UAB Medicine News


The Benefits of Yoga, Plus Basics for Beginners

Long before yoga was hip and trendy, it was an ancient practice in India dating back thousands of years. It’s evolved quite a bit since then, but the practice of yoga has always focused combining body movements and mental focus for the benefit of overall health.

However, all those complicated poses and class names can be downright intimidating for beginners, not to mention those tight-fitting spandex outfits that so many yogis wear.

Beyond the hype, though, yoga is one of the best things you can do for your body and mind. Yoga poses can be modified for practically anyone, and the positive results are undeniable. In this article, we take a look at the benefits of yoga, various ways to do it, and how to get started on a yoga routine (known as a “practice”) of your own.

Yoga and Physical Health

Numerous medical studies have examined the effects of yoga on the body and how people of all ages and abilities can benefit. One of the most pronounced benefits is increased flexibility, because yoga encourages you to stretch and strengthen underutilized muscles that are often overlooked. Yoga also supports healthy joints, improves muscle tone, assists with healthy respiration, enhances energy, and balances metabolism. Studies have further revealed that regular yoga practice can promote better posture, optimal blood flow, a healthy immune system, and a better sense of balance.

Yoga and Mental Health

Through its focus on mindfulness and awareness, yoga also offers many mental and emotional benefits to individuals who practice it regularly. Yoga is a wonderful way to manage stress, which is a major factor in chronic pain and how one copes with life’s daily setbacks. One of the first things you will learn as a new yogi is breathing techniques that encourage a sense of calmness, relaxation, and concentration. Certain styles of yoga that focus on relaxation can even help improve your sleep.

How Yoga Differs from Other Workouts

Unlike traditional gym routines, yoga is designed to bridge the gap between mind and body in order to build strength, harmony, and awareness. Yoga is a low-impact exercise that does not put excess strain on muscles and joints in the same way that running or weightlifting might do. It requires minimal equipment (just a mat!) and can be practiced indoors, outdoors, or almost anywhere. Yoga is beginner-friendly, but you can gradually increase the intensity and experiment with different styles of yoga for lifelong challenges and long-term health gains.

Various Types of Yoga

It’s important to understand that not all types of yoga are the same, and that certain forms of the practice may be more beneficial for your body type and health conditions. One of the best types of yoga for beginners is hatha yoga, which is gentle and focuses on holding each pose for a few breaths. Vinyasa is a great yoga style to get your body moving because it has a quicker pace that gets your heart rate up.

Intermediate and advance yoga students may want to try bikram yoga or hot yoga, which are classes held in hot rooms to help you move deeper into poses and sweat out bodily toxins. Restorative yoga classes are ideal for people recovering from an illness or injury or who want to focus on relaxation and stress management. Prenatal yoga is specially designed for expectant mothers, while kundalini yoga is great for people looking for spiritual benefits, because chanting and meditating are often involved with this style.

Poses for Different Levels

There are literally thousands of yoga poses that instructors learn in their training to assist students in the best ways possible. While you certainly don’t need to commit yourself to learning every pose, it’s a smart idea to understand which poses are suitable for different skill levels, so that you challenge yourself without becoming frustrated or overexerting your body.

Some of the first yoga poses that you’ll learn as a beginner are downward dog, child’s pose, chair pose, and corpse pose. As your strength, skills, and confidence increase, you may feel more comfortable experimenting with intermediate poses, such as crane pose, extended hand-to-big-toe pose, and eagle pose. After doing yoga for a substantial amount of time, advanced poses to try include firefly pose and king pigeon pose. Yoga Journal is an excellent resource for learning more about the benefits of each pose, as well as how to do each one safely.

Starting Your Yoga Practice

As interest in yoga has increased in America, so has the price of yoga classes. It isn’t uncommon to pay $15 or more for a single one-hour yoga session in a studio. Yet many people benefit from group yoga classes because of the accountability, community, and personalized instruction they offer. It is often advantageous to sign up for yoga classes in bulk or with a punch-card to save some money and give yourself an incentive to keep showing up. Websites such as YogaFinder can help you find a yoga class near you.

But one of the great things about yoga is that you can do it at home, too, just as long as you understand the basics and have a little self-motivation. Take some time to browse YouTube yoga channels to find an online instructor who you like to watch and who caters to your skill level. You can also use your smartphone or tablet to download highly rated yoga apps that you can use anywhere, such as Pocket Yoga and Yoga Studio.

Regardless of how you choose to practice yoga, the important thing is to simply give it a try and do what’s best for your body. Many yogis start their practice with a brief meditation or by setting an intention or goal for what they hope to accomplish, both physically and mentally. Then try to end each session with at least a few minutes of shavasana, a reclining pose on your back that helps the body relax and brings you back into the real world after your time on the mat.