In this blog, you will learn various paths and styles of yoga as well as 21 benefits of having a regular yoga practice. There are of course many more benefits than this and most of which have actually been scientifically tested but I will share with you my top 21 to inspire you to take action and add yoga as part of your health and wellness routine.
First off, let me ask you a few questions to get you in the right mindset.
- Have you ever practiced yoga?
- If no, why not? Maybe you don’t think it’s for you, maybe you’ve never been exposed to it? Perhaps you’ve just been to scared to try it?
- If you have, what kind of yoga have you done? Ashtanga, yin, restorative, flow, viniyoga, SHRED or HIIT Flow yoga. There seems to be endless styles of yoga all of which have different goals and benefits.
- What does yoga mean to you?
I encourage you to keep these questions, and your answers, in the back of your mind as we go through today’s topic.
Let me start by defining yoga. The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning “to yoke,” or “to unite.” The practice of yoga aims to create union, or connection, between the body, mind and spirit, as well as between the individual self and universal consciousness. Yoga originated in ancient India and was first systemized by the sage, Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras around 400 C.E. However, it seems that the practice was handed down from teacher to student long before this text arose. Traditionally, this was a one-to-one transmission, but since yoga became popular in the West in the 20th century, group classes have become the norm.
Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years, and while many different interpretations and styles have been developed, most tend to agree that the ultimate goal of yoga is to achieve liberation from suffering. Although each school or tradition of yoga has its own emphasis and practices, most focus on bringing together body, mind and breath as a means of altering energy or shifting consciousness.
According to, Yogapedia, modern yoga is most commonly associated with the physical practice of asana, a series of postures often weaved together in styles such as Vinyasa Flow or Ashtanga. Asana practice is generally intended to build strength and stamina, to improve flexibility, coordination and balance, and to relax the body. However, this provides only one small aspect of the tradition of yoga as a whole.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras he provides the traditional foundation of yoga, and outlines an eightfold path of the practice. Known as the ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga,’ this path offers a guide, or pathway, to individuals who are dedicated to creating a union between body, mind and spirit.
Each of the Eight Limbs offers a means of living with more integrity, self-discipline, respect for nature and connection with the spiritual aspects of life. These eight practices are intended to be carried out in a holistic and integrative manner as opposed to a step-by-step process.
The first limb of yoga is the Yamas. They are defined as the five universal, ethical and moral observances to live by.
The five Yamas are:
- Asteya – the practice of nonviolence (to the self and others) and compassion for all living things,
- Satya – ones commitment to truthfulness by always speaking and living your truth by not lying to yourself or others,
- Asteya – which means non-stealing from yourself or others. This includes non-physical things such as someones time or trust as well as physical objects.
- Bramacharya – which is the practice of continence or having control over the senses and ones desires.
- Aparigraha – which is the practice of non-covetousness or neutralizing the desire to acquire or hoard wealth.
The second limb of yoga is the Niyamas, which are considered to be the spiritual and self-discipline observances.
The five Niyamas are:
- Sauca – which means purity and cleanliness of the inner and outer body,
- Santosha – which means being content with what you have,
- Tapas – which is disciplining the use of your energy and keeping the body clean and fit to connect with the divine,
- Svadhyaya – which is self-study and study of scriptures to find awareness,
- Isvarapranidhana – which is to celebrate and surrender to the divine.
The third limb of yoga is Asana, which is thephysical postures, which were originally intended only to keep the body strong and limber to be able to sit in seated meditation for long periods of time but more recently the asanas have been adapted to encompass all physical yoga practices.
The fourth limb is Pranayama, or breathing exercises to control the flow of prana or vital life force.
The fifth limb is Pratyahara, which implies the withdrawal of the senses from attachment to external objects to return to the path of self-realization and achievement of internal peace.
The sixth limb of yoga is Dharana, which is single pointed, or immovable, concentration of the mind. The ability to focus ones attention in one direction.
The seventh limb of yoga is Dhyana, or the practice of meditation, specifically on the divine.
Finally, the eighth limb of yoga is Samadhi, which means to bring together and to have liberation or blissful union with the Divine and going beyond consciousness.
I find the eight limbs of yoga are great guidelines of how to live your life, especially the Yamas and Niyamas, which essentially guide us to being a better human being.
Now that you know where the practice yoga came from and the reason for the practice, let’s discuss the various paths of yoga.
Paths Of Yoga
There are four traditional paths of yoga. They are:
3) Jnana yoga is one of the three spiritual paths in Hinduism, which emphasizes the “path of knowledge or self-study,” also known as the “path of self-realization.”
4) Raja yoga is the path of self discipline and practice. In Sanskrit texts is considered the “king” of yoga and it is considered both the goal of yoga and a method of attaining it.
Now that you know the various paths of yoga, many of which are more focused on the spiritual practice, let’s discuss some of the various styles of yoga and the purpose, or goal, of each style.
Styles Of Yoga
There are many different styles of yoga, each of which have a different purpose or goal. Some are very physically active and focus on building strength and stamina while others are more relaxed and focus on lengthening the body, relaxing the mind and connecting you to your soul.
Some of the main styles of yoga include:
1) Yin Yoga:
One of my favourite styles of yoga to personally practice and to teach is yin yoga. Yin yoga is a calming and relaxing style of yoga that focuses on stretching your connective tissues (particularly the fascia). Poses are held for about three to five minutes each and work with the energy meridians in your body as well as cultivating active stretch in your connective tissues to increase strength and flexibility, improve joint mobility, improve posture, and release trauma in the body. At the same time keeping the physical body still to also calm the mind and connect to the soul.
If you want to try this style of yoga, I teach three virtual live classes per week. Just visit my website at www.RJOWellness.com and click the yoga link to see all dates and times. I will post this link in the show notes page for this episode. Just visit my website and click the podcast link.
2) Restorative Yoga:
This is another of my favourite styles of yoga to personally practice end to teach. Restorative yoga is a meditative practice that uses props like blocks, straps, sandbags, bolsters, and blankets to encourage a passive release of mind and body tension. This style works to release deep tension passively, without active stretch.
3) Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa yoga is the often considered the most athletic yoga style and was adapted from the active practice of ashtanga yoga in the 1980s. It is a powerful practice that focuses on strengthening and lengthening the body through challenging postures that often flow from one to the next.
4) Kundalini Yoga
A 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. This style of yoga uses a variety of kriyas, a series of postures, breath, and sound that work toward a specific outcome. Practicing a kriya initiates a sequence of physical and mental changes that affect the body, mind, and spirit simultaneously.
5) Iyengar Yoga
Iyengar yoga was founded by B.K.S. Iyengar and focuses on alignment as well as detailed and precise movements. In an Iyengar class, students perform a variety of postures while controlling the breath.
6) Yoga Nidra
Yoga nidra is a meditative style of yoga, also called yogic sleep, in which the body is completely relaxed, and the practitioner becomes systematically and increasingly aware of the inner world by following a set of verbal instructions.
This is no way an exhaustive list of the various styles of yoga but enough to give you a good idea and understanding that the practice of yoga can mean many different things to different people.
Now that you know the various styles of yoga, let’s discuss some of the many benefits of a regular yoga practice, regardless of which path or style you choose.
21 Benefits of Yoga
1) Improves Flexibility
Improved flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga. If you are new to yoga, you probably won’t be able to touch your toes, never mind do a backbend or fancy arm balance. But if you stick with it, you’ll notice the most basic and even more advanced postures will become possible. You’ll also likely notice a reduction in the pain you may have in your body when you start to loosen up muscles like your hamstrings and hips.
2) Builds Muscle Strength
Strong muscles not only allow your body to look good and allow you to do the activities you want to do but they also protect us from conditions like arthritis and back pain, and help prevent falls in elderly people. And when you build strength through yoga, you balance it with flexibility. If you just went to the gym and lifted weights, you might build strength but it would likely reduce your flexibility or range of motion around the joints.
3) Improves Posture
Yoga has been shown to realign the body, including the spine as you achieve a good balance between strength and flexibility around the joints. This helps improve your posture and reduce back, neck, and other muscle and joint problems.
4) Prevents Cartilage & Joint Breakdown
When you take your joints through their full range of motion, as you do in a yoga practice, you help prevent degenerative arthritis or mitigate disability by moving areas of cartilage that normally aren’t used. Joint cartilage is like a sponge; it receives fresh nutrients only when its fluid is squeezed out and a new supply can be soaked up.
5) Improves Bone Health
Many postures in yoga require that you lift your own weight. And some, like Downward- and Upward-Facing Dog, help strengthen the arm bones, which are particularly vulnerable to osteoporotic fractures. It’s well documented that weight-bearing exercise strengthens bones and helps ward off osteoporosis. Some studies have shown that a practicing yoga helps lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and may help keep calcium in the bones.
6) Increases Blood Flow
Yoga gets your blood flowing, increasing circulation in your hands and feet. It boosts levels of hemoglobin and red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the cells and tissues. Twisting poses are shown to wring out venous blood from internal organs and allow oxygenated blood to flow in once the twist is released. Inverted poses, such as Headstand, Handstand, and Shoulder stand, encourage venous blood from the legs and pelvis to flow back to the heart, where it can be pumped to the lungs to be freshly oxygenated.
7) Drains The Lymph System & Boosts Immunity
When you contract and stretch muscles, move organs around, and come in and out of yoga postures, you increase the drainage of lymph, which is a viscous fluid rich in immune cells. This helps the lymphatic system fight infection, destroy cancerous cells, and dispose of the toxic waste products of cellular functioning.
8) Reduces Blood Pressure
Yoga has been shown in numerous studies to help reduce blood pressure. Therefore, If you’ve got high blood pressure, you might benefit from yoga.
9) Lowers Cortisol Levels
The adrenal glands secrete cortisol in response to an acute crisis, which temporarily boosts immune function. However, if your cortisol levels stay high even after the crisis, it can compromise the immune system. Temporary boosts of cortisol help with long-term memory, but chronically high levels undermine memory and may lead to permanent changes in the brain. Additionally, excessive cortisol has been linked with major depression, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance, which results in excess fat in the abdomen, which contributes to weight gain and increases your risk of diabetes and heart attack.
10) Enhances Your Mood
Studies have found that a consistent yoga practice can improve depression, reduce anxiety and make you happier.
11) Helps Build A Healthy Lifestyle
It is a well-known fact that when you move more and eat less you will be better manage your weight and have better health. A regular practice of gets you moving and burns calories, and the spiritual and emotional dimensions of your practice may encourage you to address any eating and weight problems on a deeper level. Yoga may also inspire you to become a more conscious eater and make better food choices.
12) Helps Enhance Focus
An important component of yoga is focusing on the present. Studies have found that regular yoga practice improves coordination, reaction time, memory, and even IQ scores. People who practice Transcendental Meditation demonstrate the ability to solve problems and acquire and recall information better—probably because they’re less distracted by their thoughts, which can play over and over like an endless tape loop.
13) Relaxes Your Mind & Body
Yoga encourages you to relax, slow your breath, and focus on the present, shifting the balance from the sympathetic nervous system (or the fight-or-flight response) to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is calming and restorative. Yoga helps lower your breathing and heart rate and blood pressure and increase blood flow to the intestines and reproductive organs, which is called the relaxation response.
14) Improves Your Balance
Regularly practicing yoga increases proprioception (the ability to feel what your body is doing and where it is in space) and improves balance. Better balance could mean fewer falls. For the elderly, this may mean more independence and delayed admission to a nursing home or never entering one at all. For you, postures like Tree Pose can make you feel stronger and less wobbly on and off the mat.
15) Improves Sleep
Yoga helps provide downtime for the nervous system, allowing you to feel more relaxed and calm. This will allow you to settle in at night and have a better sleep, which means you’ll be less tired and stressed, less likely to have accidents and improved ability to remain focused on your daily tasks and responsibilities.
16) Increases Self-Esteem
With a regular yoga practice, you will begin to feel better about yourself and attain feelings of worthiness, or as yogic philosophy teaches, that you are a manifestation of the Divine. If you practice regularly with an intention of self-examination and betterment—not just as a substitute for an aerobics class—you can access a different side of yourself. You’ll experience feelings of gratitude, empathy, and forgiveness, as well as a sense that you’re part of something bigger. While better health is not the goal of spirituality, it’s often a by-product, as documented by repeated scientific studies.
17) Enhances Inner Strength & Builds Awareness
Yoga can help you make changes in your life. In fact, that might be its greatest strength. You may find that with your regular yoga practice, without making a particular effort to change things, you start to eat better, exercise more, or finally quit smoking after years of failed attempts. With this great sense of awareness, the easier it is to break free of destructive emotions like anger. It also increases your ability to step back from the drama of your own life and be better able to choose a more thoughtful reaction, reducing suffering for yourself and others.
18) Benefits Your Relationships
A regular yoga practice helps develop friendliness, compassion, and greater equanimity. Along with yogic philosophy’s emphasis on avoiding harm to others, telling the truth, and taking only what you need, this may improve many of your relationships, including the one you have with yourself.
19) Helps Your Body Heal
If you contemplate an image in your mind’s eye, as you do in yoga nidra and other practices, you can effect change in your body. Several studies have found that guided imagery can help reduce and even get rid of various symptoms of chronic conditions.
20) Helps You Serve Others
Karma yoga (service to others) is integral to yogic philosophy. And while you may not be inclined to serve others, your health might improve if you do. Serving others can give meaning to your life, and your problems may not seem so daunting when you see what other people are dealing with and help them improve their life.
21) Encourages Self-Care
In yoga, it’s what you do for yourself that matters as opposed to conventional medicine, where most patients are passive recipients of care. Yoga gives you the tools to help you make positive changes in your life. A regular practice of yoga allows you to get involved in your own care, you discover that your involvement gives you the power to effect change, and seeing that you can effect change gives you hope. And hope itself can be healing.
There you have it! A complete overview of the various paths of yoga, the eight limbs, some different styles of yoga you may want to add to your routine and a variety of benefits a regular practice of yoga provides.
I hope that this inspires you to begin a practice of yoga, if you haven’t already, and keep up with it if you have.
To join one of my live yoga classes, or an online class CLICK HERE>>>
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Until next time my friends,
Keep rockin’ your wellness!
Rachel Joy Olsen, BSc., MBA