You may have noticed that people have literally fallen head over heels in love with yoga. Practitioners of this ancient activity have increased by 50 percent in the last four years alone. All these people are onto something. The benefits of yoga combine elements of physical strength and flexibility along with mental focus, meditation, and relaxation techniques. This combination can create what some refer to as a natural high, which is actually the result of interruption of the biological stress response and a resulting mind-body connection. With the high stakes of stress on health—consistent stress increases risk of early mortality—it’s easy to see why people are turning to yoga for a way to subdue the stress. In addition to relaxation, practitioners enjoy countless other yoga health benefits, and they may even use yoga for weight loss. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced yogi, there’s a wealth of styles to choose from and explore.
Yoga to Improve Circulation: Bikram
The circulation of blood in your body is extremely important to your overall health. When your bloodstream is healthy and well-circulated, it provides energy, supports cell growth, and benefits organ function. Any exercise is better than no exercise when it comes to improving your circulation, but yoga is especially beneficial because it gets your whole body moving.
A study from the University of Texas at Austin found that both Bikram and Hatha yoga had a positive impact on circulatory health. If you really want to get your motor running, Bikram’s the style you’ll want to use.
Bikram yoga is a series of 26 postures performed in a room that’s been heated to at least 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40 percent humidity. Keep in mind that this sweaty session can be an intense form of exercise. Make sure to hydrate, and keep in mind that some people should see a doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
Yoga for Weight Loss or Increased Mindfulness: Vinyasa
Mindfulness is an attentive state of presence in the current moment. It is a simple concept that can be surprisingly difficult to achieve.
Imagine two scenarios. In the first, you grab a pizza on your way home from work and plop down in front of the TV to eat. You consume absentmindedly, and before you know it, you’ve eaten the entire pizza, leaving you feeling uncomfortably full and lethargic. Sound familiar? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.
Now imagine a different night—one when you instead plan and prepare a simple meal. As you chop up herbs and vegetables, you soak up the smells and imagine where the vegetables were grown. You visualize all the energy that went into tending to, harvesting, and transporting the food, and when you finally get to taste your meal, you slowly savor each bite. This is mindful eating, and it’s just one way to apply mindfulness. But research suggests practicing one kind of mindfulness can influence other areas, too.
According to a Harvard study, “Researchers found that people who practiced yoga for at least 30 minutes once a week for at least four years gained less weight during middle adulthood.” Participants who were overweight began slimming down, and the group overall had lower BMIs than people who didn’t practice yoga. “Researchers attributed this to mindfulness,” the study explained.
All styles of yoga share a focus on mindfulness, but you may want to start with a simple style, such as Vinyasa. Vinyasa yoga focuses on synchronizing the breath with movement. This technique encourages you to pay attention to one breath at a time.
Yoga for Relationships: AcroYoga
Yoga doesn’t have to be a solitary workout. Of course, you can attend a group class, but one form of yoga makes the practice truly a team endeavor: AcroYoga. Practitioners work in pairs, with one serving as a “base,” who lifts and holds their partner, the “flyer.” Instructor Daniel Scott calls this practice “The Yoga of Trust.” Partners learn to let go of their need to control and work together. Scott writes that AcroYoga “provides valuable tools for learning how to land safely when taking large steps outside of your comfort zone.”
AcroYoga mixes elements of, yes, acrobatics and yoga, but also Thai massage techniques. There’s a focus on play as well as the joy of movement and working together. In addition to reinforcing trust, partners build communication skills along with strength and flexibility.
“You’re trusting someone to take you up off your feet, literally,” instructor Katie Thacker told BC Local News. “Sometimes you’re upside down—sometimes you’re flying in the air doing handstands on other people’s hands. So [as] you improve your practice, your trust of your partner really comes into play.”
Yoga for Energy: Kundalini
Caffeine and sugar may put a little pep in your step, but they come at a price. If you’re seeking a more energetic lifestyle without the crash-and-burn effect, then yoga is an optimal solution. Studies have shown how effective exercise is at boosting your overall energy levels—more effective than stimulants.
“Active poses that stimulate the blood flow through the body—particularly those that gently stretch the spine—can help combat fatigue and boost feelings of vitality,” according to Huffington Post. These yoga flows may also work against the negative health effects of a sedentary lifestyle. If you’re really interested in accessing untapped stores of energy, Kundalini yoga might be for you. Practitioners of Kundalini believe a source of energy lies coiled at the base of the spine like a serpent. Kundalini is a unique form of yoga that focuses on releasing that potential energy so it can be accessed.
With all the types of yoga to choose from, there’s sure to be one you enjoy. There’s a style to suit just about any health need, including practices for seniors (see sidebar above), rehabilitation, or strength training, and groups that cater specifically to men, women, or expectant moms. There’s even yoga with goats! (If you still need help choosing, try this yoga style flow chart quiz from Huffington Post.) The best way to start getting the benefits of yoga is to get out there and try different things until you find the style or styles that work best for you and your body.