Exercise fads, as we all know, tend to come and go, and it takes a while to evaluate their ultimate effectiveness — or lack thereof. But one simple regimen has proven itself for ages, and it brings people of all fitness levels together: yoga. It has been practiced for 1,000-plus years and can offer immeasurable benefits to an individual’s health and wellness.
Invented in India so long ago that Sanskrit was a hip new language, yoga’s initial teachings were spiritual in nature. As the practice evolved, the yoga masters who wrote the instructional texts began to explore the connection between yoga and the mind through meditation. Their next step was to connect yoga, the mind and the body with specific positions called asanas. In practicing and observing the asanas, yoga masters would later add breathing techniques to their texts.
By the early 20th century, America’s intellectuals had taken a keen interest in ancient Indian practices, including yoga. The masters from India set sail for visits to the U.S., and adoption of the practice stateside began soon after.
Modern yoga derives its soul and spirit from these ancient practices. Compounded with our western understanding of fitness, yoga is safe to practice regardless of your skill level, and practically anyone can maximize its benefits.
That’s right — you don’t have to be as limber as overcooked pasta to practice yoga, nor do you have to instantly balance-pose on one thumb and finger. Yoga is, in its very nature, democratizing. Anyone can try it, and making improvements is as easy as hitting up a weekly session.
So why do yoga? One major benefit of the practice is stretching. By gently positioning your body, you’ll find the long tendons in your arms and legs gradually become more limber, without harsh bends, rapid change of movement, or days of painful recovery.
Another benefit of yoga is deeper relaxation. When was the last time you exercised and felt refreshed afterward, like you’d just taken a short nap? Yoga isn’t running stadiums or riding a bike for three hours, but it can be quite demanding (if you want it to be). While the calorie burn at beginner yoga levels isn’t anywhere near hardcore cardio exercise, you’ll notice improvements in your concentration, a stronger link between breathing and movement, and better flexibility if you want to really go all-out.
That’s why many professional athletes take a weekday to do a yoga routine in addition to their regular exercise regime. Yoga’s low-impact, high-benefit nature is hugely beneficial, whether you’re training for a marathon or just going for a regular jog in an attempt to lose that holiday 10. Yoga poses are well-documented, and yes, you can just go start doing them in your living room. But there’s a huge benefit to finding an organized class that demonstrates a comprehensive routine connecting movement and breathing and gives you the support of classmates as well. Yoga classes are broken into experience and skill levels, so you’ll always be working with supportive people who want to reach the same goals as you. Class sizes are typically small, so dedicated and experienced instructors are able to assist you in getting your form correct for maximum benefit.
Whether you’re trying it for the first time or rejoining the practice, the most important thing to remember about yoga might be this: It’s supposed to be uplifting and fun. This isn’t some grueling four-hour boot camp of instructors shouting orders. There are no ankle monitors broadcasting your heart rate on a “judgment screen.” You won’t be pained, embarrassed or experience any self-abuse to reach a fitness goal.
All you’ll feel is a sense of connection — to your class, to your instructor and to your own body — and the added benefit of feeling great afterwards.