The South Asian art of yoga art is a five-millennia-old practice that has evolved over the years. While ancient yoga was initially more about expanding spiritual energy, today’s various forms of yoga focus more on stretches and poses designed to inspire physical energy – including strength and flexibility – mental well-being and inner peace.
Even though yoga is a widespread, popular form of exercise and meditation today, this has not always been the case. In fact, there is no written record of a specific person who discovered the discipline. Yogis, or male yoga practitioners and yoginis, female yoga practitioners, have both practiced and taught yoga centuries before any written account came into existence.
Over time, yogis have passed the practice down to yoga students, and various schools of yoga have developed as the practice has expanded its international reach. Yoga uses the imagery of a tree to relay its spiritual message – including roots, a trunk, branches, blossoms, and fruits. According to the discipline, each yoga “branch” symbolizes a different focus and group of characteristics.
The branches are:
- Hatha yoga
- Raja yoga
- Karma yoga
- Bhakti yoga
- Jnana yoga
- Tantra yoga
Yoga gurus say that approaching the practice with a particular goal can help you decide which branch to follow.
Choosing What Works for You: Yoga Types and Styles
There is a wide range of yoga styles, and it’s vital to realize that no type is better than the next one. Rather, the key is to select a class appropriate for your fitness level and personal needs. If you are new to the practice, here are some common yoga styles to consider:
- Bikram: Bikram, also known as “hot” yoga, takes place in heated rooms. This type of yoga consists of 26 poses and a sequence of two breathing exercises.
- Hatha: Hatha is a general term for yoga that encourages and teaches physical postures. These classes often serve as an introduction to basic yoga postures.
- Ashtanga: This type of yoga uses ancient yoga teachings and rose in popularity in the 1970s. Ashtanga incorporates six established sequences of postures that swiftly connect breath to every move.
- Jivamukti: Often more physically intense, this version of yoga started in the early 1980s, and incorporates spiritual teachings and practices that focus on the fast-paced flow between poses (versus the poses themselves). This discipline is referred to as “vinyasa.” Each class typically has a theme, which the instructor helps students explore via chanting, meditation, asana and music.
- Power: Yoga practitioners created this more athletic style of yoga based on the traditional ashtanga system.
- Yin: This yoga practice is meditative and quiet. It allows the release of tension in key joints, such as your knees, ankles, hips, neck and shoulders.
- Restorative: Restorative yoga is a relaxing practice where students spend their time in a handful of basic poses, utilizing tools like blankets and pillow bolsters to become deeply relaxed.
The Benefits of Practicing Yoga
Yoga can help support a more balanced, active lifestyle, and also has a wide range of mental health benefits. Here are just a few of the many reasons why you should consider yoga:
- Develops flexibility and strength. Yoga is an effective way to enhance your physical well-being by building flexibility, stability and balance. The more often you use yoga into your daily life, you will see an improved overall level of fitness and develop leaner, more toned muscles. Additionally, because yoga involves extensive physical efforts, most people experience elevated endorphin levels, which can help produce a peaceful, more blissful feeling.
- Cultivates a resilient mind. The practice of yoga requires you to breathe deeply and hold challenging poses for lengthy periods. Even though many people admit it can be difficult to maintain “pretzel-like,” contorted poses, many people can still focus and finish a class. As a result, their resilience to discomfort is actually teaching them how to face unpleasant life circumstances. In other words, instead of fighting against issues, you actually learn to acknowledge and accept uncomfortable situations, analyze what needs to be done and move forward.
- Leads to a “Zen-like” feeling. The “Zen” state you experience after a typical yoga session is created by Gamma-aminobutyric acid, also known as GABA. GABA is a chemical messenger within the body’s nervous system that informs the brain to relax. One interesting study points out that yoga can elevate GABA levels. The study results revealed that when one group of yoga practitioners did yoga for an hour, their GABA levels increased by 27%. This outcome from yoga can also help treat people with severe anxiety and depression, that often have low levels of GABA.
How to Incorporate a Simple Yoga Schedule into Everyday Life
For busy professionals, integrating a yoga class each day isn’t always a realistic option. However, enjoying yoga doesn’t mean you have to physically go to a studio and participate in a class. Try some of these simple tips to weave the practice of yoga into your daily routine:
- Try a class at home. Time is of the essence for many people who want to practice yoga. There are countless online videos and yoga classes available, and you can do them all in the comfort of your own home. Many of these classes are free and range from a mere 10 minutes to an hour. Pick one that works best with your schedule.
- Monitor your body during the day. Let’s face it, stress is a part of life. Yoga encourages us to pay closer attention to our bodies, physically and mentally, by encouraging us to do what feels good and realize what limits push us. Incorporate yoga into your daily routine by taking time to observe which situations (or people) create tension and which ones provide relief. Then, when you feel tension arise, you can better recognize the stressors and work to avoid them.
- Take meaningful breaths. A key aspect of yoga is the focus on breathing. In yoga, we are asked to take full, deep breaths. Fortunately, you don’t have to be in a yoga class or in a challenging yoga position to reap the benefits of meaningful breathing. For example, if you find yourself in a heated work meeting, in conflicts with colleagues, or experiencing a stressful family scenario, take a moment to draw your attention back to your breathing. Concentrate on taking deep breaths, and you will most likely feel yourself being to calm down.
Finally, to wrap up each day on a good note, try a few sun salutations right before getting into bed. This practice can give your body a sense of peace, no matter what stressful situations arose earlier in the day.
Take some quiet time in various calm poses to pause and reflect on how you managed that day, focusing on what you want to do better the next day.
You can also add this brief practice when you wake up each morning, before officially starting your day. Set aside a few minutes to establish your intentions – with this approach, you can make a genuine difference in the way you tackle both the rest of the day and the rest of your week. If you need help getting a better understanding of the current state of your mind and body, take our free 1-Min Burnout Assessment today and begin your journey to a happier and healthier life, the Burn Bright Way™.