Astro Hounds Health Encyclopaedia: Yoga

An old ritual that blends the mind, body & spirit; inviting a wealth of health benefits. Here is why, and how to practice.

At Astro Hounds, we believe that yoga has the power to elevate your life - in a range of ways. It is vital for your spirit. It helps you to relax and calm down. That is exactly why we integrate yoga as one of the core practises that comes with the Astro Companion. When you mint an NFT Astro Companion, you unlock yoga. Before you start earning on your yoga practices, it is important to first understand how it works, how to find the right practice for you, and why you need to start today.

History

There are multiple theories debating the beginnings of yoga. However, the earliest recordings of yoga practices originate from the sacred texts of the Riga Verda — a region in northern India over 5,000 years ago.
Since then, yoga has exploded and become one of the most popular sports in the world, for the west and east combined.

Benefits of yoga

1. Yoga improves strength, balance and flexibility.

Slow movements and deep breathing increase blood flow and warm up muscles, while holding a pose can build strength.

Best pose: Tree Pose

Balance on one foot, while holding the other foot to your calf or above the knee (but never on the knee) at a right angle. Try to focus on one spot in front of you, while you balance for one minute.

2. Yoga helps with back pain relief.

Yoga is as good as basic stretching for easing pain and improving mobility in people with lower back pain. The American College of Physicians recommends yoga as a first-line treatment for chronic low back pain.

Best pose: Try it: Cat-Cow Pose

Get on all fours, placing your palms underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. First, inhale, as you let your stomach drop down toward the floor. Then, exhale, as you draw your navel toward your spine, arching your spine like a cat stretching.

3. Yoga can ease arthritis symptoms.

Gentle yoga has been shown to ease some of the discomfort of tender, swollen joints for people with arthritis, according to a Johns Hopkins review of 11 recent studies.

4. Yoga benefits heart health.

Regular yoga practice may reduce levels of stress and body-wide inflammation, contributing to healthier hearts. Several of the factors contributing to heart disease, including high blood pressure and excess weight, can also be addressed through yoga.

Try it: Downward Dog Pose

Get on all fours, then tuck your toes under and bring your sitting bones up, so that you make a triangle shape. Keep a slight bend in your knees, while lengthening your spine and tailbone.

5. Yoga relaxes you, to help you sleep better.

Research shows that a consistent bedtime yoga routine can help you get in the right mindset and prepare your body to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Try It: Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose

Sit with your left side against a wall, then gently turn right and lift your legs up to rest against the wall, keeping your back on the floor and your sitting bones close to the wall. You can remain in this position for 5 to 15 minutes.

6. Yoga can mean more energy and brighter moods.

You may feel increased mental and physical energy, a boost in alertness and enthusiasm, and fewer negative feelings after getting into a routine of practicing yoga.

7. Yoga helps you manage stress.

According to the National Institutes of Health, scientific evidence shows that yoga supports stress management, mental health, mindfulness, healthy eating, weight loss and quality sleep.

Try It: Corpse Pose (Savasana)

Lie down with your limbs gently stretched out, away from the body, with your palms facing up. Try to clear your mind while breathing deeply. You can hold this pose for 5 to 15 minutes.

8. Yoga connects you with a supportive community.

Participating in yoga classes can ease loneliness and provide an environment for group healing and support. Even during one-on-one sessions loneliness is reduced as one is acknowledged as a unique individual, being listened to and participating in the creation of a personalized yoga plan.

Luckily, just like its asanas (postures) yoga takes many forms. This means that there will certainly be the best yoga practice which works for you.

Types of yoga

1. Vinyasa yoga

Vinyasa means “to place in a special way” and, in this case, yoga postures. Vinyasa yoga is the often considered the most athletic yoga style. Vinyasa was adapted from ashtanga yoga in the 1980s. Many types of yoga can also be considered vinyasa flows such as ashtanga, power yoga, and prana.

How to practice:

In vinyasa classes, the movement is coordinated with your breath and movement to flow from one pose to another. Vinyasa styles can vary depending on the teacher, and there can be many types of poses in different sequences. I personally teach an alignment-based style of vinyasa and choreograph new flows every time, but I also like to hold some of the poses a bit longer after warming up. You can find more information on specific vinyasa poses and benefits here.

2. Hatha yoga

The Sanskrit term “hatha” is an umbrella term for all physical postures of yoga. In the West, hatha yoga simply refers to all the other styles of yoga (ashtanga, Iyengar, etc.) that are grounded in a physical practice. However, there are other branches of yoga such as kriya, raja, and karma yoga that are separate from the physical-based yoga practice. The physical-based yoga is the most popular and has numerous styles.

How to practice:

Hatha yoga classes are best for beginners since they are usually paced slower than other yoga styles. Hatha classes today are a classic approach to breathing and exercises. If you are brand-new to yoga, hatha yoga is a great entry point to the practice.

3. Iyengar yoga

Iyengar yoga was founded by B.K.S. Iyengar and focuses on alignment as well as detailed and precise movements. In an Iyengar class, students perform a variety of postures while controlling the breath.

How to practice:

Generally, poses are held for a long time while adjusting the minutiae of the pose. Iyengar relies heavily on props to help students perfect their form and go deeper into poses in a safe manner. Although you won’t jump around, you will definitely get a workout and feel incredibly open and relaxed after an Iyengar class. This style is really great for people with injuries who need to work slowly and methodically.

4. Kundalini yoga

Kundalini yoga practice is equal parts spiritual and physical. This style is all about releasing the kundalini energy in your body said to be trapped, or coiled, in the lower spine.

How to practice:

These classes really work your core and breathing with fast-moving, invigorating postures and breath exercises. These classes are pretty intense and can involve chanting, mantra, and meditation. To learn more about this specific practice, check out our kundalini yoga explainer.

5. Ashtanga yoga

In Sanskrit, ashtanga is translated as “Eight Limb path.” In Mysore, India, people gather to practice this form of yoga together at their own pace — if you see Mysore-led ashtanga, it’s expected of you to know the series. Vinyasa yoga stems from ashtanga as the flowing style linking breath to movement. To learn more about this specific practice, check out our beginner’s guide to ashtanga yoga.

How to practice:

Ashtanga yoga involves a very physically demanding sequence of postures, so this style of yoga is definitely not for the beginner. It takes an experienced yogi to really love it. Ashtanga starts with five sun salutation A’s and five sun salutation B’s and then moves into a series of standing and floor postures.

6. Bikram yoga

Bikram yoga is named after Bikram Choudhury and features a sequence of set poses in a sauna-like room — typically set to 105 degrees and 40% humidity. Choudhury faced sexual assault and harassment lawsuits in the U.S. and fled to Mexico in 2017. Many studios that were formerly Bikram now practice hot yoga, in an effort to disassociate with the founder.

How to practice:

The sequence includes a series of 26 basic postures, with each one performed twice. Many of these poses are focused on proper alignment. If you’re interested in yoga with the heat turned up, look for studios that offer hot yoga classes.

7. Yin yoga

Yin yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga with seated postures that are held for longer periods of time. Yin can also be a meditative yoga practice that helps you find inner peace.

How to practice:

Yin is a great class for beginners, as postures can be held for from 45 seconds to 2 minutes. The classes are relaxed, as you’re supposed to let gravity do most of the work. Check out our crash course on everything you need to know about yin yoga, found here.

8. Restorative yoga

Restorative yoga focuses on winding down after a long day and relaxing your mind. At its core, this style focuses on body relaxation. Restorative yoga also helps to cleanse and free your mind.

How to practice:

You spend more time in fewer postures throughout the class. Many of the poses are modified to be easier and more relaxing. Like Iyengar, many props are used and are placed just right such as blankets, bolsters, and eye pillows. All of the props are there to help you sink deeper into relaxation.

9. Prenatal yoga

Prenatal yoga is carefully adapted for “moms to be” and is tailored to women in all trimesters. Many have said that prenatal is one of the best types of exercise for expectant moms because of the pelvic floor work, focus on breathing, and bonding with the growing baby; prenatal yoga also helps mothers prepare for labor and delivery. I also practiced my own form of prenatal yoga during both of my pregnancies.

How to practice:

During this practice, you’ll use props in order to modify your poses and ensure stability — in this class, it’s way more about stability than flexibility.

10. Anusara yoga

Anusara is a modern-day version of hatha yoga, most similar to vinyasa in that it focuses on alignment, but with more focus on the mind-body-heart connection. It was founded by John Friend who created a unique system called the Universal Principals of Alignment. He resigned in 2012 after accusations of sexual misconduct and financial mismanagement. Friend has since partnered with Desi and Micah Springer to teach the Bowspring method.

How to practice:

Anusara focuses on spirals and how each body part should be moving, and it’s also known for its emphasis on heart opening. Expect to often stop in class and gather around a student as the instructor breaks down a pose.

11. Jivamukti yoga

Jivamukti was founded in 1984 by Sharon Ganon and David Life. Jivamukti is mainly vinyasa-flow-style classes infused with Hindu spiritual teachings. At its core, this style emphasizes connection to Earth as a living being, so most Jivamukti devotees follow their vegetarian philosophy.

How to practice:

A series of chants usually open the beginning of class followed up by a series of poses that align with the five tenets of Jivamukti yoga and philosophy.

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