By Grace Furman, contributing writer
I first tried yoga in 2011 when I heard about a free yoga class being offered twice a week just 10 minutes from my house. I couldn’t pass that opportunity up. I ended up enjoying the yoga benefits so much that I decided I had to learn more!
The origins of yoga can be traced back over 5,000 years ago in Northern India. However, the modern-day yoga we practice, especially in the western part of the world, is not nearly as ancient.
There are so many different forms of yoga, and some types of yoga are umbrella terms that other types can also fall under. It can certainly be confusing to sort them all out, but it is a good idea to know what you are getting yourself into before you start.
Common types of yoga include:
- Hatha – the physical practice of yoga with the focus on poses
- Vinyasa – flows from one pose to the next with little to no time held in each one
- Ashtanga – follows the same series of poses holding each for five breaths
- Bikram – 26 specific poses practiced in a heated room
- Power – fitness-based and fast-paced
Two other types of yoga that I have personally practiced but are not as common are:
- Moksha – another type of “hot yoga” implementing different poses than in Bikram
- Yin – all poses are seated or reclined and held for 5-20 minutes each
While it makes sense to choose a type of yoga based on your preferences and goals, I also encourage you to try new forms whenever you get a chance. I never would have tried Yin yoga if it hadn’t been a part of a promotion being offered, but it has turned out to be my absolute favourite way to practice.
The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj,” which means “to yoke” the spirit and physical body together.
This mind-body connection is why yoga is a holistic path to health. The practice of yoga includes physical postures, breathing, and sometimes meditation. Because of this, yoga has a myriad of benefits for your body, mind, and soul.
Here are 20 reasons to start practicing yoga:
Physical Yoga Benefits
- Increase flexibility by stretching out your muscles.
- Improve strength as you build muscle using your own body weight.
- Enhance balance by holding different poses.
- Improve stamina through increased fitness and mental strength.
- Prevent pain by loosening tight muscles and joints.
- Practice deeper, more efficient breathing.
- Improve digestion through movement and twisting poses.
- Increase blood circulation and better oxygenate your cells.
- Improve posture and protect your spine.
- Support your immune system by promoting lymph drainage.
Mental Yoga Benefits
- Sleep deeper by engaging in relaxed downtime.
- Elevate your mood through physical activity and decreasing negativity.
- Relieve stress by lowering cortisol levels.
- Experience mental calmness by carving out time to be introspective.
- Improve body awareness as you learn to feel where your body is as you move through poses.
- Increase self-esteem with the growth mindset and acceptance involved in yoga.
- Increase ability to focus as you engage in present awareness during your practice.
- Enhance discipline by committing to practicing regularly.
- Boost memory by having a clearer, more organized mind.
- Enhance feelings of connection with others; Namaste roughly means, “The divine in me acknowledges the divine in you.”
Bonus: Yoga Is for Everyone
One of my favourite aspects of yoga is how accessible it is.
Nearly anyone can practice yoga – children, adults, seniors, men, women, and people with different health conditions or physical abilities. A local yoga studio I used to go to has wheelchair yoga classes. The basics of yoga are attainable for even the newest of beginners.
Yoga is low-impact and adaptable. Different types, classes, and instructors naturally have different intensities, so you can choose what works best for you. There are nearly always modifications for challenging poses. Plus, you are always encouraged to go into a relaxed child’s pose when you need a break.
There is honestly no equipment required, however, a mat to practice on is more comfortable especially for those beginning their yoga practice.
So where should you start practicing yoga?
Practicing At a Studio
If you are an absolute newbie, I recommend going to at least a few group classes led by a yoga instructor. This is to build a foundation of knowledge and safety with the guidance of an experienced instructor.
Yoga studios are all over the place. A simple Google search will likely give you many options nearby. If cost is a concern, many studios offer a discounted rate for the first month for new people.
Gyms and fitness centres that offer group fitness classes generally include yoga classes as well.
Rec and community centres, such as the YMCA, often provide yoga classes for lower prices than studios or gyms.
Keep an eye out for reduced or free community event classes put on by different studios.
Practicing In Your Home
Once you have learned the basics and have had someone knowledgeable there to guide you, you may prefer to practice yoga in your own home.
You can find countless yoga routines to follow along with for free on YouTube. Look for videos from reputable and knowledgeable sources.
You can purchase yoga DVDs or even rent them for free from your local library.
There are also online yoga classes available for a monthly subscription fee – again, a Google search will provide you with many options.
I encourage you to try out a beginner yoga class or two with an open mind. Give yourself a few classes to really get into it. Try different forms and different instructors.
Yoga may not become your primary way to exercise, and that’s okay. If you already play sports, are a runner, or prefer weight lifting, just adding in a simple yoga class will still be beneficial. You can gain these benefits by practicing as little as one hour a week.
And the more you practice, the faster you will see all of these incredible results. Who knows? You just might fall in love with yoga completely, like I did.