September is National Yoga Month, a day that began being recognized by the Department of Health & Human Services in 2009 as a way to help bring awareness to all of the health benefits, both mental and physical, that practicing yoga offers. National Yoga Month is intended to promote the many lifestyle improving benefits that someone who practices yoga can reap. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), people practice yoga to improve their fitness and mobility, lower their stress levels, maintain overall health and wellbeing, and strengthen their quality of life. There have been numerous clinical trials that looked at the affects that yoga has on chronic health conditions such as heart disease, asthma, hypertension, arthritis, chronic back pain, and as a way to help with weight management and weight reduction.
Yoga has quite the history and has been practiced for over 5,000 years dating back to ancient civilizations who developed it in line with Buddhist philosophies. Today there are more than 30 variations of yoga that have emerged over time with more mainstream adaptations and growing popularity. You don’t have to subscribe to any specific religion or philosophy in order to participate in a yoga practice, and in fact, many people being practicing yoga as a way to incorporate it into their own personal spiritual, mental, and physical health journeys. Many of the variations of yoga have branched off from 5 main types of yoga practices. Yoga is a very personal practice, much like all other fitness and wellness activities that you choose to incorporate into your life. Because of this, it is important to find the right practice or variation that resonates with you.
Hot yoga, formally and commonly referred to as Bikram Yoga is a high intensity routine typically lasting 90 minutes. This style is unique due to it traditionally being done in 105° Fahrenheit with 40 percent humidity. The practice consists of 26 postures performed in the same order, and two breathing exercises. Some of the benefits of this style of yoga include improved flexibility, detoxification from the high temperature and induced sweating, and has an overall higher calorie burn than other styles of yoga. This style of yoga is ideal for someone who is looking for a more cardiovascular challenge as well as to improve strength, flexibility, and weight loss.
* Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga has had serious allegations against him in the past few years. It is important to note that A Friend of Mind, its founder, board of directors, and interns do not condone the alleged actions that Bikram Choudhury is being accused of and we are highlighting this style of yoga for educational purposes only.
One of the oldest styles of yoga dating back to the 15th century gets its name from the Sanskrit words for sun and moon. Hatha yoga is performed at a slower and more relaxed pace than other forms of yoga and is one of the more common styles offered in fitness centers as it covers all of the basics of yoga. Because of this, it makes Hatha yoga perfect for beginners. This style focuses on a combination of meditation and breathing and promotes relaxation techniques. Some of the more common postures incorporated include ones many beginners are familiar with such as Mountain pose, Tree pose, and Downward-facing Dog pose. This style of yoga takes you through standing and seated poses, helps to improve core strength and improved balance.
Another commonly practiced form of yoga, Vinyasa, also commonly referred to as “vinyasa flow” or “flow yoga” is excellent for beginners and more advanced participants. With Vinyasa, there is a constant flow of movement as the name infers and is great for those who are looking for a more physical practice with less stillness than other styles. Poses are synchronized with the breath as well and transition from one pose to another in a rhythmic and fluid way. Vinyasa yoga is great for improving strength in all muscle groups, increasing balance, improving flexibility, and increasing lung capacity through the breathing practices.
Yin yoga is another great practice for beginners as it is similar to Hatha yoga in that it is slower paced. Typically, yoga practices focus on the muscles of the body but Yin yoga is unique in its way to target deep connective tissues, like the fascia, ligaments, joints, and bones. Based on based on Taoist principles and ancient Chinese philosophies that believe in energy pathways, otherwise known as “Qi”, run through the body and Yin yoga is a way to open up any blockages and create the ability for energy to flow freely. Poses are held for longer periods of times, sometimes 2-5 minutes or even longer. The practice of Yin yoga focuses primarily on the hips, thighs, and lower back and is designed to increase circulation in the joints and promote flexibility. This style is also ideal for those who are looking for a good post-workout stretch and can be done on “Rest” days for active recovery.
Power yoga isn’t necessarily a style of yoga, rather it is a variation or combination of styles. Power yoga is a high intensity fitness-based method of performing yoga and can be quite vigorous. It typically combines the athletic aspects of Ashtanga and the sequencing of Vinyasa. Its not uncommon to see Power yoga be referred to as “Power Vinyasa” for this reason. Power yoga focuses on building strength and flexibility and is focused more on the physical body practicing the poses and less emphasis on chanting and meditative components of other styles of yoga. You are likely to sweat during a session of power yoga and it promotes detoxification as one of the benefits for this reason. Although advanced, this style of yoga could still be appropriate for beginners of the practice but definitely be prepared for a workout!
Want to celebrate National Yoga Month and try some of these out for yourself? Check out these beginner friendly videos that you can follow along with right at home!