With up to 460,000 Brits taking yoga classes each week, alongside the many thousands more practising at home, it is safe to say this ancient spiritual practice has embedded itself within Western culture. It is reassuring, however, to know that 44.8% of those who practise yoga consider themselves to be ‘beginners’, so there is certainly no reason to feel daunted or excluded by a false impression that those who practise are a class of expert ‘yogis’. Charlotte Deville explores what yoga actually is, and what the many possible benefits are.
Originating over 5,000 years ago in northern India, the philosophy of yoga was spread to the West by Indian monks and ‘gurus’ in the 1890s, and exploded in popularity by the 1970s. Yoga combines physical poses and breathing techniques with spiritual elements of meditation, with the aim of connecting and promoting the well-being of both the mind and body.
There are many different styles of yoga that carry varying benefits. Each style of yoga, however, enhances one’s mental and physical well-being in similar ways. The most popular to be aware of are:
- Vinyasa: a faster style of practice whereby poses are connected by ‘flowing’ between them, in connection with the breath. Popular for being more aerobic, fun, and therefore better for those wanting an actual workout or weight-loss.
- Hatha: similar to Vinyasa in that movement and breath are connected, but opposite in that breathing is the priority. A style more suited to those seeking stress reduction and relaxation.
- Yin: a slow-paced style of yoga whereby the same posture is held for extended periods of time, so it is essential to ‘breathe through’ the pose rather than tense-up and stress the body. Calming both the mind and body, and improving flexibility are the main benefits of this style.
Physically, yoga is strongly associated with building greater flexibility, strength, endurance, stronger joints, and improved blood flow. Yoga is also effective in reducing inflammation and boosting immunity, from the way in which certain organs are stimulated by the breath and postures. By sustaining the practice over time, one’s balance and cardiovascular functioning is said to improve drastically, whilst the other physical benefits mentioned also optimise with greater consistency.
yoga ultimately improves one’s quality of life and longevity
For most though, the benefits of yoga for the mind is the strongest selling point. With over 90% of yoga practitioners reporting the value of yoga for their management of stress and mental health, especially symptoms of anxiety and depression, there is also evidence that those who practise regularly show superior well-being and lower stress levels compared to national norms. Through connecting the mind and body, the development of one’s introspective awareness and sensitivity to bodily signals are essential steps towards better management of anxious and stress-related symptoms that could easily spiral to cause mental and physical exhaustion without such skill. As a natural rather than chemical remedy for such issues, yoga ultimately improves one’s quality of life and longevity. Yoga is, therefore, a holistic practice, whereby one’s entire being is engaged and enhanced.
Sounds appealing? Here is how to start, and how to integrate yoga into a busy lifestyle.
The most accessible and simple way to start practising yoga would be making the most of the thousands of free videos available online. Juliana of Boho Beautiful offers a range of high to low-intensity, 5-minute to 1-hour long videos. With content suitable to all levels of yoga practice, Juliana’s videos are delivered from exotic locations but can be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home, at any convenient time. Yoga with Adriene is another popular favourite, whose YouTube channel offers an extensive range of free videos.
This method doesn’t even require a mat, it really is as simple as having a sufficiently sized and calm space, for as little as 5-10 minutes. An effective method to regularly integrate the practice into one’s day would be to make it a matter of routine. For example, practice for 10 minutes in the morning whilst before getting ready for the day, or to wind-down before bed.
Classes: Introductory offers
With 20,000-30,000 yoga classes taught in the UK each week, there are ample choices of classes available to join in with.
A good way to try out yoga is to make the most of introductory deals offered by studios. Most offer a certain number or time-period of classes for a discounted price, allowing newbies to test classes out with minimal commitment. This is a perfect way for beginners to try a few different styles of classes at one studio, and visit multiple different studios for a lower price, and therefore establish which style and centre may suit them best.
Of course, the Western popularity of Yoga has led to a proliferation of modern adaptations to traditional yoga styles. Examples include:
- Hot yoga: usually practised in 34-37 degrees heat, this current craze is highly suitable for beginners as the heat loosens muscles, so eases movement into postures.
- Aerial yoga: combining yoga postures with aerial arts by using silk hammocks, aerial is a playful and fun class to try, and good for beginners as the silk can aid balance and ease the body into poses more gently.
- Beginner’s Yoga: also given terms such as ‘foundation flow’, many studios offer classes deliberately designed for those less familiar with yoga. These classes would be great to learn the basic poses, terms, and techniques of yoga and build one’s confidence before progressing to other classes.
It is also important to note that most instructors will guide attendees through a range of modifications during the class, allowing the adaptation of one’s practice to any personal ability. So, don’t be scared! Wobbling and losing balance are natural parts of yoga that are embraced during the practice, and important signs of strength-building and development.
Better mental health, physical wellbeing and bundles of fun are just one step, click and flow away
For students, many universities have their very own Yoga Society, or related groups such as Buddhist, Hindu, or Meditation society that offer yoga classes. Low-priced, exclusively for students, and located at or near the university, joining one of these communities would be a highly student- and beginner-friendly way to get into yoga, with the added benefit of meeting like-minded individuals.
By joining studio classes or a university society, making yoga a social activity is another brilliant way to integrate the practice into your lifestyle. Instead of meeting a friend for brunch, why not attend a yoga class together and grab a coffee afterwards? By meeting like-minded individuals at classes, you are likely to meet new friends with similar interests, so yoga can open many new opportunities for social fun.
So, what are you waiting for? Clear the living-room, roll out your mat, or book that class! Better mental health, physical wellbeing and bundles of fun are just one step, click and flow away…
For more content including Uni News, Reviews, Entertainment, Lifestyle, Features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.