Yoga For A Better You
When you hear phrases like Child’s Pose and Downward Dog, a serene environment of silent stretchers may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yoga may seem uninspiring to the inexperienced but a closer look exposes it is anything but.
While its popularity has risen significantly over the last decade, the history of yoga is often debated, as it dates back to times when its teachings were passed down through demonstration. Often considered one of the oldest physical disciplines to exist, yoga has developed from an ancient practice of uniting the mind and the body into a welcomed activity for exercise aficionados.
Recent years have seen yoga grow into an effective exercise option with plenty of physical benefits. The regular practice of yoga is known to improve flexibility, strengthen, tone and build muscle and encourage weight loss. Learning the technique allows participants to improve the posture and alignment of their body, which in turn helps to prevent muscle pain or injuries throughout daily life. Increased blood and oxygen flow combined with quality movements that don’t strain the body provides a unique fitness routine without some of the negative effects of more conventional workouts. Jai Braithwaite, director at Bikram Yoga Whiterock, is a living example of what yoga can do for you. “My lungs are more efficient, I sleep better. My doctor told me that I’m in the best shape that she has ever seen me.”
It may be a great way to keep fit but the benefits of yoga also stretch way beyond the body. Braithwaite began practicing yoga as a way to lose weight and while successful with his weight loss, he noticed it had an immediate effect mentally as well. Thanks to yoga, his relationships are stronger than ever and he finds himself staying calm and positive in tough situations. It has been proven that those who practice yoga on a regular basis are less stressed and better able to fight off anxiety, fatigue and the common cold.
The connection between the mind and the body is what has motivated the practice of yoga for thousands of years. By relaxing the mind and the body, practicing yogis are able to sharpen their concentration and increase their awareness of their body. These benefits last long after rolling up your yoga mat, as a heightened sense of yourself often leads to a more balanced approach to living. It has been shown that yoga improves memory and attention span while decreasing stress and depression by promoting a peaceful state of mind and practicing a positive outlook on life.
Yoga routines encourage a sense of inner peace that many enthusiasts find most rewarding. Michelle Lemire, an aspiring yoga instructor about to leave the corporate world in Canada for the calm in Costa Rica, is one such yogi who believes in the benefit of bliss. “Yoga became a source of relaxation, helped me uncover that living in the moment exactly as I am is okay, if not perfect.”
While Lemire jokes that sculpted arms are the most surprising benefit, it is actually the increase in self-confidence that really stands out. The best benefit, Lemire says, is the emotional aspect. “To focus on breath only is the best therapy. To let go of judgment and ego, even if for a short period of time, is ultra cleansing for the soul.” Braithwaite shares the sentiment. His favourite thing about yoga? “There are no egos in the room. We are all equal no matter what size, age, shape, colour. It’s a 90-minute commitment as well as a 90-minute break from thinking.”
The complete transformation of mind, body and spirit has allowed yoga to flourish as not only a mind game of meditation but also a regular approach to exercise with a long list of benefits. While one class may not be enough to totally transform your body or your mind, the benefits do start from the beginning and are often enough to get you hooked.
Types of Yoga
A playful type of yoga that encourages proper alignment but celebrates participants’ differences and limitations in an upbeat environment. Good for all levels, especially those just starting out or not in shape.
A physically demanding style that sees athletic types push the limits of their body through a set series of strenuous poses. It is intense and fast-paced and often reinterpreted as ‘Power’ yoga.
A 26 posture sequence developed by Bikram Choudhury, it is done in a heated studio where participants sweat for 90 minutes as every part of the body is engaged. Beginners may find it intense but soon welcome the heat. Don’t forget your water…and lots of it!
The physical foundation for many yoga styles and the most common introductory style in North America. Great for beginners, Hatha yoga offers basic poses and relaxation techniques that can be found in almost every other style.
A type of yoga that sees many props such as blocks, harnesses and straps used to focus on proper alignment and emphasize preciseness in postures. It is often a useful style for those recovering from injury.
An intense practice of core work focuses on the release of energy located at the base of your spine. Coupled with concentration of breathing, meditation and movement, it emphasizes mind and body awareness.
Often called Flow yoga, this style sees participants rhythmically moving and flowing from one pose to the next. Like dancing through postures, Vinyasa is a challenging upgrade from Hatha yoga.
While yoga is believed to be beneficial for all regardless of age, gender or fitness level, you should always check with your doctor or health professional before beginning a new form of exercise. Wear comfortable clothes that are not too baggy and always listen to your body.