What is Yoga?
Almost all of us are familiar with what yoga is, but do you wonder about the benefits of doing a regular practice? Is it good for everyone? What can I expect in a yoga class?
Below are some of the benefits of doing yoga, and what you can expect in our yoga classes.
Yoga is an ancient discipline, which has been around for over 5000 years. It is the practice of body postures, meditation and breathing control. The word "Yoga" literally means, "to yoke" or union. Its deeper meaning is to unite the practitioner with their body, mind, breath, and heart or spirit. Yoga helps us discover more about who we are.
There are many different types of yoga styles that vary in intensity and method, but all yoga practices will include the basics of breathing with movement and simple meditation to quiet the mind. Hatha (Ha-ta) yoga is a physical practice of yoga. The yoga poses and postures (referred to as Asana) are done in a sequence that stretch and flex different muscle groups. Hatha is about balancing the vital energy in the body, mind, breath, and heart.
What are the Benefits of yoga?
Increased Muscle Strength & Tone
Even though the idea of yoga is to slow down and connect with our body and breath, it is also a focused practice that will give you strength. The control needed in the various combinations of poses is just as toning and strength building as working with weights because with yoga you are often holding your own body weight. In a group class setting you have the benefit of a teacher to help adjust you in to the proper alignment so that with regular yoga training you will become able to keep yourself in yoga positions where you will strengthen the muscles in your core, back, arms and legs. Yoga is whole body fitness!
The breath practice used in yoga increases lung capacity, which in turn delivers more oxygen to the body. The breathing practices in yoga promote relaxation and calmness, but it also builds up great respiratory stamina. Stress can affect the respiratory system. The benefits of the practice of yoga and controlling the breath has twofold benefits to the calming the mind, the nervous system and improving our overall health, while it improves the capacity of our lungs to do their job well!
Improve Posture & Reduce Muscular Imbalances
Yoga is a slow flowing movement of transitioning from pose to pose with deliberation and awareness. Our focus on proper alignment of the body helps to maintain strength in a good “Neutral” alignment. Our focus is to hold a pose and be aware of what muscles are working, and staying grounded. As we build the strength to hold poses, the body naturally begins to improve posture and prevent injuries and imbalances from recurring.
Practicing yoga will increase your flexibility. Not everyone will look the same in every pose, but each person can find the optimum alignment for their own body and with each class, strive to improve form and technique. In each yoga pose you are essentially stretching your muscles, working to find the best length and alignment in the pose for your body. In time, the more you more you practice yoga, the more flexible your muscles will become. Stretching in this way, as a gentle slow movement into each pose allows the body to elongate the muscles. The poses help to free up tension and increase blood flow, which over time can increases your range of motion. The yoga exercises also do not overwork the muscle as it is primarily about repetition and control. With regular practice, you will see improvement in your flexibility.
Improved Energy levels
Hatha is about balancing the vital energy in the body, mind, breath, and heart. In our muscles we create balance, strength, and flexibility. With deep breathing, we energetically tone the nervous system to calm the mind and body. The focus as we flow thru the movements is to create balance between energy and calm, reducing stress and tension. Yoga poses can be done quickly to create more heat and develop a cardio respiratory benefit, (also known as vinyasa) or the poses can be held longer for strength and stamina or for deep passive stretching. Practicing in this way, you will stretch and strengthen muscles, as well as massaging your internal organs, which can help to rinse toxins from the body. Your energy levels are boosted with the breath work of receiving new oxygen and revitalizing your body on the whole.
Enhancing Athletic Performance
Because yoga improves so many aspects of fitness, it will make any other training you do far more effective. Even though it’s not a cardiovascular workout, your body is still working hard while it is gaining flexibility. There’ll be an increase in power, greater focus than before, better endurance and balance, along with peace of mind. Many athletes in team sports do yoga as part of their training program.
For those looking for a low impact sport, Yoga is perfect, because it does not place any impact on the joints. This is ideal for those who have arthritis or any other joint inflammatory disease. In any pose you can do a variation of the movements to better suit your capabilities. We use props and straps to help support the body in challenging poses, and always encourage students to honor their body. Like all of our classes, we encourage you to move at your pace, let go of expectations and a sense of competition. Yoga is for Every Body.
Stress can manifest in our body in many ways, and in many areas. Muscles become tight, we might have back or neck pain, headaches, sleeping problems, or scattered thoughts and lack of concentration. By practicing yoga and its focus on breathing and meditation techniques, you will gain skills to manage your stress levels. Aside from the wonderful physical benefits yoga for your body, your mind and central nervous system are also gaining benefits. Any practice of calm focused slow breathing will send a message to the nervous system that it is safe to relax. Being in that parasympathetic state (A state of calm; “rest and digest” rather than “Fight or flight”) has multiple health benefits for our body. The skills we learn in yoga to quiet the mind and breathe can easily become a practice we can turn to and implement throughout the day to improve concentration and mental clarity. This benefit is huge given the state of stress most of us live in!
What is the difference between Pilates and Yoga?
This is a question we are often asked, and though they are similar in many ways, they each have their own unique benefits. They are both considered a “Mind Body” type of practice in that they demand a clear mental focus and awareness of where the body is as it moves thru the sequences of exercises.
As you have learned, yoga is an ancient practice that focuses on the breath and calming the mind while keeping our focus on the present moment with awareness of our body as we move. It has an energetic aspect to it and can often be considered part of a spiritual practice. The goal is as much mental clarity and calm, as is improving strength and flexibility. Different styles of yoga promote different aspects of these practices.
Pilates is more of a focus on alignment of the body and engagement of core muscles while holding a strong focus on stabilizing the body in movement. In Pilates we always engage the core first, and move from our center. There are a sequence of exercises we practice and the goal with both Pilates mat work and Reformer is to build on what was previously taught. Like yoga, Pilates also focuses on strength, breath and body alignment. But there is less deliberate meditative focus in Pilates, and instead, the movement is more energizing while challenging for the body.
Both yoga and Pilates compliment one another, and when practiced together enhance each other. Try both to see for yourself the benefits to these popular mind body practices!