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As Indians have known for over 600 years, yoga is not necessarily a “four-letter word.” What originated as Hatha yoga (a series of asanas, or poses) has evolved into dozens of varieties. Chances are, there is a variety of yoga that would suit your needs and complement your workouts and/or enable you to relieve stress and soreness on your off days. Of course, consult your doctor before beginning a yoga regimen, especially if you choose a strenuous variety of yoga to practice.
If relaxation or pain relief is a top priority, consider Kundalini yoga. Many of the poses are done while seated, and much of the sessions involve rhythmic breathing exercises. According to Kundalini’s creator, the breathing exercises circulate energy to the crown of your head, clearing the mind and promoting calmness.
Muscle toning and increasing flexibility are the payoffs in practicing Iyengar yoga. Research studies have shown that regularly doing Iyengar may reduce aches and pains, and promote feelings of well-being. Though the practice is slow in pace, the deep stretching and focus on proper alignment make muscles pliable and toned. Props such as blocks, straps, and blankets are used to assist you with the postures without excessive straining. Personally, I practice Iyengar yoga every evening. I find it both relaxing and empowering. The additional focus on breath control calms me and prepares me for sleep.
If you prefer your yoga to be intense and challenging, nothing beats Bikram yoga for an “Arc-type” workout. Created by a former Olympic weightlifter, Bikram yoga consists of 26 challenging poses done in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The high temperature increases flexibility and increases heart rate—this is NOT a recommended practice for anyone with cardiac issues. The inevitable heavy sweating can cause dehydration and dizziness, so drink plenty of water if you choose to try this type of yoga.
Another strenuous style of yoga is called Ashtanga. A favorite among athletic types, Ashtanga involves a specific series of strenuous poses performed in a flowing sequence. The continuous posture sequence is synchronized to your breath. Challenging poses such as “chair” and Chaturanga promote muscle strength and endurance.
So, if you want to join the 20 million Americans who regularly practice yoga, or if you already do practice but want to try something different, seek out a local yoga class and get flowing!