Over the past few years, the popularity of yoga has been increasing. It seems that finally, people are realizing the huge benefits that yoga offers. Today, more than 36 million people in the United States practice yoga for one reason or another. But it doesn’t stop here, 34% of Americans are saying that they will be likely to try yoga in the next year. That’s 80 million people. So why is yoga becoming this popular?

Well, it seems that over the years many of us have realized how truly health promoting yoga can be. The main reasons why so many are turning to yoga are to decrease lower back pain, improve strength and flexibility, reduce stress and gain mental stability, and to counteract all the sitting they have done in the office. With all of these benefits, there is no wonder it is being used as an alternative or in addition to other health practices like massage therapy and chiropractic adjustments.

One of the most beautiful aspects of yoga is that it’s not like any other exercise out there. While most exercises are set in stone and deviating from the proper way of executing these exercises is not recommended, yoga is completely different. There are well over two dozen different types of yoga. Some are designed to be more aggressive, others are more relaxing and calming, but one thing is clear: no matter which yoga you choose you can always move at your own pace. Yoga is all about growth and mastery, so being able to learn it at your own speed is a crucial aspect of it.

What is this Yoga you speak of?

Many people have the wrong notion of yoga. Most link it with extremely difficult and high flexibility requiring posture or poses which are impossible to perform by anyone who isn’t physically fit. This is absolutely not true and totally absurd. Yoga is a meditative style physical practice involving both your mind and body. It originated in Asia and was first practiced in the United States and Europe around the 1800s. Yoga didn’t really get much popularity in the United States for many years, but around the 1960s and 70s, it started to become recognized for the benefits it offered for both mind and body. The practice itself is very similar to martial arts in a sense. Many martial arts styles use controlled breathing and physical movements to achieve results. Yoga does the same things but in a different manner.

The original style of yoga is deeply linked to Ancient India but it is not linked to religion at all. Throughout the years, many dozens of knowledgeable teachers have shaped yoga into the variety of styles that it has become today. These styles were carried on through the years by the followers of each school and passed on from one generation to the next. There are four styles today which have gained the most popularity: Ashtanga, Bikram, Vinyasa, and Iyengar. While all of these styles are based on a core yoga style called Hatha, they each follow their own methodology, teaching style, and core values. Hatha is described as a set of physical exercises with sequences of postures created specifically to realign your muscles, bones, and even skin. The postures are also formed in a unique way to give you the ability to unlock channels in your body, mostly the channel of your spine, in order to make it possible for energy in your body to flow without resistance.

Very few exercises out there incorporate such high demand for breathing control. Those of you who have been to the gym or worked with a trainer probably know a few things about proper breathing but yoga takes this to a whole new level. The focus on proper breathing, known as pranayama, is much greater in yoga. When combined with the carefully tailored postures, known as asanas, both can offer amazing focus and much deeper levels of relaxation than any other exercise out there. Add the aspect of meditation to the physical movements required for proper asanas and it’s no wonder that yoga has the ability to offer amazing mental health and physical improvement.

Yoga offers many different benefits. Over the years, many studies have shown all the positives of practicing yoga and we still continue to discover more and more benefits as time goes on.

– Decreased stress and lowered anxiety

– Improved quality of sleep

– Improved blood flow

– Healthier digestive system and better IBS control

– Better immune system

– Reduced chronic pains, especially lower back pain

– Greatly improved balance and flexibility

– Decreased symptoms of depression

– Full body detoxification

– More strength and stamina

Furthermore, there are still studies underway funded by hundreds of sources to determine what other benefits yoga produces. Combating the risk for diabetes, post-traumatic stress disorder, arthritis, and many others are being researched for their potential to be treated with the help of yoga.

The Benefits of Yoga

Let’s look a little deeper into some of the benefits of yoga and how exactly these benefits are achieved through yoga.

Help with Insomnia

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have done studies regarding how yoga can increase the quality of sleep and the quantity of sleep for those who might be suffering from chronic insomnia. The study was done with patients who had both primary insomnia and secondary insomnia cases. Primary insomnia is developed by itself without an addition of any other factors.

Secondary insomnia is fueled by other medical conditions which cause insomnia to develop. The researchers provided basic yoga training for their patients and told them to maintain their yoga practice throughout an eight-week period. They were also asked to start a journal two weeks before yoga practice began and to maintain it throughout the eight weeks of practice.

The sleeping diary was to contain the length of sleep, the number of times participants woke up during sleep, and the duration of sleep between periods of waking. The results of the study were very promising. Sleep efficiency was improved greatly. Total sleep time was improved as well. Total wake time was also improved. Sleep onset, the amount of time it takes for you to fall asleep, was reduced, meaning that the patients were able to fall asleep faster. Wake time after sleep onset was greatly reduced. In other words, yoga has the capability to greatly improve your amount of sleep and the quality of sleep as well.

Reducing Stress and Anxiety

Learning to breathe properly and maintain asanas can be a lifeline for those who suffer from anxiety and depression. While many people turn to depression medication to get their anxiety under control, at the same time most of those people report that this medication dulls your feeling completely. While this is great to decrease stress, it’s not so great for all the other things you feel. Yoga is beautiful when it comes to dealing with stress and anxiety.

Proper breathing can give you a huge leverage in any stressful situation or during a possible panic attack. The same goes for mastering your asanas: you are taught control and how to maintain it. This ability is vital when trying to control stress and anxiety. The sense of calmness and focus produced by yoga reduces the turbulence produced by stress. Many people who have anxiety experience what we refer to as a jittery mind which has a tendency to spike out of control and be very volatile.

Breathing and postures help you soothe your mind and create a holistic mindset, which in turn reduces the possibility of stress and anxiety. Even doctors recognize the effects that medication can have on our bodies and sometimes feel less comfortable prescribing medication to counteract anxiety because they know the adverse effects that this medication can have on you. After discovering how yoga can help, they feel a lot better suggesting yoga as a way to reduce depression and anxiety.

Balance

It’s easy to see how the physical attributes of yoga can improve your balance. The asanas which you will learn overtime will help you become more flexible and physically balanced. However, yoga is also able to offer another type of balance, the balance of the mind. As you master each posture, your primary focus is peace of mind and slowing your mind down. Detaching from the hustle and noise of daily life can do wonders for your brain. You focus on your body from the inside.

Going through different parts of your body and changing the way you breathe depending on which body part is at the center is vital. Disconnecting your mind from the world and putting your body at the center will bring you closer to the meditative aspect of yoga. This sole mind focus is important because your mind is the source of all of your reality.

Balancing your thought and focusing on the task at hand during yoga will not only improve your mental balance, it will also translate into physical and emotional balance as well. Remember that your mind controls everything: your perception of reality, your physical state, and your mental state.

Range of Motion

As you start practicing yoga for the first time, you will easily see how rigid and stiff your body really is. Over time, your body will become more flexible and your range of motion will increase. The primary reason for this is the postures which are taught throughout yoga sessions. No matter which yoga style you choose, chances are you will end up increasing your flexibility one way or another.

One thing to take into account is that yoga doesn’t only work on stretching your muscles and making them more lean which in turn makes your more flexible, it also focuses on the connecting tissue which holds your muscle fibers together as well as connects your muscles to your organs. No matter how flexible your muscles are, your connecting tissues can easily bottleneck your range of motion.

Another aspect of flexibility which is taught by yoga is your stretch reflex. Whenever your body needs to stretch beyond its resting state, your nervous system sends a signal to each related muscle which makes it flex or relax depending on the desired result, and this is called the stretch reflex. Yoga improves the nerves responsible for sending the stretch reflex signal to your muscles and other parts of your body, thus increasing your flexibility.

Increased range of motion and flexibility leads to better physical balance and reduced chances of falling or injury, which is exactly why yoga can be of great benefit for those who are older.

Weight Loss

Jumping into a vigorous gym workout routine can be tough, especially if you have a lot of weight on you and aren’t used to working out and the stress that comes along with it. Luckily, you have yoga. Reducing inflammation, joint ache, back pains, balancing hormones, decreasing cravings, and many other weight loss benefits can all be associated with yoga.

Those of you who have decided to take your life by the horns and lose that excess weight can benefit greatly by incorporating yoga into your weekly exercise sessions. While by itself yoga isn’t enough to promote major weight loss, it can help in a variety of aspects. Increasing muscle mass is one of them.

Promoting proper metabolism is another. And yes, we know that there are styles of yoga which can make you sweat a lot and burn calories quickly, but we still think the that best weight loss will come from yoga’s ability to reduce stress. More often than not, those who are struggling with weight loss are depressed or victims of anxiety, which could have been a precursor to excess weight or an effect of excess weight.

Either or, yoga can help you reduce that stress and put your mind on the right track. Your mental state plays a huge role in weight loss. Approaching it with the right attitude is just as vital as choosing the right workout regime.

Arthritis

As you age your life can become hindered by many different things. Arthritis is a huge part of aging. It is estimated that 22.7% of adults suffer from arthritis. Yoga can do wonders to help fight the effects of arthritis from both psychological and physical aspects. Studies have shown that just 90 minutes of yoga per week for an eight-week period can significantly reduce joint ache associated with arthritis.

Physical functionality is also increased due to yoga practice. Iyengar was determined to be the best yoga for some patients who were suffering from osteoarthritis because this yoga style allows for the use of props such as chairs. The asanas which were performed by those suffering from osteoarthritis and arthritis were modified to accommodate severe joint ache and lack of flexibility.

While the amount of daily pain related to arthritis wasn’t changed drastically, the patients’ ability to deal with that pain and their levels of energy were significantly improved. Those who are suffering from arthritis and are looking to overcome it through the use of yoga need to consult with their teacher and learn their limitations. Pushing yourself far beyond your physical capabilities without proper teachings can cause further damage to your joints. Seek consultation from an experienced yogi first.

Various Types of Yoga

As we mentioned earlier, there are dozens of different types of yoga. However, most of these yoga types are derived from four main yoga styles. Each of these yoga styles has their own set of unique core principals and ideals which are taught and practiced. Let’s take a look at the four major styles and determine which one of them is best for your needs.

Ashtanga

This style of yoga was brought to the West around the 1970s by Pattabhi Jois. The main concept behind this yoga style is a rigorous set of specific posture sequences which link every movement to a specific breath. This yoga form is similar to vinyasa when it comes to breathing. Ashtanga is always performed with the same set of asanas in the same exact order without any deviations; this is its major difference from many other yoga styles. This style of yoga will make you sweat and is considered to be one of the more physically demanding yoga styles out there. Be ready to work hard.

Bikram

Developed by Bikram Choudhury and synthesized from traditional Hatha yoga, this style of yoga involves and artificially heated environment. Bikram gained a lot of popularity around the 1970s. This yoga follows 26 specific asanas and includes two breathing exercises. The ideal room temperature for Bikram yoga is 104oF/40oC.

Although most teachers of this style of yoga were required to part take in a nine-week long training endorsed by Bikram Choudhury, they were also encouraged to develop their teaching skills as they continue teaching, which means that some Bikram classes might be slightly different from others. This style of yoga is widely popular, which makes it extremely easy to find classes which offer it. The idea behind Bikram is to force the body to sweat as much as possible in order to get rid of all the toxins which have built up in the body.

Vinyasa

This word is translated from Sanskrit to roughly mean “to arrange in a special way.” This refers to specific postures from Hatha yoga that are sequenced in a precise way. Vinyasa yoga is very fluid in motion and is considered to be a movement intense style. Music is frequently used to improve transitions from one pose to the next. The teachers who lead Vinyasa classes often focus on choreography and smoothness between each pose.

The intensity of Vinyasa is very similar to Ashtanga, but there aren’t two Vinyasa classes which will ever be the same. Those of you who aren’t able to repeat the same postures over and over again, day after day, like throughout Ashtanga classes, will greatly benefit from learning Vinyasa.

Iyengar

B.K.S. Iyengar was responsible for developing the Iyengar style of yoga. This yoga focuses on precision and meticulous attention to detail. Each pose needs to be mastered perfectly without any deviation. Proper poses are the focal point of each class and in order to develop the proper posture needed to master each asana, props are frequently used.

Things like blankets, chairs, foam blocks, and bolsters are all commonly found in an Iyengar class. While the class isn’t designed to make you sweat through insane movements and rigorous activity, it can still be very challenging. There is a great amount of concentration needed to be able to master asanas with precision.

The demand for this precision is also very taxing physically and you will end up developing quite a bit of muscle mass and increasing your flexibility in order to conquer each asana. Those who are injured or are suffering from a chronic condition will benefit the most from this style of yoga.

Conclusion

It’s no mystery that yoga can offer many different benefits for every person, no matter what situation they are in. We have seen countless studies derive proof which shows that yoga can help many people with many conditions improve their life. The physical benefits that it has to offer can improve nearly any person’s life. But beyond all the physical improvements, yoga can also offer major mental improvements as well.

Our lives aren’t easy. We deal with stress every day. Paying bills on time, raising our children, making sure we eat right, exercising, dealing with the loss of loved ones, and divorces all add up and can create extremely stressful conditions. Living with this stress can lead to other major problems. Yoga can help every single person learn how to deal with this stress. It makes your mind stronger.

It gives you the way to control this hectic and seemingly chaotic life. Your mind and how you use it determines how you feel about everything. Yes, certain feelings are unavoidable, but learning how to deal with those feeling is vital. Yoga offers exactly that, the ability to control your mind in such a way that you are able to work with any feeling or emotion. This knowledge is irreplaceable and its value has no bounds.

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