Originating in India, yoga is an ancient practice comprised of a set of physical techniques and philosophical values that work to create balance and harmony between your body, mind, and spirit. Here’s what you should know about yoga, its numerous benefits, and the various styles of yoga taught today.

What is Yoga?

In the United States, yoga is most commonly known as a form of mat-based exercise where a series of postures called asanas are performed to strengthen, lengthen, and tone your body. However, asanas are just one aspect of yoga.

According to the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali, regarded by yogis as one of the foremost texts on yoga, traditional yoga is comprised of eight limbs called ashtanga, which includes asanas (physical postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), Dharana, and Dhyana (meditation). Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit term, ‘yuj’ which means ‘union’ or ‘yoke.’ The ultimate goal for any practitioner of yoga is to attain a state of complete oneness known as samadhi, where the body and universe are one.

What are the Different Types of Yoga?

There are many different styles of yoga you can practice depending on your level of intensity. Some popular styles of yoga include:

  • Hatha yoga–a mild practice perfect for beginners that focuses on the importance of breathing through each posture
  • Ashtanga yoga–an intense practice commonly known as power yoga. Practitioners move quickly from one posture to the next
  • Lyengar yoga–this style of yoga focuses on proper alignment of the body and frequently use props and aids as you move slowly from one posture to the next
  • Vinyasa yoga–also called flow yoga, this style offers a smooth transition from one asana to the next. Classes can be mild or rigorous in sequence and will vary depending on the teacher
  • Yin yoga–a gentle, slow-paced style of yoga where practitioners may hold one pose for several minutes, focusing heavily on lengthening and breathwork

What Are the Benefits of Yoga?

Cultivating a regular yoga practice—asanas, along with meditation and pranayama—offers numerous benefits. It can:

  • Improve your mental and emotional health
  • Increase your lung capacity
  • Improve your spinal posture, flexibility, and strength
  • Relieve lower back pain
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Improve digestion

What to Expect From a Yoga Class?

Unless otherwise specified, yoga classes welcome people of all ages with various fitness levels and backgrounds. Most classes range from an hour to 90 minutes in length and include moving through a series of asanas. Your instructor will often provide breathing cues—an important part of any class—to guide you through each posture. Each class usually ends in savasana, the final resting pose, where awareness is brought back to the body while the mind relaxes in a calm, meditative state.

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