The Benefits of YOGA!

exercise | April 5, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

Alternative Therapies

The Benefits of YOGA!

If you're ready to start on the path of a yogi (or just enjoy the benefits of a regular workout), you may be a little overwhelmed with the multiple schools and styles of yoga available. Originating from the same roots in ancient India, all yoga practices have been shown to improve strength, flexibility, balance, mood and mental concentration. So how do you pick one to try?

Here are the six most popular forms of yoga, evidence we found about their credibility, and who they are best for:

Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga is actually a generic term that refer to all forms of physical yoga. Yoga is a holistic practice that includes branches that focus on breath work, meditation, devotion, styles of cooking and eating, chanting and so on.

Hatha YogaAnything physical – including everything else on this list – is hatha. 

On a more practical level, you will find yoga classes marketed as Hatha Yoga are quite different from other classes discussed below. 

Hatha style is a gentle introduction to basic yoga poses with a strong focus on proper alignment.

In a hatha yoga class, you will hold poses for longer to build strength that will support deep muscle release and improve flexibility.

The Evidence:

  • Hatha yoga has been shown to significantly improve posture and balance [1], improve joint mobility and muscle strength [2], and reduce the risk of metabolic disease [3].
  • A meta-analysis confirmed that, based on the available evidence, Hatha yoga is an effective treatment for anxiety, especially in people with elevated levels of anxiety [4].

Best For:

  • Beginners or students returning to yoga funamentals.
  • People looking for relief from anxiety and depression.
  • Anyone who prefers a slower pace with focus on alignment.

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga YogaAshtanga is based on ancient teachings but was popularised in the west in the 1970s by K. Pattabhi Jois. It is a fast-moving flow that links poses together with no breaks in between – this is similar to vinyasa (discussed below), but ashtanga yoga involves repetition of the exact same poses in the same sequence, every time.

Ashtanga is one of the most vigorous styles of yoga and will get your heart racing.

Mysore style is an ashtanga class, but taught one-on-one between teacher and student. Students arrive at the studio any time during a 3 hour period and practice at their own pace, with a teacher attending to them.

The Evidence:

  • A 12-week prospective pilot study showed that ashtanga yoga was a beneficial weight-loss tool for children aged 8 – 15 years [5].
  • Two 8-month studies showed that regular ashtanga practice provided a small increase in muscle a strength and bone strength in premenopausal women [6].

Best For:

  • Cardiovascular health.
  • Weight loss.
  • Intermediate and advanced students, or beginners looking for a challenge.
  • Developing patience and focus.

Vinyasa Flow

In a vinyasa flow class, the teacher leads the class through a series of poses without discussing the finer points of alignment or how to set up the pose.

Vinyasa FlowFlow classes are inspired by the continuous style of Ashtanga yoga, but no two vinyasa classes are the same. The teacher designs the class to smoothly transition from pose to pose with a focus on linking breath with movement.

There is a level of assumed knowledge about the poses, but you can attend a vinyasa flow class without much experience – just be prepared to work!

The mental attention required in a vinyasa flow class is an ideal practice to keep the mind focussed and occupied. If you struggle to meditate or have a hard time getting in the zone with other types of yoga classes, a vinyasa flow class can help to develop mental focus.

The Evidence:

  • A 50 minute class burns around 495 calories – a great alternative to classic cardio such as stationary bike riding which would burn ~400 calories.
  • A 3-month vinyasa yoga program was shown to significantly improve the health of adults who showed high risk for type 2 diabetes. This including improved weight loss, blood pressure, insulin levels, triglycerides. Plus, 99% of participants were highly satisfied with the yoga program and intended to continue vinyasa yoga [8].

Best for:

  • Cardiovascular health.
  • Weight loss.
  • Quietening a busy mind.
  • Relieving anxiety and stress.

Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar YogaWhile vinyasa classes can sometimes feel like you're throwing your body around wildly, Iyengar yoga will put you back in proper alignment.

This style of yoga was developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, who was known as the “man who popularised yoga in the west” through the 1960s and 1970s.

This style focusses heavily on quality over speed.

Students are introduced to a variety of poses to slowly but steadily improve their range of motion, stability, stamina and concentration.

Props such as blocks, straps, blankets, chairs and bolsters are common in an Iyengar studio to assist all students (even the inflexible ones!) benefit from poses. Teachers undergo thorough training and are able to help students adapt to restrictions or injuries their bodies may have.

The Evidence:

  • Iyengar yoga has been shown to relieve pain, lower the amount of pain relief mediation required, improve movement, and reduce depressive symptoms in adults with chronic lower back pain. The participants in the study took two classes weekly for 24 weeks but improvement was seen as early as 12 weeks [9].

Best for:

  • Injury recovery
  • Chronic condition management
  • Spine health 
  • Flexibility

Bikram Yoga & Hot Yoga

Bikram Yoga & Hot YogaBikram yoga is practiced in a room that is heated to 40.6°C with 40% humidity. Ready to sweat? Students move through the same series of 26 poses in each class – this is similar to ashtanga yoga, though the poses are different in bikram to ashtanga.

Bikram yoga has been trademarked and the founder has sued studios claiming to be Bikram studios without practicing the proper sequence. From this controversy emerged hot yoga. Same idea, different practice – rooms are heated anywhere from 32°C to 40°C, and the sequence of poses are usually different each time, depending on the teacher. 

In both of these styles, the heat of the room allows the body to open up and increase flexibility. The poses done in Bikram are designed to strengthen the body and “rinse” the internal organs.

The Evidence:

  • A 2015 literature review concluded that Bikram yoga can improve strength, balance and range of motion, as well as health biomarkers such as lipids, insulin resistance and glucose tolerance [12].

Best For:

  • Those who want to sweat!
  • Looking for a natural high.
  • Cardiovascular health.
  • Weight loss and detoxification.

Yin Yoga & Restorative Classes

Restorative yoga is exactly what it sounds like – a time to relax, restore and recover. Blankets, blocks and props are used to allow the body relax into passive poses. Once in place, the body can fully experience the benefits of the yoga poses without exerting any effort.

Yin Yoga is a Taoist style of yoga with an emphasis on increasing flexibility while passively releasing into the pose.

Yin classes are similar to restorative classes, but with a focus on releasing the connective tissue of the hips, pelvis and lower spine.

There is some effort involved in yin yoga, while restorative yoga is entirely passive.

The Evidence:

  • A five week randomized controlled study showed that a yin yoga program decreased stress and worry in participants [10].
  • A ten week trial showed that adults with metabolic disease experienced improved blood pressure, lower stress, improved energy levels and  greater sense of well-being after attending 15 restorative yoga classes [11].

Best for:

  • Athletes to release overworked tissue
  • Releasing stress and emotional issues
  • Improving meditation skills
  • Balancing yang yoga styles (e.g. Bikram or vinyasa)

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References

[1] Prado, E. T., et al. (2014) Hatha yoga on body balance. Int J Yoga., 7:2, 133 – 137. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4097898/

[2] Tran, M. D., et al. (2001) Effects of Hatha Yoga Practice on the Health-Related Aspects of Physical Fitness. Prev Cardio., 4:4:, 165 – 170. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11832673

[3] Lau, C., et al. (2015) Effects of a 12-Week Hatha Yoga Intervention on Metabolic Risk and Quality of Life in Hong Kong Chinese Adults with and without Metabolic Syndrome. PLoS ONE, 10:6, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26111165

[4]  Hofmann, S. G., et al. (2016) Effect of Hatha Yoga on Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis. J Evid Based Med. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27203378

[5] Benavides, S. & Caballero, J. (2009) Ashtanga yoga for children and adolescents for weight management and psychological well being: an uncontrolled open pilot study. Complement Ther Clin Pract., 15:2, 110 – 114. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19341991

[6] Kim, S., et al. (2015) Effects of an 8-Month Ashtanga-Based Yoga Intervention on Bone Metabolism in Middle-Aged Premenopausal Women: A Randomized Controlled Study. J Sports Sci Med., 14:4, 756 – 768. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4657418/

[7] Kim, S., et al. (2012) Effects of an 8-month yoga intervention on arterial compliance and muscle strength in premenopausal women. Sports Sci Med., 11:2, 322 – 330. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3737865/

[8] Yang, K., et al. (2011) Utilization of 3-Month Yoga Program for Adults at High Risk for Type 2 Diabetes: A Pilot Study. Evid Based Complementary Altern Med., 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3096458/

[9] Williams, K., et al. (2009) Evaluation of the effectiveness and efficacy of Iyengar yoga therapy on chronic low back pain. Spine, 34:19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19701112

[10] Hylander, F., et al. (2017) Yin yoga and mindfulness: a five week randomized controlled study evaluating the effects of the YOMI program on stress and worry. Anxiety Stress Coping., 30:4, 356 – 378. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28286971

[11] Cohen, B. E., et al. (2008) Restorative yoga in adults with metabolic syndrome: a randomized, controlled pilot trial. Metab Syndr Relat Disord., 6:3, 223 – 229. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18710330

[12] Hewett, Z. L., et al. (2015) The Effects of Bikram Yoga on Health: Critical Review and Clinical Trial Recommendations. Evid Based Complement Altern Med. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4609431/

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