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Health Benefits and Types of Yoga: What You Need to Know

Couple stretching outdoors

Originating in ancient India, yoga has become a popular exercise option – either on its own, or as a supplement to an established fitness routine. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned yogi, there is a style of yoga for everyone and to suit almost every need. With so many types to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start and more importantly, how yoga can improve your health. Before you step onto your mat, learn about the different styles of yoga, as well as how a regular practice can help you stay healthy.

Health Benefits of Yoga

From lowering blood pressure to relieving the pain associated with arthritis, yoga’s health benefits are numerous and well-documented. In addition to positively influencing your health physically, yoga can also improve your mental health. Individuals who regularly practice yoga are typically more relaxed, and struggle less with depression and anxiety. For older adults who choose to practice, the list of positives is even more impressive, and include:

  • Lower Inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked to several diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. Several studies suggest that a regular yoga practice might reduce chronic inflammation.
  • Improved Flexibility and Balance. Loss of flexibility in our muscles and connective tissue is a common part of the aging process. A regular yoga practice can help loosen tight muscles and keep them flexible.
  • Build Muscle Strength and Tone. Typically found in older adults, sarcopenia is the loss of skeletal muscle mass. Weight-bearing poses like Warrior I, Warrior II, as well as Downward Dog are great for increasing strength and improving muscle tone.
  • Lower Blood Pressure. Linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke, it is important to control high blood pressure. Several small studies have suggested a regular yoga practice could help to lower your blood pressure.
  • Better Sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep can be more of a challenge as we age, which is a concern since sleep deprivation has been linked to several chronic conditions, including high blood pressure and obesity. Several studies suggest that individuals who practice yoga regularly fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and wake-up feeling more rested.

There are simply too many benefits to list here – but if you are interested in learning more about how a regular yoga practice can improve your health, start here.

Couple practicing yoga

In addition to positively influencing your health physically, yoga can also improve your mental health.

Yoga Styles – Which One is Right for You?

If you have felt confused after glancing at the class schedule for your local yoga studio, you aren’t alone. Hatha, ashtanga, vinyasa – where to start and what to pick? Listed below are a just a few of the more popular styles, including descriptions and who the class might benefit most. Before getting started, be sure to discuss any health issues or injuries with your teacher, who can offer modifications for you.

Hatha yoga

Perhaps the most popular style of yoga in Western culture, hatha is a bit of a catchall term – referencing any style of yoga that combines yoga poses with breathing exercises. Typically slower-paced than other forms of yoga, hatha incorporates basic yoga poses, making it perfect for beginners.

Best for: New yogis, or anyone who wants to leave their mat feeling loose and relaxed.

Ashtanga yoga

If you are seeking a faster-paced style of yoga, ashtanga might be right for you. Following a prescribed series of poses that increase in difficulty, but never vary in order, this style of yoga is physically demanding. Ashtanga is better suited for experienced yogis, as you are expected to know the required series of poses before attending class.

Best for: Experienced yogis who crave routine and structure.

Vinyasa yoga

With its roots in ashtanga yoga, vinyasa seeks to connect movement to breath, with students flowing from one pose to another. Similar in intensity to ashtanga, vinyasa yoga provides an invigorating physical workout. The styles differ in how the practice is structured – ashtanga is always the same series of postures, while vinyasa can vary poses and sequences. Because no two classes are the same, vinyasa is a good choice for yogis who are easily bored with a routine.  

Best for: Experienced yogis who crave variation and freedom to explore how far they can push themselves.

Iyengar yoga

Not as well-known as other types of yoga, iyengar focuses on proper alignment within each pose. While classes are slower-paced, students are challenged physically and mentally to hold individual poses for an extended period of time. Props are often used to accommodate for imbalances or injuries – allowing students to safely go deeper into each pose. Iyengar is great for beginners, as well as those struggling with injuries.

Best for: Beginner or injured yogis.

Restorative yoga

A gentle, passive style of yoga, restorative yoga focuses on relaxing your mind and body. Restorative yoga also relies on the use of props like bolsters and blankets, which allow students to relax deeper into each pose. Take a restorative yoga class and you will leave feeling relaxed and refreshed – making it a good choice for everyone.

Best for: Yogis seeking to relax their minds and bodies.

If you are interested in learning more about the different styles of yoga, here is an easy to understand primer. Before starting any new exercise routine, we suggest consulting with your physician.

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