a more general way of doing physical yoga is Hatha, which can include many of the yoga disciplines that require physical practice. This type of yoga is gentle and the pace is slow, which makes it a good choice for beginners.

Vinyasa is another yoga style that can also be used to describe other types of yoga classes. This style incorporates synchronized breathing into the physical practice and the series of poses are done more vigorously. Stretching exercises can be quite intense.

Commonly known as ‘hot’ yoga, this type is practiced in a room with elevated temperatures, typically ranging from 95 to 100 degrees. This yoga is great for people who want to relax tense muscles and enjoy profuse sweating, which is encouraged in Bikram yoga to promote cleansing.

If you’re fit and limber enough, you might enjoy the intensity and fast pacing of Ashtanga yoga. Unlike most forms, this type requires almost constant movements, with practitioners ‘flowing’ from one pose to the next. Poses are performed in a set series and in the same order every time.

Kundalini yoga is a discipline that emphasizes the ‘serpent power’ that is located at the base of the spine and lies dormant until the practitioner elevates it up the body to achieve liberation. This serpent power is a form of energy and Kundalini exercises help free this energy through synchronized breathing and physical exercise. Kundalini yoga involves fast and repetitive movements and chanting may be used.

This style of yoga emphasizes alignment of the body and is a good choice for people who want to improve their balance and overall posture. Poses in Iyengar yoga are held over long periods and may require straps and blocks to achieve maximum body alignment.

Founded by David Life and Sharon Gannon, Jivamukti is inspired by Astanga yoga and involves physical exercises interspersed with meditation, chanting and spiritual instructions. If you want yoga that involves not only your body and spirit but also your mind, this is a good style to practice.

If you want more challenge and are quite fit to perform, try Sivananda. Founded in1957 by a disciple of Swami Sivananda, this type of yoga focuses on 12 poses, proper breathing, relaxation, a vegetarian diet and meditation. This is more intensive and not for the those looking for a temporary fix since this discipline will require some form of lifestyle change.