The Healing Benefits of Yoga

13246350_1355707544444513_7274912065158947032_oYour back aches from sitting too long in front of the computer at work. Your shoulders are tense from the odd position you slept in last night. Your foggy brain and constant headaches cause you to head to bed early. Your mind races with all of the “to-dos” to get done during the day, and seeds of anxiety begin building in your stomach. No matter what the ailment, whether it be physiological or psychological, yoga is now being touted on magazine covers and online periodicals as a “cure-all” for these issues. But what exactly is yoga, and how can this ancient form of restorative meditation be useful to us today?

Bikram Yoga. Power Yoga. Vinyasa Yoga. Aerial Yoga. There are numerous styles of yoga being practiced around the island, each with their own positive traits. With its origins rooted in India more than 2000 years ago, the practice was initially more intrapersonal, meaning individuals participated in the art in order to connect himself to his spirit and the earth (Burgin). Fast forward to today, and the basic tenants of yoga—incorporating postures, breathe, and meditation into a sequence of movements designed to bring body and mind awareness—still remain the same as that of in the past. Want to try a yoga class and reap the benefits of this type of activity?

Here are brief descriptions of five of the more popular styles of practice:

  1.  Hatha: Poses are held for a period of time (30-60 seconds) and are great for beginners because of its’ slower pace. This type of yoga is great for golfers, kickboxers, and basically any type of athlete looking to get a good stretch and build mental relaxation.
  2. Vinyasa: Poses are linked together by breath, and the postures used in this type of yoga change according to teacher and class. Vinyasa is best for those looking for more movement and action. Due to the ever-changing nature of the series of postures, be sure to tell the teacher about your limitations and injuries (which is actually a good rule of thumb for any type of yoga you practice).
  3.  Ashtanga: Although Ashtanga incorporates a set series of postures, the pace is also equally as vigorous as vinyasa and can be done in either a teacher-led of mysore (self-led) manner. Ashtanga utilizes a lot of arm balances, hip openers, and inversions—great for stretching out the muscles martial artists normally use, as well as perfect for runners and triathletes who are looking to gain more overall strength. Ashtanga definitely is a great calorie burner, but be aware that it is quite a dynamic practice.
  4. Bikram Yoga: A set 26-posture Hatha Yoga class where participants are in a room heated to 105 degrees with 40% humidity, participants normally lose weight after a class, yet much of it is water weight. Heating the room is supposed to heat muscles up so you can get into postures deeper, but be aware that you still want to warm up your spine more before jumping into deep backward bends. The floor series (done towards the end of class) which is designed to strengthen your back, is great for those looking to heal spinal issues as well as wrist/shoulder injuries—golfers, I’m talking to you. Kickboxers and other martial artists also find this type of yoga preferable.
  5. Restorative: Just like the name suggests, Restorative Yoga uses props like blankets and blocks to create a calm environment in order to let your parasympathetic system relax. Restorative Yoga can be done by all ages and ability levels and can be useful to any athlete.

One last note on yoga the various types of classes: similar to Ashtanga Yoga, Power Yoga can also be very intense, as the postures are constantly flowing and there is not much stopping throughout a 75-90 minute class—this is another great calorie burner option. Heated yoga classes may make you feel like you are burning a lot of calories because you are sweating, but beware that much of the weight loss is water, and once you are rehydrated the pounds may reappear. Doing yoga with weights may also seem enticing, but be on the alert that you don’t want to use too heavy of a weight during these sessions, as over fatiguing your muscles using bad form while trying to hold certain postures is asking for trouble. For those of you that are ardent yoga practitioners but still experience nagging shoulder and knee issues, talk with your yoga instructor about these ailments before and after class. Is there a certain pose that causes pain? Are you in Warrior 1 and suddenly feel tension below your knee cap? Are you in half-moon but can’t bring your arm overhead because your rotator cuff feels tight? Express your concerns to your teacher as he/she has the best vantage point to see your form in the moment and correct you. Many times knee or shoulder pain is not an indication that something is wrong with your knee—tight trapezius muscles can pull on the shoulder area causing soreness, or tight hips and psoas area will shorten muscles exasperating knee pain. Overstretching or starting a yoga class not properly warmed up may also be reasons why certain bodies of your body ache after a supposedly-relaxing class.

There are many more styles of yoga you can try, and with the desire for more diversity in the practice, new inventive types of yoga are popping up (Aerial Yoga, anyone?). Although yoga classes vary in speed, style, difficulty, and length, the main idea is that this ancient practice is meant to bring restoration to your body, clear your mind from the craziness of modern day, and for you to find strength and flexibility within your body and spirit.