The benefits of yoga

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The practice of yoga dates back over 5,000 years and is rooted in ancient Indian philosophies that connect the mind and body to improve overall health and wellnessi. Yoga comprises many poses known as asanasi and incorporates structured breathing and meditation techniques which cater to people of all levels and abilitiesii. Depending on your fitness goals, yoga offers an excellent form of exercise due to the wide range of styles available.

The cobra, pictured here, is one of the many yoga asanas.

Types of yoga

There are numerous types of yoga to choose from, each with some differences in the way that they are taught.

Hatha yoga is a predominantly Western form of yoga that focuses on the physical aspects of yoga practice such as stretching and strength with traditional posesiii. This type of yoga is usually good for beginners who are learning the basic poses. Iyengar and Kripalu yoga are also good for beginnersii. Iynegar yoga focuses on learning how to align your body so that you are correctly positioned in each pose; yoga blocks or other aids are sometimes usediii. Kripalu yoga is a very slow form of yoga which focuses on mind and body awarenessii. Ananda yoga is a traditional style of yoga that helps promote higher levels of self-awareness and inward reflection through silent self-affirmations during each poseiii.

More advanced forms of yoga such as Vinyasaiii and Ashtangaii yoga combine proper breathing techniques with smooth and quick transitions between poses. The faster pace of these types of classes can help with detoxing the body and improving circulationiii. Bikram yoga, also known as 'hot' yoga, is a form of yoga comprising 26 poses in a 40.5 degree Celsius roomiv. The intense heat can help your muscles relax which increases flexibility; however, there is also an increased risk of dehydrationiv. Bikram yoga may not be appropriate for people with cardiovascular conditions or other chronic illnesses such as diabetesii.

Health benefits of yoga

Yoga can have many positive physical and psychological benefits, with some of the most common being improved balance, strength and flexibility as well as reduced levels of stressi. Yoga's focus on the aspects of mind/body connection and emphasis on breathing techniques helps to promote relaxation, which over time can decrease stress levelsv. Most asanas are isometric, meaning they rely on holding muscle tension for a period of timei. With regular yoga practice, these isometric exercises can help to increase blood circulation and may lower blood pressurei. Weight-bearing isometric poses, such as the Downward-Facing Dog or the Cobra, can help to increase bone density and bone healthvi,vii. Even though there are many different types of yoga, each session will generally be a mixture of lying, sitting, standing and inverted, or upside down asanas along with a focus on breathing and meditationi. The combination of poses provides a whole body workout.

Regular yoga practice can help to improve strength, flexibility and balance as well as promote relaxation through meditation.

The increased strength, especially in the abdominal area, and flexibility that can be gained from regular yoga practice also help to improve posture. Good posture can help to increase energy levels, decrease abnormal wearing of joints caused by slouching and improve appearanceviii.

Which style of yoga is right for you?

The style of yoga you choose to try is likely to be largely dependent on your current fitness level and future fitness goalsix. If you are thinking of doing yoga for fitness and as a way to tone your muscles, a more dynamic type of yoga, such as Bikram or Ashtanga might be for youix. For a more mindful yoga practice, consider trying Viniyoga which focuses on longer stretches and a strong mind/body connectionix. Consult your doctor if you have any health or physical limitations that may impact your ability to achieve the poses.

The various styles of yoga all incorporate pranyama (breathing exercises) and should include the Savasana pose at the end of the session to help release any muscle or joint tension .

iBetter Health Channel 2014, Pilates and yoga - health benefits, viewed 24 November 2014,

iiRatini, M, DO 2014, 'Which style of yoga is best for you?', WebMD, viewed 24 November 2014,

iiiYoga Alliance 2014, Styles of Yoga, viewed 24 November 2014,

ivInternicola, D 2013, 'Some like it hot, but does it matter in yoga?', Reuters, viewed 24 November 2014,

vSeliger, S 2007, 'Yoga for stress management', WebMD, viewed 26 November 2014,

viTaylor, R. B. 2008, 'Weight-bearing exercise: 8 workouts for strong bones', WebMD, viewed 24 November 2014,

viiMcCall, T M.D. 2007, '38 health benefits of yoga', Yoga Journal, viewed 24 November 2014,

viiiPhysio Works, What are the benefits of good posture? , viewed 24 November 2014,

ixRatini, M, DO 2014, 'Which style of yoga is best for you?', WebMD, viewed 24 November 2014,

xAustralian Yoga Journal, Corpse pose, viewed 24 November 2014,