One of the reasons yoga has become so popular during the last decade is the fact that medical studies have started to confirm what yoga instructors had been claiming all along.
Sure, yoga has always had a strong following and you could always find passionate yogis in about any country on earth. But only recently, when the connection between yoga and health has been scientifically proven, the popularity of this practice has skyrocketed. Countless medical studies seem to be released every week, confirming the amazing benefits that practicing a certain style of yoga will bring.
Are All Kinds of Yoga Good for Your Health?
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All yoga fans welcome this news with joy and renewed enthusiasm, but a question that frequently pops up is this: What yoga style is the best for your health? Which one has the most health benefits for those who practice it? After all, there are many different practices which can be labeled as yoga, from the intense Acro Yoga to the relaxing Nidra Yoga. Do they all have the same effects on the health of yogis who practice them?
Also, there are a lot of studies linking meditation or mindfulness with improvements in physical health. These are also part of the yoga philosophy and have their own contribution to the overall health boost provided by yoga in general.
Since there are so many aspects to be considered, it’s even questionable if we can speak of a ‘yoga in general’ concept. The practices united under the yoga umbrella term are too different for a yogi to know for sure which of them have the health benefits announced by all the studies being released about yoga.
Therefore, we need to break them down.
What Is Proven About Yoga and Health Effects
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The fact that practicing yoga is healthy shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, any form of mild to heavy exercise comes with health perks, and we know by know that staying active may be the key to a longer and healthier life.
But the question is how does yoga differ from other forms of exercise in terms of its effects on human health? Is it any better? And, if so, in what way?
The proven benefits of yoga in comparison with other forms of exercise are these:
- It may be the best type of exercise for people with lower back pain, helping reduce the discomfort and even improve the state of the spine
- It improves flexibility and function of your body, allowing great mobility and independence up to very old ages
- It has a positive effect on the heart and circulatory system (even when compared to other forms of cardio)
- It relieves some of the pressure caused by anxiety, depression and other mental illness types (panic attacks, some cases of eating disorders and so on)
- It reduces inflammation, which lies at the root of an entire host of other illnesses and diseases, including the dreadful cancer so many people are battling in this age
- It lessens some of the symptoms associated with cancer treatment – so far only some types of cancer treatment were scientifically studied in relation to yoga (like prostrate cancer for example), but there’s no reason to think the effect doesn’t apply to the others as well
Poster source: Concept YOUtopia.
There have also been some studies or reports pointing to an opposite conclusion, saying that yoga can be dangerous or even lethal to some people. But despite what alarmists claim, it’s obvious that not everyone can and should practice the same level of exercise intensity as others. When you go into any kind of sport unprepared and strain yourself, bad things may happen.
This is why having a professional instructor supervise you every step of the way, especially in the beginning, is so important, and why yoga retreats for beginners are so popular.
What Is Yet to Be Discovered
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Some claims that yoga practitioners make in regards to the health of yogis are yet to be proven, with some studies sustaining them and some sustaining the opposite.
A positive link between yoga and arthritis is yet to be undoubtedly proven, and so is the claim that yoga stimulates digestion or that it helps the body flush out toxins.
Also, although it has been proven that yoga makes practitioners have more body awareness, it isn’t yet clear how this actually helps in terms of health. It is possible that body awareness just gives us a feel-good vibe and makes us be more invested in treating our bodies with kindness and taking care of them. But even if it’s just that, it’s already a great thing, which can lead to other health benefits in the future.
How Do Yoga Styles Differ in Terms of Health Benefits?
Infographic source: FreeFitnessTips.co.uk.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of data yet on how each and every yoga style influences your health, in a different way than combined yoga practices. It’s no wonder there are so much that we don’t know yet, considering that yoga has only started to be seriously studied by scientific research rather recently.
As a general rule of thumb, you can be sure that the greater the intensity of exercise in a yoga session, the more calories you will burn. Also, pranayama exercises and meditation practices will have a greater effect on reducing anxiety or increasing body awareness than more active yoga practices.
When it comes to the more complex health benefits of yoga, such as reducing inflammation, evidence suggests that it comes from the combination of the various aspects of yoga. It’s almost like in Hindu cosmology and myths: you need both the light and the darkness in order to create harmony. When it comes to yoga exercise, you need both the quiet and mindful moments, and the soaring joy of Bikram yoga or Kundalini yoga.
What Yoga Style Should You Choose for Your Health
Illustration by Sara Maese.
The most honest answer to this question is a two-part answer. Bear with me and you will see how it all becomes clearer.
First of all, the answer is that whatever kind of yoga you practice, it will still be a good thing for you, because it’s exercise and, furthermore, it’s more beneficial to your health than other forms of exercise (as explained above). So, if you like yoga, just keep at it!
Maybe also vary your routine and try out new styles every now and then, and the overall effect on your health will be of the utmost positive kind.
Second of all, there are some styles of yoga you could choose above others, depending on the type of health benefit you are looking for. Here are some examples:
- If you are having lower back pain, Aerial Yoga (that incorporates some inversion time, much like the treatment with inversion tables) might just be the thing for you, on condition that you take it slowly and only under the supervision of an instructor.
- If you are feeling low on energy and exhausted, maybe even experiencing insomnia, then Bikram yoga may help you get tired in a good way, improving the quality of your sleep.
- If you are facing anxiety and depressive thoughts, then yoga and mindfulness practice might help you confront these feelings and overcome them. On the other hand, intensely challenging training sessions were also linked to positive effects among depression patients, so Ashtanga or power yoga are also worth a shot.
Your best bet, beyond any isolated health concerns, is to look for a yoga practice that combines a little bit of all, and even so, to keep experiencing new yoga ways once in a while. Moments of extreme flexibility training, moments of cardio and moments of mental serenity will all beautifully fit into one holistic practice that will replenish you.
This wonderful complex effect is one that science is starting to recognize, though we still don’t understand all of it yet. In the meantime, the more time you spend on the yoga mat, the better off you will be.
Looking for a way to practice yoga focused on health? A stay in a yoga health retreat will help you get the best start with the advice of certified instructors.