Yoga: The benefits of yoga in all its forms

What is Yoga?

Yoga is the practice of a set of postures and breathing exercises that aims to bring physical and mental well-being. This ancient art of living as explained in the texts reveals itself as an initiatory path that transcends physical discipline.

The earliest references to yoga can be found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra written about 200 years BCE. In this book, we understand the foundation of the philosophy of yoga and its possible application in all spheres of our lives.

The different types of yoga

There are several styles of yoga and each focuses on a specific aspect of this practice.

  • There are dynamic yogas in which the sequence of postures is done to the rhythm of breathing such as ashtanga and vinyasa, in these rather physical classes while relaxing and strengthening the body, we improve the cardiovascular system.
  • Iyengar which is a more static yoga focuses on the alignment of the body, Here we take the time to dissect each of the asanas, and we develop an understanding of our body.
  • Hatha yoga is a gentle yoga easily practiced by older people.

It is important to find the style of yoga that suits us best, it depends a lot on our potential.

It is preferable, to benefit from the benefits of dynamic yogas, to be in good general health, and to have a certain physical condition, otherwise, it becomes difficult to keep up, which generates a risk of injury.

For those who have back problems and who are not athletic, it is necessary to turn to a less dynamic yoga or we take the time to explain postures such as Iyengar and Hatha.

Other types of Yoga

Even though classical postures have proven themselves and remained the same for millennia, hatha-yoga continues to evolve and has taken different forms, especially during the twentieth century. Each type of yoga combines postures, breathing exercises, and meditation in a more or less energetic or gentle, lively, or calm way. Here are the most common yogas in the West. 

Anusara. A new form of yoga was created in 1997 by John Friend. It quickly became popular and is now present in 70 countries. Its basic philosophy is to celebrate the heart and see the good in every person and thing. 

Ashtanga. Characterized by the synchronization of breathing with rapid sequences of increasingly demanding postures. This significantly elevates metabolism and body temperature. Ashtanga is excellent for endurance. In the United States, a particularly dynamic form called power Yoga has been developed. 

Integral. Designed in the United States in the 1960s, it offers a balanced integration of postures, breathing, meditation, and relaxation. (Not to be confused with Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual approach, also called integral yoga.) 
 Disciplined and rigorous courses where the emphasis is placed on the alignment of the limbs and, above all, the spine; are very health-oriented. No spiritual connotation, but the meditative aspect is present. 

Kripalu. A dance of body, mind, and energy, with an emphasis on breathing techniques. Would particularly promote the cardiovascular, digestive, and nervous systems. 

Kundalini. Aims above all to awaken the kundalini, the original healing energy. The approach works on meditative awareness through sequences of postures. 

SivanandaorVedanta. The courses are given by the Sivananda organization, in its own centers. There is an emphasis on positive thinking, meditation, breathing, relaxation, and eating. The spiritual aspect is very present. 

Sudarshan Kriya. This form of yoga was created by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in the early 1980s. Now present in more than 140 countries, it relies heavily on breathing to rebalance the body and mind. 

Viniyoga. Is characterized by the integration of movement with breathing and by personalized teaching that adapts to each individual. 

As for prenatal yoga, these are classes focused on the specific needs of pregnant women. The instructor then chooses certain exercises (postural and breathing) to help them overcome the difficulties associated with pregnancy, facilitate the stages of childbirth and promote the return to body balance after birth. Instructors may have practiced in any of the above movements.

The benefits of yoga

Today when we talk about yoga we are talking mainly about the practice of asanas and pranayama, that is to say, the postures that aim to relax and strengthen the body and the breathing exercises that regulate the flow of vital energy.

Yoga brings a large number of physical benefits including muscle flexibility (yoga postures are varied to stretch all major muscle groups). Some postures help with gentle muscle strengthening, others work balance.

With regular practice, we can correct posture errors developed throughout our lives which greatly alleviates chronic back problems. A study by Temple University in 2008 showed that the practice of Iyengar yoga improves balance in women over the age of 65.

Yoga helps reduce stress. During the session the attention is entirely directed on the body and the breath, we are in the “here and now”, which is a form of meditation. A Boston University study published in 2010 showed that yoga was effective in relieving anxiety.

On the mat we are invited to take the time to listen to the body, attention is constantly brought back to the breath, and we develop our ability to concentrate. For example, in balance exercises, all our attention is required to maintain the posture

Yoga postures to do at home

When you practice at home the best is to do simple postures to avoid injury such as:

  • The triangle (trikonasana): Stand with your feet together, take a step forward with your right foot, put your right hand on your right ankle, and raise your left arm into the sky, try to keep the bust aligned with your right leg. Do the same on the other side.
  • The posture of the child (balasana) is excellent to relieve tension in the lumbar: kneel, feet, and knees together then put your forehead on the floor in front bring your arms along the body, and listen to your breathing.

A yoga session in practice

The sessions can be very different from one type of yoga to another. For dynamic yogas, the whole body is warmed up at the beginning of the class, focusing on the muscle group that the teacher has chosen to work on more particularly.

Once warmed up, we advance in the intensity of the practice with the sequence of standing postures and balance postures. The last part of the course aims to slow down the heart rate so that it returns to normal, so stretching is preferred in sitting and lying postures. We close the session with the posture of the dead or “Shavasana” which consists of lying on your back and relaxing all the muscles of the body.

What equipment to follow a yoga class?

The practice of yoga does not require much equipment just a mat for more comfort, in some styles of yoga including Iyengar we can use “bolsters” which are big cousins on which we can rest a part of the body.

The yoga teacher: what is his training?

The yoga teacher must follow a minimum training of 200 hours that he can then complete with training of 300 hours to deepen his knowledge and improve his teaching techniques.

In conclusion, yoga is an art of living and a complete physical activity for the body and mind. The practice of yoga brings real benefits by improving strength and flexibility but also by reducing stress and anxiety.

A short history of yoga

Yoga as revealed by Patanjali is a path that leads to Samadhi, the union with the original principle. This route has 8 branches. To advance on the path of yoga it is first necessary to follow a set of ethical principles that represent the cornerstone of this philosophy: The Yamas and the Nimyamas (do not steal, do not covet, have discipline, the study of oneself and sacred texts …)

Then comes the practice of asanas which are the postures that are taught in a yoga class, asanas soften and strengthen the body and teach us to focus our attention on the present moment.

Once the practice of postures is well integrated, we can move on to the third step which is the harmonization and regulation of breathing: pranayama. Breathing exercises regulate our life force called prana.

The path of the yogi (the one who practices yoga) then becomes more subtle and includes notions such as abstraction of the senses and meditation always with the aim of uniting with the higher principle and returning to unity: Samadhi.

Image Credit: Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

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