Yoga can feel a little elite at times from the outside – expensive yoga pants, mats, and so many accessories. It can make you wonder if really yoga is for you. But, take a look inside the practice and you will find that yoga truly is for everyone, and every body.
History Of Yoga
The root of the word “yoga” according to Yoga Journal is:
“The Sanskrit word yoga has several translations and can be interpreted in many ways. It comes from the root yug and originally meant “to hitch up,” as in attaching horses to a vehicle. Another definition was “to put to active and purposeful use.” Still other translations are “yoke, join, or concentrate.” Essentially, yoga has come to describe a means of uniting, or a method of discipline.”
Yoga has been used in many ways and settings, but oftentimes – as with Hatha yoga – it was used as a practice to prepare the body for stillness for meditation. The Father of Yoga, Pantanjali, organized yoga into an eight limb path to achieve enlightenment. These eight limbs are yama (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (oneness and complete absorption). The history and practice of yoga literally fills books!
Westernized yoga has been translated to focus on exercise and meditation; postures and breathing; meditative movement. In general, it is used to train the body and prolong life.
Benefits of Yoga
Studies, although usually small, have shown great promise to improve our health through yoga. In addition, yoga is considered low-impact and easy on the body, which means it is relatively safe for most people.
According to the National Institute of Health yoga has been shown to relieve stress and improve mental health. It could improve back and neck pain, and according to the American College of Physicians yoga is considered one of the first line treatments for back pain. Studies have also shown reduced cravings for cigarettes in those trying to quit smoking. Yoga increases melatonin production – although we don’t know how – which can improve the quality and quantity of sleep.
In addition, Healthline.com reports that yoga improves flexibility and balance, improves breathing and lung function, and can lead to mindful eating by encouraging mindfulness in daily activities.
Types of Yoga
There are many types of yoga, both historic and new, that are practiced regularly in the United States. I’ve found as many as sixteen with a quick Google search. Although I won’t discuss Bikram and Hot yoga today, I highly recommend listening to the 30 for 30 Podcast series on Bikram if you would like a look into the darker side of the exercise, and just how complex yoga politics can be. Let’s talk about a few others:
Hatha is a term often used in general for yoga that practices physical postures. Classes entitled Hatha Yoga tend to be more gentle. It’s a great way to get started with yoga practice!
This yoga is made up of specific poses taught in a specific order. Each class will engage in these same poses, and focuses on linking breath to movement.
Similarly, a vinyasa class will focus on linked breath and movement with smooth transitions. However, this type of class will use a variety of poses.
Restorative Yoga is a more relaxing, slower form of yoga where poses are gentler and held for a longer period of time. Typically this type of yoga makes good use of bolsters, blocks, and blankets, and is quite rejuvenating.
How To Decide If Yoga Is For You
Are you ready to jump in? Don’t worry about fancy yoga pants, or a $100 mat. Yoga is truly accessible and fun for all! Here are a few starting points.
Be A Bad Yogi
It’s hard not to love Erin and her approachable style of yoga:
“I’ve always jokingly called myself a Bad Yogi because I didn’t fit in with the stereotypical yoga drones who all dressed, looked, and acted alike no matter what city I visited. I hated the exclusive, judgmental nature of the yoga community and wanted to impact some kind of change to prove that it doesn’t have to be this way.”
I mean…I’ve never wanted to be a bad yogi so badly! The badyogi.com site has hundreds of free yoga classes for beginners to advanced, and also has some great paid courses and a subscription service. You can also join her Facebook community site for added support and advice!
Speaking of breaking stereotypes, Jessamyn Stanley is a yoga goddess and the body positivity advocate of your dreams. Her book, Every Body Yoga is as beautiful as it is helpful. Part memoir, part instructional, Stanley shows us all how to find joy and acceptance in the practice of yoga. She also has online classes on the Jessamyn Stanley website if you want to practice along with her!
When you are ready, go check out a studio in your neighborhood. Many times the first class is free! Here are a few tips:
- Wear clothes that are comfortable to move and stretch in during class.
- Some studios provide a mat, while others expect you to bring their own – make sure to ask!
- Say hello to the teacher to let them know you are new – they love to help you feel comfortable and welcome!
- Let your instructor know if you have any injuries – modifications are always an option.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Your body is unique and awesome in its own right, so be where you are in your practice.
- Finally, take it easy and have some fun!
Now that you know that yoga’s for you, let me know about your experiences! I love to hear about your favorite classes, and experiences.
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Niki is a Registered Dietitian and the owner of New Frontier Nutrition LLC. Niki works to help clients create a diet-free life with Intuitive Eating strategies. She lives at home with her partner, two dogs, and three cats.