Although Yoga traces its roots back thousands of years to ancient India, the meditative practice can now be found worldwide. While it began as spiritual and philosophical routine, modern-day yoga is primarily practiced by those looking for an alternative and effective fitness outlet. In essence, the ancient procedure aims to enhance the mind and the body through focused movements and breathing techniques. We wanted to find out the real benefits of yoga and share them with you. Join us as we take a closer look at what it's all about.
What is Yoga
The word yoga originally stems from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means to bind. In practice, it refers to the union of the original eight limbs of yoga, namely yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation), and samadhi (absorption).
Although there are many different forms of yoga, most of them share the common goal of enriching the quality of life through meditative exercise. Believe it or not, yoga was relatively rare in the Western World up until the 1980s, though it had been practiced in the east for several centuries.
However, this shift has led to a Westernization of the primal exercise where most modern yoga classes focus primarily on asanas, postures. In effect, yogis and yoginis are trained to concentrate on breathing techniques, meditation, and stretching. Even just incorporating yoga into your regular exercise routine is a surefire way to increase flexibility, minimize stress, and strengthen your body from within.
Pilates vs Yoga
Pilates and yoga often get grouped together, though there are a few key differences which separate the two popular healthy trends. For starters, Pilates is exclusively a fitness program whereas yoga is more of a lifestyle or wellness regimen.
While they both emphasize core muscles, balance, posture, stability, muscle endurance, and overall coordination, Pilates is predominantly done for increasing strength. On the other hand, yoga can be done for many reasons, thanks to its wide variety of health benefits for the mind and body.
Benefits of Hot Yoga
Hot yoga (often confused with Bikram yoga) is no simple task, primarily due to extremely high temperatures often exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot yoga is one of the best ways to recharge your body and mind. In fact, hot yoga has been found to strengthen core muscles, boost flexibility, and even alleviate headaches.
While many people choose this form for its remarkable weight-loss and calorie-burning capabilities, there are certain risks to be aware of. For instance, many people experience dehydration, dizziness, headaches, muscle cramps, chronic fatigue, and nausea. However, the popular practice is considered generally safe if the proper precautions are taken before, during, and after the session.
There is some evidence to suggest that hot yoga may do more than just improve balance and decrease stress. Some studies have even found that it may boost glucose tolerance, bone mineral density, blood lipid profile, and arterial stiffness.
Benefits of Yoga for Men
While the countless benefits of yoga aren’t specific to one type of person, there are a few reasons why men particularly may gain from becoming a yogi. For starters, men who are on a strict exercise regimen often have trouble maximizing their rest days between workouts. Spending an hour or so to work on flexibility, breathing, and poses can be a great way to make the most of those in-between days.
Moreover, yoga is a great addition to a weightlifting routine since it effectively tones muscles evenly throughout the body. This is especially important for those guys who are concerned with maintaining an even build and toned core. Similarly, the added flexibility and core strength can do wonders for preventing sports and workout related injuries.
Furthermore, it’s no secret that men can be quite self-conscious about their performance in the bedroom. This is where yoga steps in. Studies have shown that yogis experience higher sexual functioning, including better stamina, increased flexibility, and greater mindfulness.
Utkatasana, also known as the chair pose is the ultimate test for yogis who think they may be too tough for yoga. The physically demanding move targets the shoulders, glutes, ankles, and quads to strengthen core muscles and develop stability. Additionally, the chair pose has been shown to open the chest and shoulders which can promote a sensation of lightness and ease.
Benefits of Yoga for Women
Exercise is one of the best ways to boost your physical and mental health and few routines are as effective and enjoyable as yoga. When it comes down to it, the ancient practice is perfect for the modern woman looking to de-stress, develop a stronger sense of self and a more positive body image, as well as relieve many forms of pain.
Between improved flexibility, heightened core strength, lower muscle tension, reduced anxiety, there are so many reasons to become a yogini.
Although there are countless poses to choose from, the simple tree pose is particularly beneficial for women. The balancing pose provides a gentle stretch to the hips while also strengthening core muscles and relieving pent-up stress. Overall, there’s no wrong pose for women looking to reap the countless health benefits of yoga.
Yoga for Weight Loss
Although yoga doesn't offer many cardio benefits, it plays a big role in fat loss by encouraging healthy blood circulation, reducing inflammation, and boosting metabolism. However, yoga may be effective for losing weight thanks to its remarkable connection to adiponectin. Like most vital process in your body, fat regulation is determined by the release of specific hormones.
Adipose tissue, more commonly called fat, secrete proteins, such as adipocytokines, which play an important role in metabolism, inflammation, and appetite. Although there are many adipokines, few are as effective at monitoring fat levels as adiponectin.
In fact, studies have found a strong correlation between obesity and the dysregulation of adiponectin production. Similarly, low adiponectin levels have been linked to the formation of fatty plaques in the arteries as well as poor fatty acid transportation and oxidation.
Few poses offer the potential for promoting weight loss as much as the extended side angle pose. In practice, the mid-level maneuver has several key therapeutic benefits, including alleviating constipation, relieving pain, and stimulating abdominal organs.
Yoga for PMS
There are few activities which can alleviate those pesky PMS symptoms as well as yoga. Besides for the constant debilitating cramps, many women experience a barrage of psychological symptoms, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and brain fog. Because yoga destresses the body and stimulates holistic well-being, it’s an effective way to relieve PMS symptoms, especially close to bedtime.
In addition to releasing high levels of endorphins, the body’s natural pain reliever and pleasure chemical, yoga promotes proper circulation, which helps resupply organs to healthier blood levels. Although you still need to worry about fatigue, exercising while on your period is one of the best ways to get rid of menstrual pains.
In general, this ancient practice works to tap into our self-healing capabilities by focusing on pushing the body to its limits and maintaining mental clarity through meditative breathing.
The Cobra (Bhujangasana) pose is arguably the best move for women struggling with PMS symptoms. As with most other maneuvers, the Cobra pose encourages healthy blood circulation which is crucial for fighting inflammation and fatigue associated with menstruation. Likewise, by opening the chest and allowing for deep meditative breathing, Cobra is a great way to manage the stress and anxiety associated with PMS.
There’s no denying that maintaining a healthy exercise routine is important during pregnancy, but not all workouts are safe during this time. Prenatal yoga is a great way to ease morning sickness and relieve anxiety. Gentle stretches can have a remarkable effect on your changing body by encouraging necessary blood circulation to your digestive system. Furthermore, there are several key poses which promote stronger lower bodies which can help support your growing belly.
Additionally, prenatal yoga can be an extremely beneficial tool for preparing your body for the arduous labor and delivery process. In addition to mastering useful breathing techniques, prenatal yoga teaches women to fuse the mind and body, which can be crucial for pain management and having a mindful birthing experience.
Although your movement will surely be restricted, the cat pose is a great choice for practicing prenatal yoga. The kneeling position is simple yet surprisingly effective, especially for women looking to alleviate lower back pain during pregnancy.
Yoga for Insomnia
While many people exercise to give them energy, many people also workout to help them lose energy and ultimately sleep better. Although there are many great workouts to choose from, few are as effective as yoga.
Yoga naturally relaxes you by focusing on breathing techniques, meditation, and stretching. Because these exercises generally don’t stress the body they are even effective close to bedtime. Similarly, stretching relaxes the body by reducing muscle tension and soreness, leaving you feeling great and ready for bed.
If you’re in search for the best pose to promote sleep, look no further than the plow pose. The plow pose helps facilitate healthy sleep patterns by calming the mind, stimulating the thyroid gland, and reducing stress. Furthermore, the pain-relieving qualities of this pose make it a great way to end the day and prepare for a good night’s rest.
Yoga for Back Pain
There are over 30 million Americans suffering from lower back pain at any given point with nearly 4 out of 5 people expected to experience a back problem at some point during their lifetime.
That being the case, it’s essential that people find simple ways to treat and even prevent back pain from taking over their lives. In reality, few activities are as effective for minimizing back pain as yoga. Stretching opens up your range of motion and encourages your body to restore muscles and joints which can effectively ease back pain.
One of the principal functions of yoga is utilizing underused muscles and loosening the body. Additionally, the increased flow of pain-relieving endorphins is sure to help your back troubles feel like less of a burden. Likewise, the ancient practice has been proven to reduce muscle tension and soreness, ultimately providing much-needed relief to anyone suffering from back pain.
The Bridge pose is one of the most popular moves and for good reason. Besides minimizing stress and anxiety, the Bridge pose has been shown to relieve headaches, strengthen core muscles, improve flexibility, and crush through lower back pain.
There’s no denying the incredible physical and mental benefits yoga has to offer, but there’s a new trend that aims to take it to the next level. Like the traditional practice, naked yoga aspires to bridge the gap between mind, body, and spirit.
Sometimes less is more and that’s the philosophy behind naked yoga, where yogis and yoginis are literally and figuratively stripped of their insecurities and barriers we instinctively build.
Similarly, since yoga naturally triggers the release of endorphins (one the brain’s pleasure and pain-relieving chemicals), it’s a great way to address your inherent vulnerabilities. Although many people think of vulnerability as a weakness, it’s actually the opposite.
In truth, acknowledging your vulnerabilities will only make you a stronger person, not a weaker one. Naked yoga offers unadulterated exposure which enables yogis to view themselves in a different light and honestly gauge their strengths and weaknesses.
Best Yoga Mat
It’s hard to pick just one mat to be the best especially considering there are many different types and purposes. For instance, the Gaiam Yoga Mat is arguably the best option for hot yoga, thanks to its padded sweat-resistant non-slip surface.
You also have to consider portability, which is where Wai Lana reigns supreme. Theses affordable mats come in a wide variety of beautiful colors and are perfect for those who like to take their mats on the go.
However, if I had to pick one mat that was truly the best, I’d have to go with the amazing Heathyoga Body Alignment System. These highly-rated mats are non-slip, eco-friendly, and help guide you along as your very own personal instructor. Additionally, the two-sided textures surfaces make sure that slipping and sliding are a thing of the past while providing enough padding for a comfortable yoga experience.
- Yoga is designed to connect the mind, body, and breath to help direct your attention inward.
- Although originally an ancient practice, yoga has developed over the years.
- The Westernization of Yoga has simplified the practice while also making it more accessible for the modern individual.
- Yoga has shown promise to treat a variety of health conditions including insomnia, PMS, lower back pain, and stress.
- There truly is a different form or pose for everyone.