Yoga is an ancient technique from India dating back to 3000 BC, which includes physical, mental, and spiritual practices. The Sanskrit word yoga means union, since its original purpose was to unify body, mind, and spirit. There were originally several “paths” and styles of yoga which were not only to do with the physical aspect. Yoga, as now practiced in the west, is a modern form of Hatha Yoga which consists of physical postures or asanas.
The westernization of yoga and the portrayal of it as an athletic activity for slim and physically fit individuals has discouraged some people from trying it. Some may feel reluctant to be part of a group class, for fear that they wouldn’t fit in due to misconceptions about the body type and flexibility needed to practice it, while others may feel the cost is too high compared to a membership at a gym.
What many don’t realize is that yoga is for everyone, regardless of body type, age, or physical ability. There are many different styles of yoga and each teacher can bring something different as well. There are countless benefits to practicing yoga, so we will go over just a few.
- It is not just about flexibility; it can also be about overall physical strength. The poses we practice can help use and balance all parts of the body and muscular systems.
- It combines well with other physical activities or sports. Overuse injuries can be common with the repetitive motions of many sports and exercises. If there is a muscle you use a lot for one activity, yoga can help strengthen the other muscles you may not be using as much. In this way, yoga has both a balancing and stabilizing effect on the entire body.
- It helps bring more awareness to posture, misalignments, and imbalances in the body, which will help decrease the likelihood of injury in everyday life.
- It can teach us to move out of our comfort zone and go beyond our limits. It can be quite empowering when you do a pose or movement you didn’t previously think was possible. In this way, yoga is a great teacher and metaphor. We see the outcome and benefit of breaking out of our limitations and can apply this to all areas of life.
- The practice of yoga can help us slow down. In this fast-paced world, with its pressures and deadlines, it gives us a chance to pause and be in the present. Slowing down brings more mental clarity and focus, which in turn helps us in our relationship to our environment, our loved ones, and our co-workers.
- While mental health is not usually the reason people decide to learn yoga, practitioners report decreased stress and anxiety and an enhanced sense of emotional well-being. In yoga, when we move through poses and controlled breathing exercises, it can help to promote a more flexible body and a calm mind. You are encouraged to focus less on your busy day and more on the moment. This is why it’s called “moving meditation”. Studies have shown the numerous benefits of learning a form of meditation. These include building skills to manage stress, increasing self-awareness, focusing on the present, reducing negative emotion, and increasing patience and tolerance.
If you are ready to try yoga, we recommend you select the right style of and class – whether a group or private/semi-private class – and the right teacher for your level. Make sure to research and choose the style of yoga that works for you and find a teacher who will be both caring and attentive to your needs.