What do you think when you hear the word ‘yoga’? I never thought that there were scientifically proven benefits of yoga. Before I started practicing regularly, I just thought yoga was a way to be bored out of one’s mind.
Guess what? I was wrong.
Yoga is a word that has so much misinterpretation that I decided a blog post was in order!
Flash back to 3 years ago. I have a friend who is a dedicated yogi. She’s been practicing for 15 years and is 200-hour YTT (yoga teacher training) certified instructor. As you guessed, it’s 200 hours of instruction.
She would gently nudge me every so often. ‘Try a yoga class. I think you’ll like it.’ I’d smile and nod and say, ‘Sure, maybe I’ll try yoga.’
Then I’d run off to my spin class, get in the pool with my kickboard, or do quick circuits of resistance training. I equated moving fast with getting my money’s worth out of my workouts. Yoga was slow. It was for stretching. It was boring.
Yoga’s been around for 3000 years and is steeped with mystique and tradition. Even that sounds a little dull to me.
However, Yoga is anything but dull. What is yoga really?
To explain, let’s start with isometric exercise.
Incredible Scientific Benefits To Yoga That Will Make You Start Practicing Today:
- Isometric Exercise
- Interviews with two professional yogis
- What is the best yoga mat to use as a beginner?
- Better your quality of life
Incredible scientific benefits to yoga that will make you start practicing today
1. Isometric Exercise
Isometric exercise is a static workout. ‘Static’ is defined as stationary but that doesn’t mean a static workout is easy! Static means that any given muscle contracts without any visible movement in the angle of the joint. So in many ways, this type of workout is better for people with joint issues.
In addition, isometric exercise uses our body weight instead of weights or machines. It provides a source of strength training without the impact that more complex exercises may require.
Yoga is actually a type of isometric exercise which involves certain body positions that are held in a static position. If you think that’s easy, you’re mistaken!
A plank is a great example of an isometric exercise. And they are not easy. I directly attribute my improved—but not yet in the six-pack category—core strength to exercise during yoga, exactly like planks! Louie always likes to give me a hand.
Powerful abdominal muscles allow us more ease and efficiency in our movements, on and off the yoga mat. Core strength will help you stay strong, so you don’t slip!
And some versions of the squat appear sneakily similar to yoga’s chair pose.
As you can imagine, both will give your quads a burn!
But with yoga, there is a unique sequence to follow, which keeps your mind busy. You’re living in the moment, which any psychologist will say brings calmness.
Those who live in the moment tend to be happier, more serene and relaxed. (Who doesn’t want that?!)
Mindfulness can also increase our ability to be in tune with our thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. It also helps increase the gray matter in your brain!
Lao Tzu, a philosopher of ancient China—who may or may not have been a real person—is purported to have said:
“If you are depressed, you are living in the past; if you are anxious, you are living in the future; if you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
I’ve learned from experience, that when I’m following a unique vinyasa sequence, or on my fifth boat pose during an ashtanga class, I am living in the moment! There’s no time for worrying about what comes next or to ruminate about what happened last week, last month, last year.
Interviews with two professional yogis
Don’t take my word for it, though. I asked two experienced and professional yogis. I’ve practiced ashtanga yoga with one and mediated with another, and attempted to achieve some gracefulness with both during their vinyasa classes. (Emphasis on the word ‘attempt.’)
Here’s what they had to say about yoga.
Who is Liana Bryant?
Joyfully dedicated to her practice and her students, Liana empowers all who come to yoga to live it as fully and as happily as she does, whatever their level of fitness or experience. With a background in gymnastics and college cheerleading, Liana soon discovered her passion for yoga after graduating from the George Washington University in 2002.
After four enjoyable years working at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, she has now made yoga her full-time career. Previously a YogaWorks Studio Manager in New York City, Liana has now returned to her hometown of Sarasota, FL and in addition to teaching her beloved classes, she is also the Rosemary Court Yoga Director.
She is an active part of the yoga community, and after helping to launch the “lululemon athletica” store openings in the Washington, DC area by serving as one of their first Ambassadors, she was honored to return to Sarasota and be invited to serve as an Ambassador there as well. She is also a Product Ambassador for Manduka.
She has completed the YogaWorks Teacher Training Program and is a 500-hour Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT 500) through Yoga Alliance. Liana has drawn inspiration from all her teachers, including Jenny Aurthur, Erika Hildebrandt, and Kino MacGregor.
You can see from her bio—and her photo—that Liana knows her stuff.
Here’s what Liana said:
- Tell us about the differences between Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga.
Ashtanga Yoga is a vinyasa, or flow, style yoga practice but differs from Vinyasa Yoga in that it is a set sequence and does not play music. In Vinyasa Yoga, the sequence and poses usually change from class to class, and music is often played. In Ashtanga Yoga, we listen to the sound of our breath.
2. You’ve accomplished many advanced poses in your practice. How do you advise yogis who want to reach that next level, but find standing and arm balances challenging?
My number one advice for getting to that next level would be to be consistent in your practice! If you practice regularly, it’s an incredible feeling to experience poses becoming available to you with time. It’s a sweet reward for regular practice 🙂
3. Do you have any tips for staying focused when frustration sets in?
My main tip for staying focused is to begin each practice, each pose, each breath from a blank slate. In Ashtanga Yoga, we take vinyasas between the poses which help us “clear the slate.”
Focusing on the breath is always a great tool for staying focused. As one of my teachers once said, “listen to your breath like it’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever heard!”
4. I think yoga is amazing for increasing flexibility, building strength, and clearing my mind. Some people strive for specific goals. Which discipline of yoga do you find is a better fit for each of those objectives?
Yes, for the most part, all yoga practices help with these goals. Certain styles may cater more towards some areas than others.
For example, in Ashtanga Yoga, we particularly build strength through our standing poses, flexibility through our seated poses, and clear our minds through the “moving meditation” we experience by following our breath through the set sequence.
Yin Yoga is also a lovely practice for increasing flexibility. Power Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga are also great for building strength. Restorative Yoga can be nice for clearing your mind as well.
5. Now the hardest question. I love your ashtanga class, and feel that has improved my muscle strength, flexibility, and posture. What is your favorite discipline of yoga? And why?
My favorite disciple of yoga is definitely Ashtanga Yoga! I’ve practiced it for almost 20 years, and it continues to inspire me!
When I complete my Ashtanga Yoga practice, everything just feels right, both in my body and in my mind. It makes me feel how I feel I should feel, and it inspires me to get on my mat everyday 🙂
Recommended Reading: A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation: How, Why, And When You Should Meditate
Who is Steve White?
Steve White is a yoga practitioner, teacher, and Certified Yoga Therapist, C-IAYT. He offers public vinyasa flow classes, along with group sessions on deeper practices in Tantra Yoga.
He works with private clients to address needs and goals, using the tools of the tradition to recover from injury and surgery, manage pain and disease, control stress and anxiety, or seek meaning and understanding of life and change.
Steve also conducts workshops and helps train teachers. When not on the mat or the cushion, road cycling is Steve’s other yoga!
Here’s what Steve said:
1. Tell us a little bit about Tantra yoga.
Tantra took hold almost 1,500 years ago in India, and during its heyday of about 500 years. It empowered householders to develop their own spiritual practice without the formal institutions of earlier eras.
What’s really significant about this period is that, in many cases, women had the same access to these practices as men, and quite refreshingly the role of the goddess grew in prominence, often representing the aspect of the divine that was most significant to the practitioner.
2. What is something people may not know about Tantra yoga?
Tantra has been radically re-worked in the present day to accommodate western sensibilities, and in particular commandeered by New Age Religion, typically with little of its original essence intact.
That’s not good or bad, but what many people understand of Tantra today is only related in name to the deep spiritual practices of India during Medieval times.
3. Since my monkey brain does like to take charge, I’ve found your mediation sessions have given me tools to improve my ability to take a step back, decrease stress levels, and stay in the moment. What discipline of yoga do you think works well for calming the mind? And why?
For my own development as student (first) and teacher (second), I’ve come to appreciate that yoga, no matter what form it takes, is–or can be–meditation. This is the inherent genius of this system.
For example, those who are fidgety can use asana.
Those with monkey mind can use pranayama and mantra. Pranayama is the ancient practice of controlling your breath. You control the timing, duration, and frequency of every breath and hold. And mantra is a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.
While those who have begun to settle more into presence can cultivate seated practices.
So, while I’m variously fascinated with many of the wide array of elements called “yoga,” for my own part, I’m a fan of integrated practice: Moving, breathing, chanting, seated practices; usually, but not always, in that order!
(As an aside, I find that several breathing methods are ideal for anxiety! By the time I’m done going through one of the cycles three times, I’m calm—Okay, maybe not calm, but calmer!)
4. Do you have any self-care rituals that you incorporate into your practice?
From one historic perspective, yoga is all about self-care! What we do on the mat or the cushion or in the chair is important, but the real value of yoga lies in the accumulated benefits of a practice well-constructed leading to a life well-lived beyond the mat.
My practice is totally a ritual: I recognize the preciousness of the moment; I offer gratitude to all the teachers and the life experiences that have led me to this place, even on the days that it’s not so comfortable or convenient to be there.
True appreciation and respect for whatever we experience, reverence for the forces that brought us this far. Those are two core elements I encourage in any of my private clients before focusing on a posture or a breathing technique.
5. I think yoga is amazing for increasing flexibility, building strength, and clearing my mind. Some people strive for specific goals. Which discipline of yoga do you find is a better fit for each of those objectives?
There are lots of definitions and ideas about what yoga is, about what it can or should do for an individual.
Much modern yoga focuses on the exercise component, on physical skill development. But honoring the yoga that developed in India through 2,500 years, I’ll make the emphatic statement that yoga fundamentally must include some element of developing presence–mindful attention to NOW, placing our judgments, our preconceptions, our expectations in the background.
It’s a skill, and cultivating that skill is hard work. But it’s accessible to anyone who makes the commitment. And it’s what truly separates yoga from any modern-day version of calisthenics and stretching.
Beyond developing present moment awareness, the styles of yoga taught are innumerable. For someone looking to accommodate specific goals, I would be most focused on the teacher–is it someone relatable, someone who demonstrates knowledge, proficiency, offers adaptations and makes a connection to students.
As yourself, is the environment comfortable for you? Some people prefer a gym setting, others love the Buddha statues and herbal tea.
Most importantly, in the process of doing a practice, are you wrenching your body into positions that are a strain, even painful? There are too many injuries to people who allow their ego to override their innate intelligence.
Learn the art of going just to the border of far enough and resting in that space. That’s yoga.
Recommended Reading: 5 Different Techniques To Help You Get The Most Out Of Your Meditation Session
What is the best yoga mat to use as a beginner?
This question might have crossed your mind as you decide to take on yoga practicing seriously. Or maybe you have already tried different types of yoga mats that weren’t comfortable enough.
Well, if you noticed Liana’s bio earlier, you know that she is a product ambassador for Manduka yoga mats. It’s a matter of personal preference, but for a beginner, I find Manduka mats have a little extra cushioning and the right balance of stickiness to flow.
I can hold myself in place without slipping, but I’m not sticking too much on my mat.
Better your quality of life
Yoga calms me down, not to mention the surprising side benefit of toning my arms and abs!
It promotes an increased sense of hopefulness and a decrease in stress, as well as an increase in flexibility and overall physical health.
Recommended Reading: A Ray Of Happiness: 13 Things You Can Do To Instantly Feel Good And Uplift Your Mood
So, go ahead and try it for a month. What have you got to lose, other than anxiety?
I’ve included links to Liana and Steve in their introductions above, where you can sign up virtually and practice with them.
You can also sign up for my newsletter in the website link below (click on the teal box on the right), and I’ll send you the instructions for box breathing, along with the 2-3-4 technique, and a few other pranayama aka breathing exercises. We monkey brains need to stick together!
Author: Susan Berk Koch
An award-winning author of dozens of articles for children. Her work has been in magazines such as Highlights, Muse, Odyssey, Boys Quest, and Ask. She has a B.S. in biology and chemistry, and her doctorate from Marquette University. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, three boys, and a menagerie of pets. Her book Chemical Reactions, from Nomad Press, is available now.
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