Discover All That Yoga Has to Offer

By , Lisa D., SparkPeople Contributor

Whether its Bikram or Hatha, Vinyasa or Ashtanga, it's a well-known fact that yoga has calming power. The popular exercise is also praised for a range of psychological and physical benefits, many of which can help people be more productive and more mindful, no matter their age or ability. 

What is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient practice developed thousands of years ago in India. There are dozens of yoga schools, or unique practices, from around the world. A typical session involves meditation, breathing exercises and assuming different physical positions, or asanas, to activate the body’s various muscle groups. Natalie Nevins, D.O., a Kundalini Yoga instructor and Director of Clinical Education at Western University of Health Sciences, believes strongly in using yoga to support overall wellness.

"Yoga is a healing system of theory and practice. The purpose of yoga is to create strength, awareness and harmony in both the mind and body," she says. "As an osteopathic physician, I focus a lot of my efforts on preventative medicine and practices, and in the body's ability to heal itself. Yoga is a great tool for staying healthy because it is based on similar principles."

Yoga can be practiced in a class environment, at home and even at work. Benefits can be achieved from a full session or simply by using extracted components of the exercises, breathing practices and theory throughout the day.

Yoga Benefits

When incorporated into a healthy lifestyle, yoga has been shown to add value to overall well-being. Many individuals also use it as a pain management tool and to increase overall flexibility. Due to its tranquil atmosphere and meditative sequences, regularly practicing yoga could improve energy and reduce stress. Plus, the dynamic and difficult poses are great for increasing strength in muscles, while also guarding against injury. 

Other improvements in sleep, digestion, cardiovascular activity and more have been associated with the regular use of yoga. With Hatha yoga, Kundalini yoga, Vinyasa yoga, and more available, you're sure to find a practice that can best suit your needs and personal preferences.

Widespread Support for Yoga

Yoga's impact on stress levels are significant. Prolonged periods of high stress can bring on strokes, heart attacks and hypertension, among other health risks. Yoga is a powerful tool to effectively reduce and manage stress levels and bring the body back into a state of balance.

"Stress can reveal itself in many ways, including back or neck pain, sleeping problems, headaches, drug abuse, and an inability to concentrate," Dr. Nevins says. "Yoga can be very effective in developing coping skills and reaching a more positive outlook on life."

Ongoing yoga practice develops body awareness in the practitioner. Those who use yoga find that it is a way to improve health and become sensitive to the needs and changes within their own bodies. This alerts them to unusual signs that may require medical attention.

The slow strengthening of muscle groups and alignment of the body through asanas helps to create a stronger foundation for more active exercises or activities. The skeletal system and its ropes and pulleys of muscles are also in the proper place for optimal functioning following regular yoga activity.

The Mayo Clinic supports the practice of yoga but does mention a few precautions. Healthy people under the supervision of a trained instructor can safely practice yoga. Yoga can pose a risk for those with a herniated disk, uncontrolled blood pressure, severe osteoporosis, significant balance problems or with those at risk of blood clots. Those who are pregnant or with eye conditions such as glaucoma may also need to adapt their yoga practice or avoid particular positions. If you are new to yoga, or have such a condition, work with an experienced instructor to guide your practice.

Yoga Anywhere

To get started on the path towards a happier, more centered you, start with some basic poses that you can incorporate into your daily routine at home or at the office. The simple yoga poses and movements help to refocus your energies and reduce tension in oft overused muscles while sitting at the desk. They also help to reinvigorate your body during the usual afternoon slump. Instead of another cup of coffee, incorporate the natural lift experienced from a pose or two. After getting comfortable, consider adding a weekly class to your training routine. 

The health benefits of yoga for mind and body are numerous and the practice is convenient to implement within any lifestyle. Start slow and you'll quickly see how addictive feeling good can become. 

Why do you love practicing yoga?