Taking care of ourselves by eating right, exercising, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep is common sense. That doesn't mean we all do it. But information and knowledge of the benefits are there. In today's post, I'm going to offer my thoughts on the benefits of yoga and encourage you to make it a part of your routine.
For those not familiar with yoga and where to start, I thought it best to do this in two parts. In part 1, I'll introduce you to some of the different kinds of yoga and summarize each one. We've tried many. I'll share my thoughts on those.
In part 2, I'll tell you about the many benefits of yoga. Trust me. Yoga is much more than improving flexibility.
A word to men
Let me speak to the men reading this for a moment. Don't click away. Stay with me for a minute.
Would you agree that we men often let our egos keep us from doing many things that are good for us? We're the hunters and gatherers. We're the protectors. We don't want to appear weak. Nor do we like to admit when we're wrong. Of course, there are exceptions. In general, though, we're wired differently.
Some of us feel yoga is something women do. Be honest. You've thought that, haven't you? The yoga classes my wife, Cathy and I take are full of men. I'm talking about some bodybuilder kind of guys. For the record, yoga is hard. It's no joke.
By the end of this two-part series, I hope to convince men and women to try yoga. I'll introduce you to various styles of yoga so you can find one that best fits you. I'll also tell you what it's done for Cathy and me.
Science has a lot to say about the benefits of yoga. So you don't have to take my word for it. There is ample evidence to back up my claims. I'll share some of that.
Let's get started.
Yoga – Why You Should Do It
What is yoga?
Here's how dictionary.com defines the word:
noun (sometimes initial capital letter)
- A school of Hindu philosophy advocating and prescribing a course of physical and mental disciplines for attaining liberation from the material world and union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.
- Any of the methods or disciplines prescribed, especially a series of postures and breathing exercises practiced to achieve control of the body and mind, tranquillity, etc.
- Union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.
The literal meaning of the word yoga in Sanskrit is union. That fits definition #3 above.
Definition #2 nails it –any of the methods or disciplines prescribed, especially a series of postures and breathing exercises practiced to achieve control of the body and mind, tranquillity, etc.
In yoga, instructors take you through a series of postures or asanas. Breathing is an integral part of practicing yoga. When we work out at the gym, be it aerobic or weight training, we seldom focus on our breathing. We're pumping on our bikes, treadmills, or ellipticals trying to catch our breath (assuming we're working hard) rather than controlling it. When we lift weights and work on muscle strength, we may know how to breathe, but usually, forget to put it into practice when weight training.
In yoga, one of the main focuses for the instructors is breathing. It has benefits far beyond the yoga room that I'll talk about in part 2. Before we do, let me introduce you to the various types of yoga.
Types of yoga
There are numerous types of yoga. I'll start with the ones we've practiced and introduce you to others which we have not. My disclaimer before describing the styles is this – I'm not an expert. Much of what I'm about to write I've pulled from other sources. Most of the descriptions below came from the MBG (mind-body green) Movement website.
Think of Hatha yoga as the umbrella that encompasses many other styles of yoga. Hatha is a Sanskrit term that describes the physical postures involved in yoga. There are forms of yoga that have a more spiritual element to them. Hatha yoga, at least in the west, describes the physical postures and practice. All of the yoga we've practiced has been a form of Hatha yoga. It consists of going into and out of various poses while focusing on breathing.
Hatha yoga is considered beginners' yoga. However, some types take that to the extreme. I'll share our experience with that too.
Bikram yoga is where we started doing yoga together. Looking back on it, I can't imagine we did it for so many years. Bikram yoga got its name from the founder, Bikram Choudhury. It is the hottest of the hot yoga classes. The room temperature is 105 degrees with a humidity of 40%. If that sounds crazy, it's because it is!
The class is for ninety minutes. It consists of doing the same 26 postures every time. About half are standing postures, and half is on the floor. You go through each posture twice. You hold them for more extended periods than Ashtanga or Vinyasa. The heat is as insane as it sounds. The instructors have all been through the Bikram training. It consists of twelve weeks doing yoga multiple times a day in that heat. Whew! I can't imagine what that's like. Each one says and does pretty much the same thing in every class. It is most definitely not for everyone.
As it turns out, the founder, Bikram, is a terrible person. He has been charged with sexual misconduct by multiple women. He fled the country to avoid prosecution. Many of the local studios where we started have cut ties with his organization and gone to other styles of yoga. It's a sad, sad tale of a man who began something excellent; and whose character has ruined the name of the practice that bears his name.
Ashtanga yoga is a relatively intense type of yoga. In Sanskrit, Ashtanga translates as “eight limb path.” In Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga, the warm-up periods are called “sun salutations.” There is a Sanskrit name for it that I'm not going to attempt. Essentially, sun salutations are a series of movements and postures designed to warm up the body and build heat in the muscles. There are two sun salutations in these styles. They are sun salutation A and B. The salutation A has fewer movements and is less strenuous. Sun salutation B is faster with more moves and a higher degree of difficulty.
In Ashtanga, the warm-up consists of going through five sun-As and five sun-Bs. From there you move into a series of standing postures followed by a series of floor postures. The full Ashtanga practice is a ninety-minute class. In our gym's yoga studio, we do a shortened version that is sixty minutes. I've heard people say this is a beginner's class. I disagree. The postures are common yoga postures, yes. The instructors give detailed instructions on moving into and out of them.
It's a pretty physically demanding practice. If you've never done yoga and would not consider yourself to be in particularly good shape, I'd suggest not starting yoga with an Ashtanga class.
In Sanskrit, vinyasa means “to place in a special way.” Don't ask me how these Sanskrit meanings fit into the yoga styles. That's above my pay grade. I find them interesting. It's all part of the yoga culture, I guess. Anyway, Vinyasa is our preferred style of yoga. Other names you may hear for vinyasa are power yoga and flow. Ashtanga is also a type of vinyasa yoga.
Where Ashtanga has the postures set each time, Vinyasa is more free-flowing. Vinyasa includes sun salutations A and B, and add a sun salutation C. The sun-C builds off the A and B. If this all sounds confusing, it's because it is. It takes some time and practice to get the hang of yoga.
It's called flow or power yoga because each instructor is free to design their styles in the sun salutations. Some are more intense than others. We like going to different teacher's classes. It mixes things up and works different parts of the body more intensely, depending on the instructor.
In our studio, they offer heated and unheated flow classes. We prefer hot classes. The room temp is 95 degrees with a 60% humidity. Yup, you're going to sweat. By the end of the class, you've gone through a total body workout, including aerobics. You most definitely get your heart rate going.
I've learned that many people had no idea yoga is a total body workout that gets the heart rate up. It's as hard a workout as you'll do in the gym.
If you've never done yoga before and the descriptions above intimidate you, then Yin yoga is for you. It is a great way for anyone to try yoga. Yin poses are seated postures held for longer periods. Depending on the teacher and the poses, that could be from 45 seconds to several minutes. If you want to unwind at the end of a tough day, Yin is your ticket. It's relaxing but still a workout. You will stretch and strengthen muscles in a gentle way.
Like with other types of yoga, you only go as far in the poses as your body allows. Classes are typically sixty minutes. Unlike the other forms, this isn't about getting your heart rate up. At our gym, the Yin classes are called surrender classes. That's an appropriate descriptor for Yin.,
If you want to ease into yoga, start with a Yin class.
Cathy and I have, and continue to do all of the above styles of yoga except Bikram. We get everything we want and need out of our hot Vinyasa classes – we sweat, build strength, build flexibility, and get our heart rates up. We mix in Ashtanga and Yin for variety.
There are a few other styles you may find. Restorative yoga, as the name suggests, is one of the least intense forms of yoga. You'll do fewer and less strenuous postures and hold each one for longer periods. It's designed to slow you down and create relaxation, both physically and mentally.
Kundalini yoga is both physical and spiritual. I have not done Kundalini yoga. Here's how the MBG (mind-body green) Movement website describes Kundalini – “This style is all about releasing the kundalini energy in your body said to be trapped, or coiled, in the lower spine. These classes really work your core and breathing with fast-moving, invigorating postures, and breath exercises. These classes are pretty intense and can involve chanting, mantra, and meditation.”
Three other styles mentioned are prenatal yoga (self-explanatory), Anasura yoga, and Jivamukti yoga.
Where to start
Most local gyms have some yoga classes as part of the membership. We've found that many have limited choices. The Gold's gym where we were members just had a few classes. They did not have a separate yoga studio. Instead, they held them in an area where other fitness classes met. They offered Vinyasa and Yin classes at limited times.
Our current gym, Lifetime Athletic, on the other hand, has a dedicated yoga studio that's as good as any we've tried. We've found that to be very unusual. They offer Vinyasa (heated and non-heated), Ashtanga, Yin (surrender), Root (a similar, less intense style than Ashtanga), and FIRE (which we haven't tried), a high tempo very intense workout.
Outside of a gym like Lifetime, you'll probably have to go to a dedicated yoga studio to get the best options.
Yoga is by no means a cheap sport. That's a deterrent for many people. I suspect if you're a personal finance blogger reading this post, you will likely decide on another way to stay healthy.
For us, the gym gives us everything in one place. Lifetime is more expensive than our Gold's membership. However, the price we pay for our couple's membership is what we would have to pay for one membership at most of the yoga studios. It's crazy.
The yoga studios in our area are range from $125 – $175 per month per person for unlimited classes (I told you it was expensive). That's like adding a car payment to the budget.
To try yoga out, you can buy a package of sessions. Where we live, individual sessions, called drop-ins, are $20 each. You can purchase packages like unlimited sessions for two weeks, a package of ten or twenty, etc. All those offer discounts over the drop-in sessions. Most studios offer a good discount if you buy an annual membership.
Even with the discounts, it's going to be more expensive than joining most gyms. I'd still encourage you to give it a try.
For those who have thought about but never tried yoga before, I hope this motivates you to give it a shot. You can enter at any level that fits your personality, confidence and fitness levels. There is a yoga for everyone.
If you are in good shape, work out regularly, both with strength and aerobic exercise, you'll do fine with any of these styles. Bikram may be an exception. If you don't like it hot, can't or don't sweat, stay away from Bikram. Because of Bikram, the man, there are fewer and fewer studios around. You are much more likely to find the other styles mentioned.
Be sure to come back for part 2 where we'll talk about the benefits you can expect to get from yoga. I'll share how it's helped us and the benefits we've gained from it. For those evidence-based readers, I'll provide some data on what scientific studies say about it and link to some of those resources.
Thanks for staying with me. I'll see you back here for part 2.
Now it's your turn. Do you practice yoga? If so, what type. How has it helped you? What challenges have you found in your practice?
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