By: Anshuta Beeram
Due to the pandemic many gyms and athletic facilities have shut down leaving people with fewer ways to exercise. Yoga is an effective solution to this problem. It works for everyone, has many health benefits, and is convenient.
There are many types of at-home workouts like cardio, HIIT, zumba, etc. Depending on what a person is looking for, they will gravitate towards one form of exercise or another. People with injuries or health problems will look for low intensity workouts like zumba. Whereas people who like high intensity workouts that focus on building endurance and muscle will look at cardio or strengthening exercises. Yoga has many different variations, each of which focus on different aspects. Some types are more athletic and focus on toning, building, and stretching muscles, while others focus on spirituality and are less intense. Due to this diversity, yoga works for a vaster audience of people than other forms of exercise.
For people looking to build muscle and lose weight, the Ashtanga and Bikram variations of yoga are perfect. These two types of yoga are very intense and they focus on pushing your body to its limits. Bhargavi Pulluri, a practitioner of Ashtanga Yoga and medical professional, said, “Practicing yoga has made me much stronger in my upper body; able to work longer and more effectively without fatigue; and sleep much better.”
The benefits of yoga experienced by Pulluri have been verified by a study performed by Harvard University: “Researchers studied a small group of sedentary individuals who had not practiced yoga before. After eight weeks of practicing yoga at least twice a week for a total of 180 minutes, participants had greater muscle strength and endurance, flexibility and cardio-respiratory fitness.”
For people looking to become more flexible and to tone their muscles, all types of yoga will work. Anshuta Beeram, a practitioner of yoga for six months, said that she went from not being to touch her toes to being as flexible as the average dancer in just a couple months.
Iyengar yoga is perfect for people with injuries and health issues. Since yoga is very gentle, it is great for people who can’t do strenuous activities. Laruga Glaser, a prominent teacher of modern-day yoga, started yoga as a way to help her back pain: “I was trying to find something to release my back and doing a few simple poses was the only thing that seemed to help. I felt like there was really something to this yoga thing.” She is now one of only three hundred people in the world who are certified Ashtanga yoga teachers.
In addition to appealing to many groups of people, yoga also has many many health benefits--both physical and mental. A Harvard study found that yoga helped lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes and it improved cholesterol levels in people with coronary heart disease. Yoga is even being used in rehabilitation centers for people with cardiac health problems.
Yoga is also a great way to boost your mental health. According to a Harvard Health article titled Yoga-Benefits Beyond the Mat, yoga helps build a better body image. People who do yoga are more likely to be satisfied with their bodies and less critical and negative towards themselves. Furthermore, yoga is a great way to destress and relax. Rahul Beeram said yoga is a great way to escape stress and come back to the present moment. His exact words were, “We come back to the present moment and we look at breathing. You feel yourself within.”
Not only does yoga help destress, it also improves mood, energizes, and improves quality of life. Pulluri is an oncologist and her profession comes with a lot of stress. Recently, she began to do yoga and found that it helps her relax. She said that she feels a lot happier, more energized, and mentally active after starting her daily yoga practice.
Yoga has also been found to help patients with mental disorders like depression and schizophrenia. According to an article published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, yoga changes the levels of neurotransmitters present in the brain and this consequently changes the way a person thinks, feels, and acts. For example, people with depression typically have lower levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Yoga has been shown to elevate BDNF levels in people with depression. Antidepressants and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which are clinically approved treatments for depression, also increase BDNF levels in the brain.
It is a well known fact that exercise improves mood and mental health, however, there are not many types of exercise that provide the same wide range of health benefits that yoga does. Not only does it help with mental and physical health, but it also helps build spirituality.
Another downside of quarantine is that many churches and religious centers have shut down. This is unfortunate for people who are looking to continue their spiritual journey. Luckily though, yoga also has spiritual benefits. The ultimate goal of the yoga practice is to attain enlightenment through the unification of the body and mind and the discovery of a greater truth: “Self-realization is the goal [of yoga] and in that process you get a better body and mind.” This is similar to the objectives of many other religions like Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism.
When describing the effects of yoga, Glaser said, “I felt like it was different than going for a run, for the physical side, or going to church for the spiritual side. I felt like it was a blend of both and I knew that this was something that I wanted to look more deeply into.” For people looking to enhance their spirituality, Kundalini yoga is the best because it emphasizes meditation, focus on the breath, and self-control.
Besides the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of yoga, another positive thing is that it is very convenient. All you need is access to youtube and a mat. There are many YouTube channels dedicated to yoga that can be easily located via google search.
People looking to begin yoga should try the Hatha or Vinyasa variation. Hatha yoga is very common among beginners because it moves slowly and requires no previous experience. Vinyasa yoga is more dynamic and is better for people who like to be active.
Those who are looking for a low intensity form of yoga should try Kundalini or Iyengar yoga. Kundalini yoga focuses on meditation and boosting spirituality. It’s not very physically demanding and is centered around finding inner peace. Iyengar yoga is best for people who have suffered injuries or are elderly. This type of yoga is very gentle and focuses on fixing posture and toning muscles.
People looking to transform their bodies and dedicate themselves to yoga should try Ashtanga or Bikram yoga. Ashtanga yoga is known as the yoga of warriors and is the most intense variation. Bikram yoga is also difficult, but it focuses more on eliminating toxins and losing weight than building muscle and spirituality like Ashtanga yoga.
So, without further ado, find a mat, choose a type of yoga, and get started!