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Yoga: health benefits beyond the mat

Yoga has been practiced for over 5,000 years and continues to gain in popularity today. The mass appeal of yoga is not surprising – yoga offers an array of health benefits from stress relief to strength building and the practice can be modified to suit virtually any skill level. Despite its many health benefits, some remain hesitant to give yoga a try – perhaps believing that yoga is only for the very flexible, athletic, or spiritual. There are many types of yoga and each caters to different personalities, fitness preferences and skill levels.

 

WHAT IS YOGA?

Yoga consists of a series of precise postures and movements that are designed to improve both strength and flexibility at the same time. The practice is combined with paying close attention to breathing and control of breath, as well as maintaining mental focus.

 

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COMMON STYLES OF YOGA

  • Vinyasa Yoga: a very fluid style of yoga linking each breath with a movement. This style tends to be faster-paced and is great for anyone looking for a more athletic workout.
  • Hatha Yoga: a classic form of yoga that most other styles have originated from. This style focuses on the foundational yoga postures, generally poses are held for 3-5 rounds of breath before moving to the next posture.
  • Yin Yoga: this type of yoga focuses on stillness and spending more time (3-5 minutes) in each pose to lengthen the connective tissue.
  • Restorative Yoga: a style of yoga that uses props (bolsters, blocks and blankets) to support the student fully in each pose. Poses are generally held for 10-20 minutes making this type of yoga very relaxing.
  • Hot Yoga (Bikram Yoga): a vigorous style of yoga performed in a heated and humid room. The challenging series of poses combined with heat is designed to raise heart rates and tire the muscles. Take extra caution to stay hydrated when practicing this style of yoga.

 

BENEFITS OF YOGA

Some of the physical health benefits of yoga include:
  • Improved flexibility
  • Improved strength and muscle tone
  • Better posture and balance
  • Improved spine protection 
  • Improved bone health
  • Increased blood flow and circulation
  • Reduced pain

Some of the mental health benefits of yoga include:

  • Relaxation and stress reduction/management
  • Improved sleep
  • Boosted self-esteem and sense of self-worth
  • Improved mood and outlook on life

 

 

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Yoga can be practiced by ANYONE regardless of age, physical fitness, body shape or size, injuries, or flexibility. The goal of yoga is not to be the strongest or most flexible person in the room – the idea is to connect with your own body and to work at your own pace.

 

SAFETY FIRST!

Here are some precautions to keep in mind while searching for a yoga practice that best suits you:

  • Before commencing a practice, be sure to speak to your instructor about any injuries, conditions, or mobility limitations that may impact your practice.
  • Bring along a bottle of water to stay hydrated (especially for hot yoga).
  • Wear breathable, body-hugging, stretchy, comfortable clothing - you’ll want your shirt to stay put when bending over or balancing on your head!
  • Take it slow – many poses are actually more difficult than they look. Take the time to learn how to do each pose properly before moving on to more advanced classes.
  • Try searching for a beginner’s class on Youtube to get a better idea of what to expect.
  • Learn the foundations of yoga from a qualified instructor to ensure you are performing the poses safely. Once you have a good handle on it, mix in some yoga videos at home.

 

Considering trying yoga? It's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional before embarking on a new exercising program.

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