Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin, Bikram, Baptiste Power, Restorative, Kundalini, Viniyoga…the list of words surrounding a Yoga class can be a little, or maybe a lot, confusing. But one thing about Yoga that is pretty straight-forward: it’s good for you!

The list of potential benefits from a Yoga practice is lengthy and varied and can include the following:

  • Increased strength & flexibility
  • Improved posture & balance
  • Release of physical tension
  • Stress reduction/management
  • Improved mood and self-esteem
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Relax and sleep better

But how does it work? How does Yoga make one feel so completely at ease and peaceful relative to other forms of exercise?

Yoga is a mind-body practice. That means it asks you to pay attention to what you’re doing and improves coordination and communication between your brain and the rest of your body. Yoga can strengthen the nervous system overall and stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System that manages things like breathing, heart and metabolic rates (think “rest and digest” mode). Due to the average lifestyle today, most people are often functioning in their Sympathetic Nervous System (think “fight or flight” mode). This leaves many with an elevated level of the stress hormone Cortisol. Amazingly, the combination of movement, mindfulness, and deep breathing Yoga provides can deactivate the body’s stress response and has been shown to normalize cortisol levels after just one class! 

With all these benefits waiting, it seems like Yoga would be a good fit for just about everyone, and that includes people who think they can’t do Yoga. A skilled teacher can show you how to adapt the practice so it works for you, whether you’re an athlete or more sedentary, a man or woman, young and limber or a little more “well-seasoned.” 

Different stages of Janu Sirsasana – the Head to Knee Pose – using proper form at each level.

While many posture and practice adaptations are available, it’s just as important to know that not every pose is suitable for every body. Even something as seemingly unrelated as Glaucoma can have a few contraindications in a Yoga practice. Be sure to tell your teacher about any illness/injury you’re experiencing so they can help you modify your practice if needed – this will help you feel safe and confident in the practice and give you the most benefit from your time and effort. In rare cases, working privately with your teacher may initially be more appropriate than a public class. 

Erik L. Larson DPT - Spooner & Hayward Physical Therapy Rehab Specialists

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