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Some yoga styles are intense and vigorous, and others are relaxing and meditative. Regardless of which type you choose, yoga is an excellent way to stretch and strengthen your body, focus your mind, and relax your spirit.
There are many branches of yoga, a 5,000-year-old discipline from India developed as a practice to unite the mind and body. All hatha yoga styles can help balance your body, mind, and spirit, but they achieve it in various ways.
For example, the different styles of physical or hatha yoga differ in how poses or asanas are done and whether they focus more on mastering and holding the posture, strict alignment, breathing, or the flow of movement.
But no style is better than another; it’s a matter of personal preference. If you’ve never done yoga, here are 10 good reasons to give it a try.
1. Increase your flexibility and reduce risk for injury. Each yoga pose targets specific muscles, thereby increasing flexibility and reducing the risk for injury in your activities.
If you’re just getting started in yoga, be sure your teacher knows about any injuries or health conditions you have and is aware and knowledgeable enough to advise you of any positions you should avoid.
2. Reduce stress. Yoga can help soothe the mind and lower stress levels by focusing the mind on the moment and the movements rather than on external distractions.
3. Increase your awareness and concentration. A primary component of yoga is rhythmic, focused breathing.
4. Understand the mind/body connection better. Yoga requires you to focus all your energies on performing each movement or pose precisely. This benefits both the mind and body and teaches you to integrate the two.
5. Gain strength and stamina. More vigorous styles of yoga, such as Vinyasa and Ashtanga, promote strength and stamina as well as flexibility and relaxation.
6. Keep muscles in balance. Those who are new to yoga may become aware of muscle and flexibility imbalances they hadn’t noticed before.
7. Improve balance and stability. Balancing poses require you to engage your core stabilizer muscles, which can help improve overall stability.
8. Improve posture. Yoga poses strengthen and open tight areas of the body, such as the shoulders and muscles of the upper back, which is necessary for good posture.
9. Develop body awareness. Yoga requires you to contract and/or relax specific muscles as you stretch into each pose, thereby increasing awareness of the body’s strengths and weaknesses.
10. Receive cross-training benefits. Yoga combines flexibility, strength training, and balance to create a mind/body activity that’s a perfect addition to any fitness regimen.
Even people who participate in different kinds of sports or physical activities find doing yoga on a daily basis provides a range of physical and mental benefits unavailable anyplace else. Once you've learned a few yoga moves and breathing techniques, you can easily integrate them into your regular fitness routine.