How Yoga Can Be Effective

Just a disclaimer before I dive in, I am by no means an expert in yoga nor am I certified to teach yoga. I was invited to attend a hot yoga session a couple months ago and figured I might as well give it a shot. Turns out, I think it’s awesome! I’ve heard of a couple stereotypes about yoga in terms of how “easy” it is or how it’s only about “stretching” and nothing more. The individuals who say that are typically people who haven’t experienced any yoga classes for themselves. There are many different types of yoga classes that could be used for different purposes. A few of the more common practices of yoga are:

  • Hatha: One of the most commonly practiced forms of yoga in the United States. It involves the practice of physical postures, breathing techniques, and relaxation/meditation.

  • Vinyasa: This type involves more fast-paced continuous movement along with maintaining certain positions (lunges, bends, stretches) for a period of time. Vinyasa can be referred as “power yoga” and is thought to be beneficial for weight loss.

  • Iyengar: This type utilizes equipment such as bolsters, belts, and chairs to adapt to different individual needs to allow anyone to perform exercises for all muscles groups. It’s beneficial for people who may have neck or back problems to assist them into the positions.

Regardless of the different types of yoga, they all have a basic similar concept. That is, holding a posture and moving between a series of stationary positions using isometric contractions while relaxing different muscles groups to form specific alignments with the body. They also can be combined within the same session rather than broken into different classes.  This is beneficial because it allows individuals to improve on their strength, balance, endurance, mobility, and flexibility.  Along with those benefits, there have been studies to show that yoga helps to improve blood pressure, blood glucose, lipid profile, mood, stress levels, promote well-being, and enhance quality of life. Most of the studies that involved a yoga intervention usually had older participants rather than younger participants. They’re also biased in terms of the socioeconomic population chosen and unclear ethnicity that participated. In any event, whether you’re young or old, thick or thin, yoga can provide you benefits.  

But what about comparing yoga to other forms of exercise? Can a routine workout at the gym be substituted with yoga to help maintain or improve your gains? In a randomized controlled trial conducted by Gothe and Mcauley, yoga was compared to functional fitness to determine if its interventions are as effective as conventional stretching and strengthening exercises. It showed that an 8-week Hatha intervention was just as effective as the conventional functional fitness exercises among middle-aged and older adults. There were different results based on gender in that women demonstrated greater flexibility and men demonstrated greater upper and lower body strength. So does that mean we should skip working out at a gym and move over to yoga? Of course not! With any activity, personal preference will always play a role. Yoga can used as an adjunct form of treatment and exercise if other forms of activities are unavailable. The best part about yoga is that it can be performed in the comfort of your own home. Just be aware of your own body’s limitations and never perform poses that may cause harm, especially as a beginner. It’s recommended, as a beginner, to perform yoga with an expert instructor so that they may assist with any positions and provide verbal/tactile cuing when necessary.

Speaking of expert instructor, what are the requirements to become a registered yoga teacher (RYT)?  In general, there are a lot of different organizations that may offer courses to become certified to teach yoga. However, it’s best to become trained by a nationally recognized organization such as Yoga Alliance. With Yoga Alliance, there are two different levels to become certified: a 200-hour program or a 500-hour program. Depending on your studio work choice, a 200-hour program may be sufficient enough to teach there. Usually, trainees complete the 200-hour program first and then decide whether or not to advance towards the 500-hour program. However, at least 100 hours of teaching experience is required after completion of the 200-hour course in order to take the 500-hour course. There are also different types of specialty courses that can be taken. That information, along with more detailed information about the courses can be found here:

With my limited experience of attending Hatha, Vinyasa, Iyengar and combined classes, I would definitely encourage everyone to at least give it a try.  It’s a way to fulfill any 2016 resolutions of being more active along with simply trying something new! If you like yoga, then great! If not, then at least you participated in some form of physical activity. I have found that yoga has not only helped with my flexibility but also my muscular endurance and I’m sure even my cardiovascular health as well! It alleviated some of my stress and allowed me to become more open-minded.

What about everyone else - have you ever participated in yoga? If so, what kind? Have you seen any improvements as a result? I would love to hear your feedback!