Yoga isn’t exactly the newest workout method out there. In fact, many Eastern cultures have been practicing yoga for thousands of years. The practice is believed to have started in ancient India during the 5th and 6th centuries when the primary focus was not so much on asanas (the physical practice) and more on meditation and pranayama (breath control).
After some time, movement was added to the practice of yoga and it evolved toward the more physical practice of yoga we know today like hatha, vinyasa, Bikram, and others. Starting in the 1980s, the Western world began to do yoga for exercise, and today more than 16 million Americans practice yoga yearly. While many of aspects remain the same — like the mind-body connection and focus on pranayama — yoga has also become quite the commodity as commercial styles like power yoga, heated yoga, goat yoga, and even aerial yoga gain popularity.
Whether trendy or traditional, no matter the style you choose to practice, you’ll still experience some of the most fundamental health benefits of yoga — eight of which we’ll cover below.
Different styles of yoga
Before we get into the health benefits of yoga, let’s go over some of the different styles you might encounter. Whether you have a gym membership, a class pack to a yoga studio, or prefer to practice in the comfort of your own home (we’re partial to the yoga classes in the 8fit app!), it’s important to know which style of yoga suits your preferences and needs.
To learn this, ask yourself: What do I want to get out of my yoga practice? Are you looking to reduce stress, meditate, stretch, or sweat? Do you like constant movement or would you prefer to hold a pose for a prolonged period? Read about each style below to decide what might work best for you.
Hatha yoga classes are great for beginners because they are generally slower-paced than other styles of yoga. If it’s your first time trying yoga, start with hatha to be exposed to the physical postures, with some spirituality and meditation trickled in.
Another style that is great for beginners is yin yoga. Yin is a slow-paced style of yoga with many seated postures that are held for longer periods of time (i.e., several minutes). If you’re looking for a good stretch, yin yoga is the place to be! Let gravity do most of the work, and you’ll leave class feeling extremely relaxed.
Restorative yoga is just that — restorative. In a classic restorative class, you’ll use props like blankets, pillows, straps, and blocks to ease your body into more relaxing postures that release tension gently and slowly. In a 60 or 90-minute restorative class, expect to only do a handful of postures and spend a lot of time meditating or doing breathing exercises.
Vinyasa yoga targets the stiffness and tightness in our bodies brought on by all the sitting we do in modern society. The style and sequencing can vary slightly depending on the studio or instructor, but most vinyasa flows are quite athletic and aim to increase yogis’ strength and flexibility. In a vinyasa yoga class, expect to move fluidly and use the breath to connect each posture to the next — it’s like a dance! Then, once the body is warm, expect to hold deep stretches for a longer period of time.
Founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, this type of yoga focuses on alignment and precision. In an Iyengar class, expect to be physically challenged as your instructor helps you perfect postures and get deeper into each one. You’ll use props like blocks, yoga straps, blankets and even ropes attached to the wall as tools to bring your body into the correct alignment.
Bikram or hot yoga
If you like the sound of Ashtanga, you might like Bikram too. Every Bikram class features the same 90-minute sequence of poses, so you’ll always know what’s coming your way. One of the key differences you have guessed from the name – the classroom is very warm (usually around 105° F with 40% humidity). Similar to Bikram, but with less rigidity, are general hot yoga classes, which is typically a vinyasa style flow. Heated yoga classes warm the body quickly, allowing you to move with power and deepen your postures right from the get-go.
If you’re looking for a more spiritual, yet still physical, practice, Kundalini style is worth checking out. The practice balances the spiritual with the physical practice and focuses on releasing the “kundalini energy” that’s trapped in the body. Expect to move fast, do a lot of core work, and try different pranayama exercises. Oh, and don’t be surprised if there is some chanting, singing or meditating.
Moms, this one’s for you! Whether you have an existing yoga practice or not, it’s valuable to seek out a prenatal yoga class if you have a baby on the way. Your prenatal yoga instructor will explain which poses and exercises are safe to do as your pregnancy progresses and also help you learn very valuable breathing exercises for 1) Labor and, 2) Parenting.
8 health benefits of yoga
In true 8fit fashion, we’ve got a list of eight health benefits and advantages of yoga for you. As you might have assumed from the descriptions of each style of yoga above, the perks go beyond just the physical benefits of yoga. A yoga workout does wonders for your physical body, but it’s also great for your mental health and overall well-being.
1. Sleep better
Like most physical activities, yoga helps improve your quality of sleep. In fact, there are even certain postures (like spinal twists, cat-cow, reclined butterfly and child’s pose) and meditation practices (yoga nidra) you can do before bedtime to relax your body into slumber.
2. Get stronger
Regular sun salutations — the sequence of plank, chaturanga, upward-facing dog and downward-facing dog — have a profound impact on upper body strength. Yoga poses like crescent lunge, chair pose, and warrior postures help increase leg strength.
3. Lose weight
Here at 8fit, we encourage you to move every day to help you reach your goals — especially if that goal is to lose weight. In between our signature 8fit HIIT workouts, add extra movement like walking, biking, or yoga. The low-impact movement will do your body good and help you reach your goals.
4. Decrease stress levels
Yoga teaches breathing techniques and stress coping mechanisms that you can take into your day-to-day life. Try this: If you’re feeling stressed, take 10 deep and deliberate breaths, focusing on feeling your breath enter and leave your body. After this, your head should feel clearer and your nerves calmed.
5. Reduce injury
Activities like running, biking, and swimming require repetitive movements and workouts like Crossfit and HIIT require you to work out at maximum effort. Both can increase your risk of injury and often increase muscles tightness. Yoga classes, especially ones with stretches that target your problem areas, are extremely beneficial. Not only will stretching make your body feel more limber, but it’ll also help your muscles recover faster and prepare for the next long run or HIIT workout.
6. Balance the body
In addition to increasing flexibility and bringing relief to sore muscles, yoga also helps balance the body. Think about last time you held a stretch: did one side of your body feel tighter than the other? Sitting with our legs crossed, carrying our bag on a certain shoulder, or doing the same workout day in and day out creates imbalances in our bodies — something a regular yoga practice can improve.
7. Improve posture
In creating all of that balance and strength, your posture is sure to improve with a regular yoga practice. Part of this postural improvement comes from the increase in core strength, part from back and shoulder strength, and part from having a deeper understanding of what it means to feel proper alignment.
8. Boost your immune system
Things like stress and overworking the body can weaken your immune system and increase inflammation. Yoga does wonders to reduce stress hormones and all that moving, stretching and twisting can help ease inflammation, improve digestion and even help with congestion.
For easy-to-follow yoga workouts, download the 8fit app today. After a few weeks of yoga, you’ll quickly see some of the health benefits of yoga take shape in your body.