Over the last few years yoga has become an increasingly popular option for people to stay active and improve their wellbeing and health. For those who have not tired yoga yet, I’ll explain how to choose a class that’s right for you, what to expect, the multiple benefits, as well as my own experience practicing yoga.
I personally started to practice yoga 6 years ago when I was going to university and was looking for a way to stay active and keep my body balanced. The Lululemon store near me offered free classes from a certified instructor, every week in the store after hours (all locations still do this!) I prefer to have my workouts led by an instructor or teacher and I enjoy the social aspect of being ina group, so I thought yoga would be a good fit for me (and it didn’t hurt that it was free!) I was initially nervous because I didn’t know the poses, or their names. I found the yoga teachers very helpful in their explanations, and regardless of whether I was a novice or an expert the poses were described and set up in such a way that was easy to follow. Since I started practicing I find that yoga means much more to me now than just a way to stay active, I find the mental practice just as enjoyable and important as the physical practice. The pictures included are from my own journey with yoga.
Types of Yoga:
This is a general list of styles of yoga you may come across. Yoga studios will have a description online of what to expect from a class and whether it’s meant for beginners or people with more experience; I find this helpful when choosing a class. If there is a particular styles that you’ve tried that wasn’t a good fit for you, perhaps consider trying a different type or even a different instructor. I am a huge advocate of yoga, but even I have preferences for some types over others, and sometimes it just depends on the day and what I am looking for in a class. I think that one misconception about yoga that there is only one styles and that it always involves a “downward facing dog” and stretches. This is thankfully not the case! Here is a non-comprehensive list of just a few styles of yoga. I’ve sorted them into fast and slower paced, although this is not always strictly the case.
- Faster paced; more physically demanding classes to increase the heart rate and build strength as well as flexibility.
– Ashtanga; Vinyasa, Bikram and Moksha (hot yoga, the room is ~40°C).
- Slower paced; poses held for longer with the focus on relaxation and stretching
– Hatha, Restorative, Lyengar, Nidra, Ying, Yang.
One of the reasons why I practice yoga and recommend it to my friends, family and patients, is that it is a great and SAFE form of physical exercise. I emphasize SAFE because during the class the instructor not only heads you through the poses which help increase the strength and length of your muscles in a balanced way, but will also teach you how to tune into your body and your own personal experience. There are always modifications, or ways to make the poses less intense, which is one of the reasons why so many different people with a wide range of fitness levels have taken up yoga. Within the same class there could be an expert and a novice person practicing, and both still reaping benefits. some days I take the full expression of a pose, and other days I take a more basic form, all depending on how that pose feels in that moment. Nothing is ever forced, pain is something you should never feel during a yoga class.
There are many mental health benefits you can achieve through yoga. Classes have a large focus on being present in the current moment, trying to keep the mind from wandering into past experiences or anticipating future ones. This is done through breath work and coupling movement with the breath. Every class is concluded with Savasana, or lying meditation. I find the skill of learned to be focused on the present is invaluable to my life off the yoga mat. Yoga gives me a place and time to practice this skill. I always leave a class feeling more optimistic, energized, and focused. These benefits can be attained even through the more physical styles of practice, not just meditative styles.
I asked a Physio colleague to comment on her experience since starting the practice of yoga, after I gently encouraged her to give it a try.
“I would say a very common misconception is yoga is a stretching class, not a real work out. What I’ve learned is that there are various different types and classes of yoga, for all different levels. Through the yoga classes I have attended, I have been physically challenged in every single one of them – yoga is more than stretching, it is a great work out for the body and mind. I even found myself sore after some of them and quickly realized several of my functional weaknesses!”