Yoga is having a moment, and if you’ve not already jumped on board, there’s never been a better time. As I write we’re currently savouring the joys of lockdown mark ii – yay… It is what it is, and I’ve long decided to make the best of the hand we’re being dealt because no amount of wishing it were otherwise is going to change the situation. With that in mind, I wanted to share some positivity by talking about the benefits of yoga for wellbeing.
If you’re intrigued but haven’t practiced yoga before, you may feel overwhelmed by all the different styles you’ve heard spoken about, and what equipment you need to give it a go.
Don’t panic! Here’s a run down of everything you need to know to as a beginner…
What Do I Need For a Yoga Class?
The beauty of yoga is that you don’t need much at all; these are my recommended items to get started:
- Comfortable, flexible, breathable clothing,
- Yoga mat (the range at Pixels is incredible – they come in an amazing variety of designs and colours!),
- Water bottle,
- Layers (if you’re attending a class, in case the room is chilly).
That’s it! And if you’re at home, you don’t even need all of those things!
Before we get to the benefits of yoga for mental health and wellbeing, let’s have a quick look at some of the different yoga classes you may have heard of…
Different Styles of Yoga
Every yoga class ends by placing your hands together over your heart, and saying ‘Namaste’ (nam-a-stay) with a little bow. Namaste is a Sanskrit word which translates to ‘salutation to you’, or ‘the divine in me bows to the divine in you’;
It means ‘I see you’, in the deepest and most profound sense.
But, this ritual is where parallels between various yoga classes often end; these are some of the most common types of yoga you may have heard of and what they each entail:
A more modern form of Iyengar yoga (see below).
Ashtanga is a series of yoga poses performed at an energetic pace and punctuated by half sun salutations. Ashtanga yoga benefits include a workout comparable to aerobic exercise.
Developed by Indian yogi Bikram Choudhury in the early 70’s, Bikram yoga is perfect for anyone who likes to sweat to feel like they’ve had a good workout. Choudhury formulated a sequence of 26 yoga poses designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles, and compress and ‘rinse’ the organs of the body. Bikram is practised in a heated room to help cleanse the body of toxins, and every class follows the same sequence of 26 poses.
Hatha yoga is simply the practice of yoga asanas (as opposed to chanting or focusing on breathing). Hatha classes are usually a gentle form of class focusing on common poses.
Similar in style to ashtanga, since each was developed by teachers who were themselves both taught by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Derived from the same teachings, iyengar and ashtanga share the same asanas, but with different approaches. Iyengar is ideal for beginners to learn correct alignment of postures.
Jivamukti means ‘liberation while living’ and teachers of this style of yoga encourage students to apply the philosophy of yoga to their lives outside of classes. Jivamukti often includes scripture readings, music, and chanting.
Kundalini yoga is said to have been designed to awaken energy in the spine, and as well as yoga poses, also includes meditation, chanting, and breathing techniques.
Ashtanga yoga taught with the benefit of one-to-one tuition, but in a group environment.
The focus of restorative yoga is all about relaxing and healing the mind and body, through postures held for up to 20 minutes. Props such as pillows and bolsters may be used to assist with holding poses.
Power yoga incorporates the vigorous style of ashtanga yoga, with a fitness-based approach. While yoga is not generally considered to be an aerobic exercise, some research suggests it can be equally good for you.
A more advanced class influenced by ashtanga yoga, vinyasa flow is an umbrella term for many styles of yoga. You may also hear it referred to as dynamic yoga, flow yoga, or flow-style yoga.
Classes are led from one pose flowing to the next, without teachers stopping to talk about the finer points of each posture. Students enjoy a fulfilling yoga experience and a good workout, but beginners may benefit from a slower class to start with.
Similar to restorative yoga, but with more focus on flexibility.
How Yoga Can Improve Wellbeing
Yoga has many benefits, for the body and the mind, and with so many styles there’s a style to suit everyone. No matter which you choose, these are some of the benefits you can expect to enjoy from practice:
Yoga For Strength
Holding challenging poses strengthens and tones muscles. This can aid with every day life, as well as helping to protect the body from injury.
Yoga For Balance
The focus on balance in yoga contributes to strengthening your muscles, and also builds incredible core strength which is vital for good posture. Poor postural alignment can lead to tension and/or pressure in the back, neck, and knees, and correcting this can alleviate associated pain.
Good balance can also minimise the risk of falls and assist with other exercise such as running, by decreasing the likelihood of injury.
Yoga For Flexibility
Many poses require challenging stretches to be held, and over time this leads to improved flexibility. Increased flexibility can help with tight hips and hamstrings, decreasing related aches and pains.
Yoga For Wellbeing and Mental Health
As well as the physical aspect of asanas, yoga encourages those who practice to slow down and focus on Ujjayi Pranayama (breathing techniques) and mindfulness. It’s well-documented that mindfulness can alleviate stress and facilitate wellbeing.
Yoga For Concentration and Improved Focus
Thanks to the mindfulness element, yoga helps lessen people’s distraction from their own thoughts, helping to achieve enhanced focus. Regular yoga practice may even improve reaction times, memory, and IQ.
Yoga to Fight Disease
Certain types of yoga (such as ashtanga and power yoga) offer the equivalent of an aerobic workout which is beneficial for fighting heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Yoga For Better Sleep
Since yoga tends to draw awareness to breathing and encourages meditation, it can be hugely advantageous for improved sleep. Yoga practice can reduce tension, and help you to relax and switch off – all of which smooth the transition from wakefulness to restful sleep.
Yoga For Beginners
There are many classes for differing levels available free online, so why not give it a try? Our family love it, even my little ones! Try Cosmic Kids for flows they’ll love, or Boho Beautiful for something a little (or a lot!) more advanced.