We’ve already mentioned that when it comes to types of exercise that relieve stress, yoga is great. But why is it such an effective all-round work out, and why has it been embraced by so many different people from world-class athletic coaches to rehabilitation specialists, from lithe spiritualists to muscle-bound footy players?
One of the great things about yoga is that there are many alternative styles, and while they all stem from the same belief system of body, mind and soul working in together through a sequence of poses or asanas (yoga roughly translates as “to unite” in Sanskrit), there is enough variety across them to allow each of us to find a method that suits. Here’s a handful of examples:
- Ashtanga – a vigorous practice, flowing rapidly through established series of poses, known as Vinyasas
- Bikram – Based on 26 postures followed in strict series, and taking place in a heated room @ 38-40 °C. It’s hot and energetic.
- Hatha – all encompassing term for the physical styles of practice in Western cultures, but when used by an Australian studio to describe a class, it usually means an introductory practice that covers basic postures, sequences and breathing techniques
- Pre-natal – postures developed specifically for pregnant women, to counter some of the discomfort faced while carrying, ideally speeds up time spent in labour, and can also help you get your body back into shape after birth.
- Restorative – A passive style of yoga that uses props such as straps, bolsters and rugs to prop the body into a slow series of simple poses, spending 15 or 20 minutes relaxing into each one for maximum benefit. Great for rehab, it’s also become a popular class for stress-heads, creating a relaxing environment where they’re obliged to chill out.
Even those of us who introduce yoga into our life for purely physical reasons – for example as a disciplined route to stretching safely, or as complementary exercise to our gym schedule – we soon learn to appreciate the meditative aspects of the practice, and eventually embrace the idea of body and soul working in conjunction to focus, support, heal and relax.
The benefits of yoga are plentiful
- The controlled yet rigorous poses rapidly build muscle tone.
- The focus on core strength improves posture and balance, and with that comes empowerment from confidence in your own body.
- The mental acuity developed with regular practice serves to improve concentration and memory.
- Menopausal women who take part in yoga classes have reported a reduction in incidence and severity of hot flushes. Indeed, the anecdotal evidence of yoga’s ability to reduce anxiety has led to the US’s National Institute of Health sponsoring major empirical research to clarify these links.
Regular practice offers satisfying feedback on improvement in your body and concentration – the consistency of poses allows you to compare progress week on week. And yet it is a completely non-competitive form of keeping fit. You can work at your own pace, and – with the help of your teacher – find poses that accommodate your weakness, and stretch your abilities. And ultimately, this is the great appeal of yoga: although images of expert yogis in extreme postures can seem so intimidating, the nature of the asanas and the practice of expanding your limitations is such that you begin to believe that the impossible may just be achievable, one day…