What is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient practice from India. It is commonly practiced in the West, however, to understand what yoga is (or isn’t), it is essential first to break down what the word yoga means. Yoga means “yoke,” – which means “union.” Yoga is a union of breath, meditation, and movement. It cannot be reduced to either exercise or meditation because, as the name says, it is a union of both physical movement and spiritual practice, which is married through breathwork.
Yoga consists of a series of physical postures that are performed in a specific order that are paired with deep, mindful breathing. In yoga, flexibility, or how “well” you perform the postures takes a backseat to the mindfulness and “purposefulness” that yoga postures bring about. Often, this can be forgotten in the West in classes such as “power” yoga, which adopts the various postures of yoga and teaches them in a physically challenging sequence but shifts focus away from the controlled breathwork and meditative state of traditional yoga.
Is Yoga Good for Weight Loss?
Yoga can be very effective in promoting weight loss for several reasons. The mindfulness that yoga brings about helps to lower stress levels. Chronic stress causes the release of cortisol (our long-term stress hormone), which can lead to insulin resistance and blood sugar imbalances, which can impede weight loss. By lowering stress levels through yoga practice, a person may experience weight loss.
Also, since yoga includes physical postures, a person can increase muscle strength and stamina through continued yoga practice, as well as burn calories during their session. By increasing muscle tone, the body will increase its resting metabolic rate and burn more energy, even at rest.
There are several types of yoga – from restorative yoga where postures are mostly seated or lying down to power yoga or vinyasa flow yoga, which is much more vigorous. More vigorous classes, such as vinyasa flow classes, will certainly burn more calories and be more of a physical challenge. Therefore, these types of yoga classes will help people to lose weight. However, restorative or “yin” classes are geared toward reducing stress, which, as discussed previously, is often an important aspect of any weight-loss program. So, in short, a combination of both vigorous and restorative yoga classes may be a person’s best approach to losing weight with yoga.
Types of Yoga
Some of the most popular kinds of yoga are vinyasa flow classes, which are higher intensity classes where the postures involve a lot of standing “power” poses, which engage many muscles of the body. The “flow” of these classes include the continuous transition from one posture to the next with little to no break. These classes are also sometimes called “power yoga,” which we often see in gyms or non-traditional yoga studios where the focus is burning calories and getting a workout over the union of breath, mind, and body (as yoga is intended to be).
“Yin” or restorative classes are very slow, gentle classes where a person is seated or lying down for the majority of the class. Yoga Nidra is another variety that is almost completely meditation and no movement at all. Being still, calm, and allowing both the mind and body to relax and surrender is the focus of these popular varieties of yoga.
Benefits of Yoga
Regular yoga practice offers an array of health benefits. Physically, yoga helps to:
- Increase flexibility
- Promote muscle strength and stamina
- Increase blood flow
- Support lymphatic drainage
Mentally, yoga helps you to
- Focus your mind
- Relieve stress and anxiety
- Increase mental stamina
Enduring the physical challenge of yoga while staying focused and centered while controlling your breath helps the mind to better adapt to stressors faced in day to day life. By reducing the stress response, a person may increase their mental and emotional well-being while potentially decreasing their risk of several chronic diseases that are associated with chronic stress.
How Do I Get Started with Yoga?
Yoga can be for everybody. Beginner classes are available in many studios, as well as online. The important thing to remember is that it is not about “how good” you are at yoga, as the purpose of practicing yoga is so much deeper than just performing physical poses. Staying consistent and challenging yourself to where you are uncomfortable, but never in pain, is key to strengthening your yoga practice.
When beginning yoga, arrive early and let the teacher know that you are a beginner as well as any injuries or limitations you have. He or she will be able to make you feel more comfortable as well as give you tips for getting the most out of the class.
In every yoga class, the postures focus on moving the spine in all directions: bending forward, backward, side to side, as well as rotation. A “cat-cow” pose, which is performed on all fours and involves arching and rounding the back, is a great place to start. This pose warms up the spine and can help lead you into more advanced postures.
A seated spinal twist is also a great pose to begin with. Rotation of the spine is something we do daily, yet we do not often train. In addition to warming up the spine, rotations also “wring out” our digestive organs, which helps promote healthy digestion as well as elimination.
Finally, a standard forward fold, as well as side bends, moves allow the low back and torso to stretch and release. These movements help to release tension from the body and prepare you to begin your yoga practice.