It seems people are getting the memo; the benefits of yoga have indeed been well-documented.  But do certain types of yoga suit you better than others?  Today yoga is quite the alternative health practice.  It’s even more popular than the use of chiropractors, osteopathy, meditation, herbal medicine and even massage therapy.  Many acclaims this to be the case due to yoga’s powerful opportunity to create relief for easing chronic low-back pain and counteracting the effects of our “text neck” society, where chronic sitting is permanently changing our posture and making our families sick. Others tend to their regular yoga practice to improve overall energy, reduce stress whilst improving overall physical fitness, strength, stamina and flexibility.

So now that we know the benefits – which style of yoga is for you?

Let’s first define exactly what it yoga?

Yoga is a meditative ‘mind-body’ movement practice that involves both movement and controlled breathing and focus or as I like to call is “Moving Open-Eye Meditation). First popularised by the Indians in the mid-1800s it slowly gained its popularity in western cultures around the 1960s and 70s, being a remarkably similar practice to martial arts and tai chi.  Today the most popular types of yoga include Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Bikram (hot yoga) and Iyengar, shaped by their influential teachers throughout history. Each type has their own unique core principles, teaching styles, methodologies and physical benefits, all stemming from a yoga called Hatha.  The Yoga Journal broadly defines Hatha Yoga as:

“A set of physical exercises (known as asanas or postures), and sequences of asanas, designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. The postures are also designed to open the many channels of the body—especially the main channel, the spine—so that energy can flow freely.’

Although yoga isn’t traditionally a religious practice compared to other popular forms of “exercise,” yoga is more holistic in nature because it combines physical movement with controlled and conscious breathing techniques.  When yoga postures (or asanas)  unite with the regulation of breath (or pranayama) to bring about great meditative focus and aspects of relaxation, avid followers report life-changing improvements in both physical musculoskeletal conditions and mental health.

And that’s just the surface! Current studies are researching the benefits of yoga for diabetes risk, HIV and low immune function, arthritis, menopausal symptoms, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, addictions and smoking cessation.

Perhaps some of the most important benefits of yoga include:

1. Lowers Anxiety & Controls Stress

Regular yoga practice has been proven to diminish many physical effects of stress and anxiety by minimising the body’s natural inflammatory responses to stressful encounters.   Yoga does this by impacting the central nervous system (CNS) and immune system.  And even better, combine your regular yoga with other stress relievers such as walking outside and mindfulness meditation and compound your results!

Yoga brings attention to how we hold stress in our bodies.  Grinding our teeth,  clenching our jaw, shrugging our shoulders, tensing our necks and stiffening our bellies and lower backs, for example.  Research also suggests yoga can reduce symptoms of anxiety including a racing heart, high blood pressure, and sleeping problems.

2. Improved Sleep

If you have insomnia, regularly practice yoga for 4-8 weeks and you’ll start to see a positive effect on your sleep efficiency, total sleep time, total wake time, and sleep onset latency, the studies show.  It turns out yoga is one of the natural sleep aids you can trust.

Regardless if your poor sleep is the result of high stress, hormone imbalances or pain, which are the most common reasons for adults, regularly taking time away to recognise how you hold your stress is invaluable to stop your ‘fight or flight’ response getting worse.   yoga helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and decreases the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which can lower sleep disturbances and help treat symptoms of insomnia.

3. Improved Flexibility & ROM (Range of Motion)

A 2016 published study in the International Journal of Yoga has shown regular practice of yoga after 10 weeks can flexibility, balance and even various measures of performance in athletes. Your downward-facing dog, forward folds, twists, lunges, and postures that bring the knees toward the chest are your best bet to improve your flexibility.  Plus yoga improves the functioning of the psoas muscle, a deep abdominal core muscle which is linked to not only improved movement but also better emotional health, too, which is why it gets nicknamed the ‘soul muscle’.

4.  Prevent Falls with Improved Balance

If you’re an older adult you know how important maintain your balance is.  It helps you stay healthy and maintain your independence.

A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found yoga to be a “strong candidate for therapeutic intervention since it provides a comprehensive, integrated approach that can address multiple risk factors at once … this includes fear of falling, which can further limit activity level, increase anxiety, and reduce confidence.” Furthermore, the authors say the practice of yoga has a low rate of side-effects, low risk of injury and no known

interactions with prescription medications.

5. Reduce that “Brain Fog” & Fatigue

Let’s clear something up.  Fatigue and ‘brain fog’ in response to poor sleep are normal.  It’s actually a normal sign that your ‘internal clock’ is running smoothly.  Many people think they can function properly without adequate sleep.  Well, you can’t.   But unexplained fatigue and ‘brain fog’ isn’t normal and can cause problems, which is where yoga can assist.  Yoga is an effective way to boost clarity, focus, and energy, very important to physical and mental performance.  Yoga, as well as stretching, can hugely impact energy levels to feel more awake and alert, especially for those leading a sedentary lifestyle.  Just 10 minutes can be enough to get you back on track.

6. Improve Quality of Life with Less Pain

Studies show that certain yoga poses can help decrease lower back pain, neck pain, migraine headaches,  improve the ability to walk and move by managing arthritis symptoms and ease digestive discomfort. Improved flexibility and blood flow help to control pain.   Also, the ‘mental tolerance’ developed in yoga can help improve pain tolerance.  It’s proven that people who practice yoga have healthier levels of gray matter in their brains, associated with areas involved in pain modulation. This makes your best natural painkiller!

7. Help in Boosting Weight Loss & Building Muscle

Has someone ever told you that yoga doesn’t even count as exercise?  Well, they’re wrong.  Now some people would argue that it’s not moderate-vigorous enough, which is recommended for 30 min daily.  But there are a ton of other benefits that you simply can’t neglect. Certain types of yoga promote weight loss, weight maintenance, a reduction in inflammation, the balance of hormones, more control in appetite, an increase in muscle mass whilst benefiting the metabolism.  Plus studies show it can help with overcoming various body insecurities. Trusting your body, believing in your own healing and positive change whilst giving up resistance to aging, all emphasized in yoga have been shown to improve body image and eating disorders.

The Different Types Of Yoga

Part of what makes yoga seem intimidating to beginners is where to start.  Types of yoga include (but are not limited to):

Certain yoga styles tend to be more challenging and physically demanding than others. Benefits of yoga workouts can vary substantially depending on the specific type practiced.

Relaxing yoga classes to soothe stress or pain include Yin, Gentle and Restorative yoga.  Iyengar yoga moves at a slower pace with heavy attention placed to detail and postural alignment.

On the other hand Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Bikram, and certain Iyengar and Hatha classes challenge your stamina, strength, and coordination, depending on your specific teacher.

Ashtanga and Vinyasa pair both the breath and postures together and have “flow-like” qualities.  The speed, temperature of the room and specific postures performed can be varied to accommodate different ability levels.  So be prepared to work up a sweat.  The goal of Ashtanga yoga is to produce intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. Considered to be the most popular yoga practiced in western society it means ‘eight-limbed’ which refers to the eight limbs of yoga that are mentioned in the classical yogic text Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  The exact same poses are completed in the exact same order, making it a more disciplined and progressive practice than some other styles.

Vinyasa stands for “gradual progression” or “breathing system”, which describes the flow of movement in yoga linked to the breath, and the energy/force that helps yoga students release tension and benefit mentally and emotionally in other ways.

Hot yoga turns up the heat! Sometimes up to 40 degrees Celsius. This heat can increase flexibility, has detoxifying effects like your sauna or steam room and can be soothing for tight or tense muscles and allows you to push your body to new heights. Many find this type of yoga boosts energy and to be relaxing which in turn promotes better sleep. However, be sure to drink plenty of water and not have a big meal before class – and wear suitable clothing because you will get HOT!

So? What’s Next?

All that’s left now is to give it a whirl!  Although yoga is usually very safe even for older adults or those with injuries, it’s best to ask your healthcare provider if you have high blood pressure, asthma, glaucoma, sciatica or are pregnant first.  Otherwise enjoy some time to be present and be yourself outside your own comfort zone – the only place we ever grow.