Yoga doesn’t need to be an exclusive activity, only available to those who are young and flexible; everyone can benefit from it! With a growing number of online yoga resources available such as phone apps and video channels, yoga has become increasingly accessible to most individuals.
Keep reading to learn more about different types of yoga and the many health benefits of yoga.
What is yoga?
Yoga is a spiritual and physical practice that can be traced back thousands of years to people living in what’s now known as India. In Sanskrit (an ancient language), the word yoga means “joining” or “union”. (22) Traditionally, individuals practiced yoga to achieve peace of mind and enlightenment rather than to improve physical health alone. (22)
One of the most popular types of yoga practiced in Western society today is hatha yoga. Hatha yoga combines three elements: physical exercises and postures (asanas), controlled breathing (pranayama) practiced in conjunction with asanas, and meditation (dhyana) for peace of mind and deep relaxation. (30)
9 Forms of yoga
Yoga is practiced around the world, and while most practices combine a series of physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation, there are different forms of yoga that each have unique features. Some common types of yoga are outlined below.
1. Hatha yoga
“Hatha” means the practice of physical yoga postures and, therefore, encompasses many different types of yoga, such as vinyasa yoga and power yoga. However, hatha yoga is often used to describe basic yoga classes that are appropriate for beginners and that focus on alignment, strength, and flexibility. (24)
This seven-minute chair yoga sequence, focusing on the neck, back, and shoulders, is great for beginners and experts alike.
2. Vinyasa yoga
Vinyasa yoga is a popular moderate-intensity style of yoga that incorporates various traditional approaches (class styles can vary as a result). The different postures flow from one to another and are coordinated with your breath. Postures can vary from easy to difficult and should be performed at the ability level that’s appropriate to the individual. (24) Other vigorous types of yoga can be considered vinyasa yoga, such as power and ashtanga yoga.
3. Power yoga
Power yoga is an athletic form of yoga that builds strength and endurance through asanas and is sometimes practiced in a heated room. (24)
4. Ashtanga yoga
Ashtanga yoga is an athletic style of yoga that involves synchronizing a series of postures with the breath. An instructor typically moves around the room, providing support and feedback to class participants. At more advanced levels, ashtanga yoga can be challenging and is recommended for individuals who have prior experience with the practice. (24)
5. Iyengar yoga
Iyengar yoga originated and was developed from ashtanga yoga principles. Iyengar yoga focuses on accessibility, and instructors of this style of yoga are taught to modify any posture to meet the needs of individuals with various levels of experience and ability. Iyengar yoga also utilizes props such as chairs, straps, and blankets. (24)
6. Bikram yoga
Bikram yoga is a series of 26 specific yoga postures completed in a particular routine, accompanied by breathing exercises, and performed in a room heated to 105°F (40.5°C). (24)
7. Kundalini yoga
Kundalini yoga is a dynamic form of yoga that is both physical and spiritual. Kundalini focuses on tuning in with your higher consciousness through pranayama, asanas, mantras (chants or songs), relaxation, and meditation. (7)
8. Restorative yoga
Restorative yoga focuses on relaxation and breathing, and the positions utilize supportive props such as yoga blocks, straps, blankets, and bolsters in order to avoid discomfort and ensure very little strenuous movement or intense physical sensation. (24) Restorative yoga may be appropriate for individuals who aren’t flexible, who are recovering from an injury, or who have a health condition that limits their mobility. (20)
9. Yin yoga
Yin yoga is a slow and passive style of yoga with relatively accessible postures that are held for a minimum of 30 seconds. The focus of yin yoga is more on mindfulness than movement. Yin is great for beginners and experts alike; however, because the postures are held for long periods of time—sometimes without the support of props—yin yoga can also be challenging and promote intense physical sensations in some people. (24)
4 health benefits of yoga
Yoga has long been thought to boast various health benefits. Researchers continue to examine the therapeutic effects of yoga and its potential to address symptoms such as back pain, digestive disturbances, anxiety, stress, depression, and difficulty sleeping. (4)
1. Better sleep
A study that examined the efficacy of yoga as a treatment for insomnia in older adults using self-report assessments determined that practicing yoga twice a week for approximately one year may improve sleep outcomes and quality of life. (9)
Did you know? A national survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determined that over 55% of people who practiced yoga found it helped them get a better night’s sleep. (28)
2. Decreased lower back pain
Many people have experienced lower back pain, and it’s one of the most common reasons why people visit their healthcare providers. (17) Some individuals may even regularly experience back pain, especially if they sit for long periods during the day at a desk or in a car. Yoga can be a gentle and mindful practice, but it can also help build muscle and increase strength by strengthening muscles that support the back and spine. (8)(16)
A meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies specific to yoga for chronic lower back pain determined that yoga may be an effective supplemental treatment for chronic lower back pain. (11) A systematic review that examined the effect of yoga on chronic nonspecific low back pain determined that compared to non-exercisers, yoga had small to moderate positive effects on back-related function, and it was uncertain whether there was any difference between other forms of exercise and yoga for improving back-related function or pain. (29)
3. Better digestion
Yoga can also help with digestion, and optimal digestion can have a significant positive impact on your overall health. Digestion is the mechanical and chemical process that helps break down the food we eat into its smallest molecules to be absorbed and used by the body. (3)
While further controlled studies are needed, research has found that regular exercise may improve gastrointestinal symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), (13) and researchers continue to examine the promising effects of yoga for improving symptoms of IBS. (5)(6)(14)
4. Improved mood
While there are many reasons to practice yoga to improve physical health, such as increasing flexibility, strengthening muscles, and recovering from injury, yoga also offers important benefits for mental well-being. Yoga may reduce stress, (10)(18)(26) promote a feeling of calm, (19)(21) and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety; (4) however, more controlled research studies are necessary to further support these claims. (12)(15)(25)
U.S. national survey data from 2012 demonstrated that 86% of adults felt yoga reduced their stress levels, and 67% said it helped them feel better emotionally. (28) Yoga in all its forms incorporates a meditative component, and at the end of most yoga classes, participants relax and meditate lying on their backs with their arms stretched out and eyes closed in a pose called Savasana. Research demonstrates that regular meditation may improve mood and reduce stress levels. (2)(23)
The bottom line
Yoga may decrease back pain and improve sleep, digestion, and mood. All of these benefits might make you want to rush out the door and start your new yoga practice. To begin a yoga practice, follow these steps:
- Decide on what you are hoping to achieve and choose the yoga practice that best helps you to achieve that goal.
- Start by taking a beginner class with the support of a qualified teacher.
- If you suffer from chronic back or neck pain, start very slowly and make sure to inform your teacher.
- Do not use yoga to postpone seeing a qualified healthcare practitioner about a specific medical problem.
- Enjoy yourself!
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