05 May Weight Loss to Less Stress: The Benefits of Yoga
Once a niche corner of fitness, yoga has become as commonplace as dumbbells and treadmills. Science is only now revealing the benefits of yoga that people knew about over 3,000 years ago.
From weight loss to stress reduction, yoga has been shown to promote both physical and mental fitness. Is it any wonder why it’s become so popular?
According to a study published in Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, the number of Americans practicing yoga increased to over 36 million in 2016, up from 20.4 million in 2012.
Let’s take a look at the different types of yoga, proven benefits, exercises for beginners, and how to safely start your yoga journey.
Types of Yoga
Not all yoga classes are created equal. Your experience and evolvement as a yogi depends on the type of class and methodology of sequencing used by the instructor(s). Some classes are more beginner friendly and teach the basic fundamentals, while others are structured to be more challenging and build off those fundamentals for the experienced practitioner. Remember: depending on the studio, the class may be fully or partially scripted. If the sequence is fully scripted, it will be the same order of poses each and every time; if it is partially scripted, then the instructor must follow the outline, but does have some creative freedom to input. Listed below are the primary areas of practice and what you can expect to experience!
Hatha is an excellent starting place for beginners. With slower transitions and longer held postures, this style helps one learn and master foundational movements and poses. Unlike ashtanga or vinyasa, the poses are static, not fluidly linked together and usually held for 3-5 breaths. Depending on the instructor/studio, the class may be goal oriented (ie. hip opening, building better balancing) or work towards a “peak pose,” such as an inversion.
Ashtanga focuses on the traditional set of vigorous yoga poses and is recognized as the origin of modern vinyasa. This class fluidly moves from pose to pose, syncing breath to movement. For example, inhalation guides the yogi into cow pose, while the exhalation moves them into the counter stretch, cat pose. Depending on the instructor/studio, the class may be fully scripted and consist of the same order of postures every time. This is helpful for both beginners and more seasoned students to strengthen poses in order to progress to an advanced variation. Other teachers may vary the order of operations to bring an element of variety to practitioners, or create the class according to a theme or peak pose.
Vinyasa flow is the most creative, expressive type of all practices. Like Ashtanga, you will move fluidly connecting breath to movement. There is no set format, although it is common for studios to have a partially scripted, branded class to provide some consistency for students and teachers. In general, the classes are designed like a pyramid- begin slowly with a warm up (commonly involving sun salutation A, B or C), gradually build momentum, then slow down with a floor series and end in savasana.
Once you start taking Yin yoga, you might feel like you’re taking a step back…until you go through your first deep pose. This style is intentionally slow, long holds to penetrate the deep layer of connective tissue in the body called fascia. It is most often guided to be restorative, injury preventative and meditative with most poses taking place on the ground with props to help provide accessibility and maintainability for the student. You can expect to sit back, relax and stay in the same posture for 2-10 minutes.
Bikram (Hot Yoga)
Developed more than 30 years ago by Bikram Choudhury, this is the original hot yoga. Students can expect to practice a set sequence of 26 postures, taught at a high intensity with little regard for modifications or amplifications. The focus of this practice is purely discipline and endurance.
Benefits of Yoga
Longtime practitioners will cite yoga as a cure for just about anything. We want to cover the benefits of yoga but only those that are based on studies and clinical trials. Here are the benefits of yoga that are the most agreed upon in the scientific community.
Alleviates Stress and Anxiety
With anxiety and depression competing for the top spot as the most diagnosed mental illness, there has been a shift away from medication to more natural remedies.
Normally, when we get stressed, our cortisol levels spike and our bodies enter a fight-or-flight mode. Yoga has been shown to produce an effect in the brain that is opposite of this natural reaction, helping to reduce the stress hormone and response. 
Increases Confidence and Positive Mood
Continuing with the point above, studies have found that outside of alleviating stress, yoga also helps to increase a person’s mental focus, confidence, and overall positive mood. 
Boosts Brain Power
Whether you’re due to take a test or go through a job interview, mental stress can impact the results. Studies suggest that consistent yoga practice can improve your cognitive performance.
One study found that subjects who practiced yoga before a test scored significantly higher than their counterparts, especially in the areas of working memory tasks. 
Improves Sleep Quality and Length
People wear their lack of sleep like a badge of honor. In reality, skipping on sleep can increase your chances for other illnesses, especially cognitive diseases.
Adding yoga exercises into your normal workout routine has been shown to improve overall sleep quality and how long you stay asleep. 
Find Your Tribe
Yoga is well-known for being a place where you’ll be able to find like minded individuals who can support you on your fitness journey.
Studies show that yoga studios tend to be a community-oriented center that encourages every member of the class to move at their own pace. This helps to remove the stress and anxiety that can come with trying something new. 
Complements Treatments for Depression
While not a cure-all, yoga has been shown to decrease cortisol levels while simultaneously increasing serotonin levels. Cortisol is the fight-or-flight hormone that drives our stress response while serotonin is associated with happiness. 
The most cited benefit of yoga is how effective it is for increasing flexibility. Numerous studies have demonstrated that yoga effectively activates the stretch reflex, which can promote flexibility when performed consistently. 
Burns Calories and Supports Weight Loss
Dozens of studies have confirmed that yoga is an effective tool for weight loss. This goes beyond the surface level of physical exercise. Researchers believe that yoga is an effective method for weight loss due to the removal of environmental stressors and the increase in support from the instructor and other members. 
Given that yoga focuses on extended holds of bodyweight exercises, it should come as no surprise that practitioners remark on increased levels of strength.
One study found that when compared to the control group, the subjects performing Hatha yoga showed significant improvements in both strength and endurance. 
Traveling? Work Out on the Road with Yoga
Bring your workouts with you when you’re traveling for pleasure or business. Yoga workouts only require enough space to do a push-up, so yoga workouts are hotel friendly.
If you’re in a hostel, do your workouts in the common area or a nearby park.
Yoga Exercises for Beginners
Here are the top ten most common yoga exercises along with descriptions on how to perform them.
Move through each posture above in the same order as listed. Spend several deep breaths in each post. Repeat the sequence up to four times.
Mountain Pose: Used as a beginning pose or active recovery- this pose is done by standing tall, arms down by your sides with palms facing outwards. Though it is simple, all muscles should be engaged: feet charged to the floor, knee caps lifted by subtle contraction of quadriceps, low belly firm, shoulders open and back, long neck, crown of the head lifts.
Forward Fold: Inhale arms overhead, exhale arms open wide, hinge at the waist and fold forwards over thighs (knees straight or bent).
Halfway Lift: Inhale lift your chest halfway, maintain a long, neutral spine by engaging your core or placing hands to shins. Gaze forwards not down, shoulders lift up and back as sternum presses down and forwards. Exhale fold forwards again, chest presses to thighs.
Plank: Come into a push-up position shoulders over wrists, bring big toes together, engage legs, then engage your core by tightening front ribs in towards back ribs. Again, work to maintain a long, neutral spine, gaze forwards not down.
Chaturanga: From plank, shift forwards as if peaking over an edge- then hug elbows in towards the rib cage, shoulders pull behind the heart and lower softly to your belly.
Cobra: From your belly, toes point straight, quads flex to lift knee caps, hip bones press to the ground, thumbs align at pectoral line, elbows stay close to rib cage, inhale lift head, neck and shoulders into a subtle backbend (cobra). This pose is a lift not a push, so there should be little to no weight in the fingertips, and glutes remain relaxed. Only use the strength of your low back and press down through the tops of the feet to lift your chest.
Downward Dog: From plank or table top position- lift hips up and back, creating a strong, inverted V-shape with your body. All ten fingers grab the floor, pointer finger and thumb create a J-shape, biceps spiral inwards towards ears, shoulders actively protract down towards wrists, while head relaxes between arms. Low belly stays active to assist hips pressing back, hamstrings open up, heals stamp to the floor (legs may be straight or bent).
Chair Pose: Ideally both feet are together (if not, that’s okay!), squeeze ankles, knees, inner thighs together, tailbone draws down towards heals to avoid arching low back, rib cage knits in towards the midline (avoid letting ribs flare out, core is super active here!). You should be able to see all ten toes, so take a peak down and make sure that’s happening, if not, work to get your knees behind ankles, which often means you must sit lower. Begin with hands at your heart, shoulders pull back behind chest, then if this can be maintained- start to lift your arms straight overhead, baby fingers rotate in, shoulders relax down your back.
Warrior I: For example sake, let’s imagine we are doing the right side, so your right foot is leading the way at the top of your mat, left foot plants near the back. This is a long, strong stance- and most importantly, your hips are squared, so widen your feet as much as you need to make this happn (usually wiggling your right foot to the right is enough). Back leg (left) remains straight, as you bend into your right knee. To maintain the stance, pull your right hip forwards and left hip back, hug your belly in, close the gap between low ribs and hips (imagine pulling your rib cage down with your exhalation), inhale both arms over head, shoulders relax down and back.
Warrior II: Again, let’s imagine we are doing the right side, so your right foot is near the top of your mat. Start in a wide legged position with both heels aligning on the right edge of your mat, hands to your hips. Pivot your right foot forwards, but ensure both hips stay perfectly aligned under shoulders. Now with your front foot pointing to the top of the mat, your back foot (left) is at a strong parallel with the short end, back of the mat. Bend deeply into your front leg, right quadricep should be parallel to the floor, shin lined up with ankle (avoid letting it track forwards), arms open wide horizontal, shoulders squeeze into your back, right hip hugs down and back towards the left inner thigh. Left leg is strong and straight, then isometrically squeeze legs together.
Faster Fitness Now Offers Yoga
We want you to experience the benefits of yoga with us!
That’s why we’re thrilled to announce that we now provide yoga for all of our members with our Faster Flow sessions.
These sessions are a part of our Group Personal Training program, which also helps you get leaner and athletic.
Click here to learn more about our program today!
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