Derived from the Sanskrit word “yuji,” meaning yoke or union, yoga is an ancient practice that brings together mind and body. It incorporates breathing exercises, meditation and poses designed to encourage relaxation and reduce stress. Practicing yoga is said to come with many benefits for both mental and physical health, though not all of these benefits have been backed by science. Yoga can do the following:
- May Reduce Inflammation
- Can Decrease Stress
- Relieves Anxiety
- Could Improve Heart Health
- Improves Quality of Life
- May Fight Depression
- Could Reduce Chronic Pain
- Improves Flexibility and Balance
- Could Help Improve Breathing
- May Relieve Migraines
- Promotes Healthy Eating Habits
- Can Increase Strength
Ancient, But Not Foreign
Yoga is tied to ancient Indian philosophy, so yoga poses have both Sanskrit and English names — adho mukha svanasana is more commonly known as downward-facing dog, for example — and you may hear both in a class. But even if you have never tried a yoga class, you may already be familiar with some yoga poses. Ever tried a plank? You’ve done yoga.
Mindfulness with Yoga
In a yoga class, as you learn to do yoga poses, you will be instructed to notice your breath and the way your body moves during the exercises. The is the foundation of a mind-body connection. A well-balanced series of yoga exercises gives you the opportunity to scan your entire body, noting how you feel as you move through the poses. You may begin to realize, for example, that one side of your body feels different than the other during a stretch, or that it’s easier to balance on your right leg, or that certain poses helps ease tension in your neck. This is how yoga turns physical exercises into tools to help students become more mindful and even learn to meditate.
Breathing techniques are an essential part of yoga — not only do they help you to stay focused while practicing yoga, they can also help reduce stress and relax the nervous system and calm the mind. Yoga breathing techniques also offer a “ way into meditation,” says Elena Brower, a yoga and meditation teacher and the author of “Art of Attention.” Ms. Brower says that more people who have in recent years focused on the physical aspects of yoga are moving toward meditation, as they find “they have an increasing need to have time to reflect, release and recalibrate.” Here are a few types of breathing techniques that may be included in a yoga class:
Abdominal Breathing: Also called diaphragmatic or belly breathing, this is the most common breathing technique you’ll find in basic yoga. It helps foster healthy, efficient breathing in general. Try it:
✨Inflate your abdomen as you inhale.
✨Exhale, trying to empty your abdomen of as much air as you can.
Ujjayi or “victorious” breath: This type of deep breathing allows you to slow and smooth the flow of breath. It is often used in flow classes to help students regulate their breathing as they move through the poses. Some say this breathing technique sounds like Darth Vader; others say it sounds like the ocean. In any case, the sound should be audible to you only; your neighbor doesn’t necessarily need to hear it. Try it:
✨Constrict the muscles in the back of your throat and breathe in and out with your mouth closed.
Interval or interrupted breathing: In this type of breathing, the student is instructed to pauses and hold the breath during the inhalation or exhalation, or both. It is a good way to begin to learn to control the breath, especially if you are looking to try more advance yoga breathing techniques. Try it:
✨Release one-third of the breath.
✨Release another third of the breath.
✨Exhale the rest of the breath.
If you like, you can then do a couple rounds of interrupted breathing during exhalation.
Alternate nostril breathing: This technique is said to be effective in balancing the nervous system and is a good idea to try before meditation. Try it:
✨Hold one nostril closed and inhale through the open nostril.
✨Exhale through the open nostril.
✨Switch your hands and block the open nostril, releasing the closed nostril.
✨Inhale through the open nostril and exhale.
✨Repeat several times.
Below you will find many different yoga poses to start out with. Click on the pose and it will take you to its corresponding pose and what it does for you.