By Julia MacPhee C.H.N.C., Pn1. Certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant and Nutritional Coach, Certified Fitness coach and Yoga instructor.

 Are you curious about yoga?

Have you always wanted to try, but don’t really know where to start?

Have you said: ”I can’t do yoga, because I cannot touch my toes, or because I am not flexible”.

Or maybe you thought: “Yoga is too slow for me, I need more exercise than that”.

I hear these statements a lot from people who have never tried yoga and are  hesitant to start, or from athletes who have not yet had a good experience with yoga practice. Let’s change that! I hope this article provides some great information and inspires you to take the first step and get familiar with the beautiful practice of yoga.

You may be surprised to hear that yoga is not about flexibility! I believe that yoga is about building strength and moving your body in the way it is meant to move. Strength first, and the flexibility will follow. Anatomically, our bodies are built for movement. Think of all the joints and muscles in our body. These days we don’t move the way our ancestors used to move; and we miss out on the powerful benefits of movement. Yoga allows you to move your body in different planes, and in a way that is suitable for you at different stages of your life.

Yoga is an ancient practice that brings together mind, body and breath. Nothing in yoga happens without breath. Just like nothing in life happens without breath. I am going to paraphrase the wise words of my mentor: ”Breath is the first and the last thing available to us when we come to this planet and when we leave it”. Think about it for a moment.

Yoga practice incorporates breathing exercises, meditation and poses designed to encourage relaxation and to reduce stress, as well as poses that build strength.

Types of Yoga Classes

There are so many different types of yoga out there, whether you want a more physically demanding class or an easy, relaxing, meditative class.

Each style of yoga is a bit different from the other, and you’ll find variations depending on the teacher. Whether you are recovering from an injury, expecting your little one, or simply know your own body and its limitations – yoga practices can be modified to accommodate anyone on their wellness journey. A skillful and knowledgeable instructor is the key!! Giving a few styles and teachers a try before settling on your favourite will enhance your overall yoga experience; accommodate you wherever you are on your journey; challenge you to break out of your comfort zone and may be even cause you to break a little bit of a sweat.

Although there are many different styles of yoga, the basis of all yoga practices is connecting your breath to movement. It will take some practice, but once you have mastered this skill you will never go a day without a short yoga practice.

Let’s review a few styles of yoga and highlight the differences between them, so you can have the information you need when choosing a style of yoga that is right for YOU at this stage of your wellness journey.

  1. Iyengar yoga is the most original and traditional style of yoga. It was founded by B.K.S. Iyengar and focuses on correct and safe alignment as well as detailed and precise movements. Generally, poses are held for a long time while adjusting the minutiae of the pose. Iyengar relies heavily on props to help students perfect their form and go deeper into poses in a safe manner. This style is great for people with injuries who need to work slowly and methodically.
  2. Hatha yoga classes are best for beginners since they are usually paced slower than other yoga styles. If you are brand-new to yoga, Hatha yoga is a great entry point to the practice. In Hatha we usually hold poses a little bit longer and focus on foundations.
  3. Vinyasa yoga. Vinyasa means “to place in a special way” and, in this case, yoga postures. This type of yoga is the often considered the most athletic yoga style. Vinyasa was adapted from Ashtanga yoga in the 1980s. Many types of yoga can also be considered Vinyasa flows such as Ashtanga, Power yoga, and Prana yoga. So if you are looking to step it up a notch and challenge yourself physically, Vinyasa yoga class is for you.
  4. Kundalini yoga. Kundalini yoga practice is equal parts spiritual and physical. This style is all about releasing the Kundalini energy in your body said to be trapped, or coiled, in the lower spine. These classes are pretty intense and can involve chanting, mantra, and meditation.
  5. Ashtanga yoga is often called a Power Yoga. It involves a very physically demanding, exact sequence of postures, so this style of yoga is definitely not for the beginner. It takes an experienced yogi to really love it. Ashtanga starts with five sun salutation A’s and five sun salutation B’s and then moves into a series of standing and floor postures.
  6. Bikram yoga is named after Bikram Choudhury and features a sequence of set poses in a sauna-like room – typically set to 105 degrees and 40% humidity. It is believed that heat allows your muscles to relax more making you “more flexible”. A few precautions should be taken when practicing this type of yoga, including proper cool down, knowing your limits to not push the muscle beyond its capacity, and it is wise to speak to your medical practitioner before engaging in Bikram yoga, especially if you are pregnant or struggle with blood pressure issues.
  7. Restorative yoga focuses on winding down after a long day and relaxing your mind. At its core, this style focuses on body relaxation. Restorative yoga also helps to cleanse and free your mind. You spend more time in fewer postures throughout the class. Many of the poses are modified to be easier and more relaxing. Many props are used and are placed just right – such as blankets, bolsters, and eye pillows. All of the props are there to help you sink deeper into relaxation. It is great for beginners, if you are recovering from injuries, or simply as a way to step off the daily hamster wheel and dedicate time for self care.
  8. Yoga Nidra, also known as Yogic Sleep; is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the “going-to-sleep” stage, typically induced by a guided meditation. The regular practice of yoga relaxation has been found to reduce tension and anxiety, improve quality of sleep, and is believed to help with post traumatic stress disorder. It is among the deepest possible states of relaxation while still maintaining full consciousness. It is not a physical practice.

Benefits of Regular Yoga Practice

Aerial View of our Yoga in the Park class, at Bowness Park, Calgary

Now that you know what type of yoga class to look for, let’s briefly talk about a few of the many benefits of regular yoga practice; practicing yoga is said to come with many benefits for both mental and physical health.

Can Relieve Stress and Anxiety

Yoga is known for its ability to ease stress and promote relaxation. Practice teaches you to be present with your breath and to connect your breath to the movement; and simply be present with your body and mind. Slowing down your breath, slows down your mind; steady breath – steady mind.

Multiple studies have shown that yoga can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone.

Detoxification

Movement and deep breath stimulate your lymphatic system to move lymph through your body and eliminate toxins. Lymph carries debris and unwanted substances rejected by the circulatory system and takes them out of the body. Our lymphatic system also houses disease fighting cells. Unlike the circulatory system, the lymphatic system does not have a pump (like the heart); the only way to move the lymph throughout the body is through movement and deep breath. You will achieve both with yoga.

May Fight Depression

Some studies show that yoga may help decrease symptoms of depression.

This may be because yoga is able to decrease levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that influences levels of serotonin; the neurotransmitter often associated with depression.

Increases Quality of Life

Regular yoga practice increases flexibility and builds physical strength so you can move and function with more ease in your day-to-day life.

Studies have found that yoga may help improve sleep quality, enhance spiritual well-being and improve social function.

Bottom Line

Choose a style of yoga that it right for you, your goals and the stage of your life.

Many benefits of yoga are:

  • increased flexibility.
  • increased muscle strength and tone.
  • improved respiration, energy and vitality.
  • maintenance of a balanced metabolism.
  • weight reduction.
  • cardio and circulatory health.
  • improved athletic performance.
  • protection from injury.

But the most important benefit of yoga practice is that It increases your body appreciation. And when you love your body, you are going to treat it well.

Stay healthy, stay happy; never stop moving.

Namaste