Yoga

Yoga

A set of specific exercises called poses, combined with specific breathing techniques and meditation principles are the building blocks of a yoga class. If a pose causes pain or proves too difficult, some variations and modifications can be made to help students. Props like blocks, blankets, and straps — even chairs — can be used to help you get the most benefit from the poses. Yoga is not one-size-fits-all: The best yoga workout for you will depend on your individual needs and goals. The benefits of a regular yoga practice are wide-ranging. In general, a complete yoga workout can help keep your back and joints healthy, improve your overall posture, stretch and strengthen muscles, and improve your balance.

In recent years, more and more research is demonstrating the wide-ranging health benefits of yoga.

Studies show that yoga can help:

  • Reduce back pain: Weekly yoga classes relieve symptoms of low back pain about as well as intense, regular stretching sessions.

  • Strengthen bones: In one small study, yoga practitioners were shown to have increased bone density in their spine and hips, compared to people in a control group.

  • Improve balance: Male athletes in one study displayed better balance after 10 weeks of yoga classes than a control group of athletes who did not change their routines.

  • Stave off mental decline: In one study, participants who did a combination of yoga and meditation as opposed to a brain-training exercise performed much better on a test of visuospatial memory, a type of remembering that is important for balance, depth perception, and the ability to recognize objects and navigate the world.

  • Reduce stress: A study of 72 women found that Iyengar yoga helped reduce mental distress and the related psychological and physical symptoms of stress.

  • Relieve depression: In a study of coal miners with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or C.O.P.D., yoga was shown to alleviate depression and anxiety.

Ancient, But Not Foreign

Yoga is tied to ancient Indian philosophy, so yoga poses have both Sanskrit and English names — adho mukha svanasana is more commonly known as downward-facing dog, for example — and you may hear both in a class. But even if you have never tried a yoga class, you may already be familiar with some yoga poses. Ever tried a plank? You’ve done yoga.

Trainers and fitness classes around the world, not to mention college and professional sports teams, are including yoga into more traditional workouts as a potent form of mind-body conditioning, helping athletes to breathe better and increase their focus.

Yoga and Meditation

Before yoga was a popular physical exercise, it was, for thousands of years, mainly a meditation practice.

 

Mindfulness with Yoga

In a yoga class, as you learn to do yoga poses, you will be instructed to notice your breath and the way your body moves during the exercises. This is the foundation of a mind-body connection.

A well-balanced series of yoga exercises allows you to scan your entire body, noting how you feel as you move through the poses. You may begin to realize, for example, that one side of your body feels different than the other during a stretch, or that it’s easier to balance on your right leg, or that certain poses help ease tension in your neck. This is how yoga turns physical exercises into tools to help students become more mindful and even learn to meditate.

Learning to be aware of your posture at your desk or when you walk, for example, can be the first step to making improvements that will make you move more easily and feel better all the time.

 

Related Guide

 

How to Meditate

Learning how to meditate is straightforward, and the benefits can come quickly. Here, we offer basic tips to get you started on a path toward greater acceptance and joy.

 

The Breath

Breathing techniques are an essential part of yoga — not only do they help you to stay focused while practicing yoga, but they can also help reduce stress and relax the nervous system and calm the mind.

Here are a few types of breathing techniques that may be included in a yoga class:

  • Abdominal Breathing: Also called diaphragmatic or belly breathing, this is the most common breathing technique you’ll find in basic yoga. It helps foster healthy, efficient breathing in general.

  1. Inflate your abdomen as you inhale.

  2. Exhale, trying to empty your abdomen of as much air as you can.

  • Ujjayi or “victorious” breath: This type of deep breathing allows you to slow and smooth the flow of breath. It is often used in flow classes to help students regulate their breathing as they move through the poses.

  1. Constrict the muscles in the back of your throat and breathe in and out with your mouth closed.

  2. Some say this breathing technique sounds like Darth Vader; others say it sounds like the ocean. In any case, the sound should be audible to you only; your neighbor doesn’t necessarily need to hear it.

  • Interval or interrupted breathing: In this type of breathing, the student is instructed to pauses and hold the breath during the inhalation or exhalation, or both. It is a good way to begin to learn to control the breath, especially if you are looking to try more advanced yoga breathing techniques.

  1. Inhale fully.

  2. Release one-third of the breath.

  3. Pause.

  4. Release another third of the breath.

  5. Pause.

  6. Exhale the rest of the breath.

  7. Repeat.

  8. If you like, you can then do a couple of rounds of interrupted breathing during exhalation.

  • Alternate nostril breathing: This technique is said to be effective in balancing the nervous system and is a good idea to try before meditation

  1. Hold one nostril closed and inhale through the open nostril.

  2. Exhale through the open nostril.

  3. Switch your hands and block the open nostril, releasing the closed nostril.

  4. Inhale through the open nostril and exhale.

  5. Repeat several times.

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