In yoga, the body, mind, and soul are strengthened and calmed through asanas, breathing, and meditation. And that makes this ancient discipline one of the best all-around healing systems. Rediscover it.
Yoga is more than a practice; it is a way of life that heals, nourishes, and strengthens the body, mind, and soul through asana, breathing, and meditation. Practiced in India for thousands of years, it has become one of the most popular physical and mental fitness systems.
Hinduism is one of the most complex cultures in the world. Yoga is part of its religious, spiritual, cultural, and social traditions. Thousands of years ago, texts exist that include meditation, breathing, self-transcendence, and a series of postures that help the yogi purify the body, the asanas.
There are over a hundred types of yoga. Several styles are known and practiced in the West, derived from hatha yoga, one of the most dynamic. There are more spiritual styles, such as kundalini yoga, or more physically demanding ones, such as Bikram yoga, which is practiced in a hot room (at the usual temperature in India). There is also facial yoga to relax and tone facial muscles.
What are yoga and asanas?
Different asanas or postures are practiced in unison with the breath during a yoga session, typically lasting between an hour and an hour and a half. This is healthy for the body and the mind. The asanas have different difficulty levels, from the easiest for beginners to the most extreme for advanced practitioners.
Most classes begin with a warm-up exercise, the “sun salutation,” which involves a dynamic sequence of postures beginning in a standing position and leading to a warm-up and lubrication of the muscles and joints on the floor. This is combined with breathing, which helps us generate body heat and energy.
After the warm-up, we begin with asanas or static postures, always adopting one posture and the opposite to work the body and muscles in a balanced way. The asanas are performed with fluid movement in dynamic classes, such as Yoga Flow, Power, Dynamic, or Asthanga.
All yoga classes end with a relaxation period of about 10 to 15 minutes, during which the body and mind calm down. Depending on the style of yoga or the teacher, a final meditation may also be performed.
Yoga can be practiced in a specialized center or sports club, or after learning the correct technique and asanas, it is possible to have a personal practice, that allows us to train and calm the mind wherever we are.
The health benefits of yoga
The benefits of yoga in all its modalities lead to a great change, not only physically, in those who practice the many postures, as yoga provides mastery, balance, and inner peace. Asanas lubricate the organs, enhance blood flow and muscle flexibility, and support the health of the joints, muscles, and other body parts.
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to mobility restrictions and the closure of sports centers, exercising at home has become one of the best options, especially in cases where COVID-19 isolates one, and yoga is a perfect exercise for this purpose.
Moreover, it has the advantage that it can be practiced anywhere, as there is only enough space on the mat, making it perfect for practicing on vacation or in the quiet of one’s own home.
Besides working on muscles, strength, endurance, and balance, asanas massage the internal organs, activate metabolism (yoga generally burns a lot of calories, especially at rest), oxygenate the body, and improve bowel function. This is the case with inverted postures, which promote blood circulation and rejuvenate the body from within.
These are the main benefits of yoga:
Improves heart health: yoga helps improve coronary artery health and reduces cardiovascular risk, and is useful in treating patients with cardiovascular disease. A study by the University of Kansas Medical Center (USA) found that this type of exercise can reduce the risk of symptomatic episodes of atrial fibrillation by 31%.
Benefits for arthritis: According to a study, yoga can reduce the severity of physical symptoms, such as inflammation, and psychological symptoms, such as depression, in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Relieve back pain and improve mobility: Yoga can mobilize many joints and strengthen muscles. Therefore, one of the benefits of this type of exercise is a reduction in back pain and a significant improvement in mobility, according to a study in the International Journal of Yoga.
Improved overall fitness and postural correction: regular yoga energizes and improves health, strengthens and lengthens muscles throughout the body, corrects postural problems, and prevents joint disorders.
Helps control metabolic syndrome: practicing yoga three times a week for a year reduces abdominal fat and chronic inflammation in adult patients with metabolic syndrome and hypertension, according to a Hong Kong Polytechnic University study.
Reducing urinary incontinence: Weekly sessions of yoga postures can help women over 55 strengthen their pelvic floor, reducing episodes of bladder weakness by 51-74 percent.
Prevention of genetic obesity: yoga is a very effective activity in counteracting the genetic risk of obesity.
Reduced effects of cancer: The practice of yoga has been shown in numerous studies to improve the physical condition of cancer patients undergoing treatment. Benefits of this physical activity range from reduced fatigue and inflammation in breast cancer patients to improved radiation and hormone therapy effects in prostate cancer patients who practice Eischens Yoga.
The most common types of yoga
Kundalini yoga: uses the asanas of Hatha, but they are usually grouped into kriyas or postures with a single goal:
- Improve kidney function.
- Open the heart.
- Improve breathing capacity.
- Activate the lymphatic system.
- Release emotions.
Chants and mantras are interspersed throughout the classes, and the entire physical practice is geared toward a concluding meditation. Kundalini practitioners claim that this style of yoga awakens the Kundalini itself, the energy that lies dormant in all of us at the body’s base.
It is represented as a snake that, once awakened, moves up the body until it reaches the head. This style is ideal for those who want to explore and expose their emotions and those who want to begin meditating.
Iyengar yoga: developed by the teacher of the same name, is the most technical and perfectionist form of all. Iyengar yoga uses belts, blocks, chairs, blankets, and other tools to correct postures and improve the practice.
Ashtanga Yoga: is the most intense and dynamic of all styles and is suitable only for practitioners with good physical qualities. In this style, the same sun salutations and postures as Hatha Yoga are performed, but with jumps, balances, postures, and sequences typical of an athlete. This style is ideal for those who want to train hard, need a feeling of strength during exercise, or want to burn calories.
Bikram yoga: is one of the most original types of yoga. This style follows the Hatha yoga series but in a room with a temperature of about 40 degrees, similar to that in India. The heat stretches the muscles, and the body expels toxins through constant sweating. You should wear light clothes and a large water bottle to practice.
It is easy to find many other styles of yoga (Flow, Integral, Nauli, AcroYoga), especially in California, the place with the largest number of yoga practitioners in the world (as we understand it in the West).
Tips for practicing yoga
If you are ready to practice yoga, here are some tips for getting the most benefit from it:
- Look for a specialized center with teachers certified in their teaching style, especially if you have back problems or other conditions.
- Try several styles before choosing one. It can be said that there is a style for every type of person.
- Be patient, as lasting physical changes in yoga take time, and you should start very slowly, always performing the simple options indicated by the teacher. Otherwise, there is a risk of injury.
- Wear light, breathable, and very comfortable clothes for class. Always carry a sweatshirt, socks to keep warm while relaxing, and a water bottle in case you get thirsty during class.
- Drink water and fluids before, during (if necessary) and after class, but try not to eat at least two hours before the session.
- Leave your cell phone off during class; use the yoga session to disconnect from the world.