Fitness Articles

A Beginner's Guide to Yoga

Yoga Styles, Props, and Fitness Plans

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Yoga, which comes from the Sanskrit yuj word meaning "union," originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. There are many forms of yoga, but in general, yoga focuses on breathing techniques (pranayama), postures (asanas), flexibility, and meditation (dhyana). It can be very spiritual, linking the mind, body, and spirit.

But you don't have to be a Birkenstock-wearing vegetarian to enjoy or benefit from a regular yoga practice. Yoga offers all practitioners—whether you do it once a week or twice a day—an increased mind-body connection, greater flexibility and strength, improved balance and coordination, and stress relief. Here's what you need to know to start your own yoga practice today.

Styles of Yoga
If you're new to yoga, you might not be sure which class or video to start with. Here are a few of the most common yoga styles that are popular today:
  • Ashtanga yoga (also referred to as Power yoga) is a fast-paced, intense yoga style. It focuses on constant movement from one pose to the next. However, this system does allow each student to work at her own pace.
  • Bikram, or Hot yoga, is practiced in an environment where the temperature is 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat promotes intense sweating that will loosen tight muscles and facilitate cleansing of the body.
  • Hatha yoga is a general term. These workouts usually include basic introductory yoga poses, and move at a gentle and slow pace.
  • Iyengar yoga may be the most popular style practiced in the United States. With this style, poses are held for a longer duration. The purpose of this is for students to recognize the subtleties of each posture and to pay attention to their musculoskeletal system and body alignment. Using props (blocks, belts, blankets, etc.) to accommodate a variety of fitness levels and special needs is common in Iyengar yoga.
  • Vinyasa yoga includes more aggressive stretches. These workouts focus on sun salutations and the connection of breath and movement. Continued ›
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

Member Comments

  • Yoga is great! And for those of us with mobility and other challenges, remember there are some terrific chair yoga videos and DVDs. I like the info in this type of blog, but few include any info or references for those who have trouble with balance, standing, etc.

    One thing to keep in mind is that yoga is a gradual process. Folks will need patience, because the improvements will be subtle: more flexibility, better balance, increased strength, and so on. Classes are great, but practicing at home in between classes will provide greater benefits. - 12/4/2015 9:36:44 AM
    For some of the comments regarding balance problems or limited movement due to arthritis, you might ask at the YMCA if they have a seniors' yoga class. I saw a lady today who was using it as therapy after a stroke. They modify the poses and use props, including chairs to sit and still be fit. - 6/4/2014 5:17:15 AM
  • JUNEBUG3333
    l also hope there can be something with yoga for movement that can help someone like me who is afraid of falling and breaking my bones with this arthris so don't get out to work out much , if someone hears of anything please let us know - 10/5/2013 6:13:49 PM
  • JUNEBUG3333
    hoping this well work for me , a lot of arthrisis and ostio,so need to fine something to help with diet and healthy eating
    - 10/5/2013 6:07:50 PM
  • JUNEBUG3333
    hoping this well work for me , a lot of arthrisis and ostio,so need to fine something to help with diet and healthy eating
    - 10/5/2013 6:07:49 PM
  • CALLA2056
    I am thinking that the SP articles are all recycled. No matter whether recipes, healthy eating or exercise. Not always aware of it at first but scrolling down through comments will often show them to be from 2009. I find this disappointing and often delete my daily SP emails without opening. - 9/25/2013 6:51:17 PM
  • I fell over the first time I went to Yoga...I really like it but don't have the money to attend a class..wish there was a group that could get together to just follow a video or something in my area? - 9/25/2013 4:53:40 PM
  • Yoga has saved my life in more ways then one. As I was reading this article, I had to remind myself that this is a "general" guideline article so as not to cop an attitude toward the author. - 9/25/2013 7:58:38 AM
    I don't like the author's tone. There's nothing wrong with being "a Birkenstock-weari
    ng vegetarian. - 9/25/2013 5:18:15 AM
    I did yoga for a month. I enjoyed it but it didn't seem like it was helping to tone my body. Did I not give it enough time? Should I go back? - 9/9/2013 8:24:49 AM
  • I disagree that it isn't a good source for strength training. Because the routine I'm currently doing (Vinyasa style) requires me to hold my own weight, plus planks and pushups I am definitely seeing an improved strength and toning to my arms, chest and even legs. - 8/28/2013 1:33:03 PM
    Are the cat and the camel switched around? - 7/30/2013 8:24:56 AM
  • I don't think it's good for my hip - 6/22/2013 11:36:43 AM
  • RINNE811
    I Agree some form of yoga def gets the heart going and the sweat pouring. My body feels heated up! One teacher I really like is Sadie Nardini. She has a style which she calls "core strength vinyasa". You can find her on youtube and all the routine I've tried so far have been really great! - 3/18/2013 11:04:48 AM
  • I have never tried yoga, so I think I will add it to some of my work outs during the week. - 1/20/2013 12:54:30 PM

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