By Erica Moe
Ever seen a yogi twisted into a pretzel knot and wondered how that can improve your health? Are you convinced that there is no way you could ever hold a pose or balance on one leg? Well, let go of your preconceived notions, and give it a try.
Yoga can offer something we all need — balance of mind, body and spirit. And, there are enough styles of yoga to accommodate anyone interested in relieving stress and reaping the benefits in strength and flexibility offered by a combination of breathing, meditation and movement.
Pick the right class
If you are taking a class for the first time, try hatha yoga or gentle yoga. Want an athletic version that will make you sweat? Try a power yoga class. Want less movement and more meditation? Try restorative yoga. If you’re looking for a class that can accommodate special needs like pregnancy, injury or mobility issues, try adaptive yoga. Yoga styles defined:
- Hatha — Great for beginners and considered a gentle form of yoga. The term refers to the physical posters or poses, and these classes can provide a good environment to learn the basics.
- Vinyasa — Classes focus on flow, or movement, without holding the poses as long as other types. Expect a faster pace and continuous movement.
- Kundalini — Combines physical and meditative techniques. Classes may include meditation, breathing and chanting.
- Iyengar — Emphasis will be on detail, precision and alignment. Each posture will be held for a period of time.
- Ashtanga — These classes follow a specific sequence of poses, with specific breathing techniques.
Equipment for yoga is simple. Get a good-quality yoga mat for cushion and traction, available at any sporting goods store. Be prepared to take off your socks and shoes so that you can connect with the ground. Wear loose, comfortable clothes. Some classes may require other tools like yoga blocks, yoga straps or blankets, however, most facilities will provide those, if needed.
Benefits of yoga
There is a great deal of research on the benefits of yoga. Numerous studies tout the positive effect it has on anxiety and depression. A study of pregnant women at UC Irvine found that yoga reduced stress, improved mood and even reduced postpartum-depression symptoms by lowering levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. A study in India of patients with chronic lower back pain found yoga to be more effective than physical therapy for reducing pain, anxiety and depression, while improving spinal mobility. An Australian study of war veterans with moderate to severe post-traumatic stress disorder showed that yoga lowered their depression to mild to moderate. These results were still evident at a six-month follow-up.
Where can I take a class?
Yoga studios are bountiful in San Diego, and your general fitness facility may offer classes that as part of your membership. There are eight types of yoga and 33 classes offered weekly at Mission Valley YMCA, including Yoga for Kids and Yoga for Families. All classes are included with membership.
—Erica Moe is an ACSM certified exercise physiologist who writes on behalf of the Mission Valley YMCA, where she is a fitness director.