All About Yoga: Poses, Types, Benefits, and More – Everyday Health

It’s hard to find a wellness trend that has enjoyed more sustained buzz than yoga.

No single reason is driving people to the millennia-old practice. Experts suspect it has something to do with yoga's combination of physical and mental health benefits.
The heightened stress and fast pace of today’s world make yoga more relevant than ever, says Sally Sherwin, a yoga instructor at the Center for Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, who is certified by Yoga Alliance, the world's largest nonprofit yoga association that certifies teachers and schools.
“We spend so much time on autopilot, checking off things on our to-do list. Yoga can help people slow down,” says Sherwin.
“When you do yoga, your nervous system calms down and you get out of that fight-or-flight state, Sherwin says. “Just sitting and breathing can be yoga. You’re aware, you’re in the moment, and you can find peace in that moment.”

Many people have come to know the physical benefits of yoga and think of it as a type of workout, says Sherwin. But yoga is way more than that. “It’s really an entire lifestyle; the postures are only one piece of it,” she says.
Yoga began in India and has been around for about 5,000 years, says Sherwin. “Originally it was taught one-on-one and only to men of the highest caste,” she says.

Yoga didn't originate as an exercise program, but some styles have been adapted into workouts focused on the physical parts of the practice, says Edward Laskowski, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist and the former codirector of Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota. “People have different goals coming into yoga. Some may do yoga for the contemplative or meditative part of it and some people might want more of the exercise and activity part.”
Anything that elevates our heart rate for a consistent period of time is beneficial to overall fitness, he says. “The heart is a muscle, and when you challenge it by elevating your heart rate you make it stronger,” says Dr. Laskowski.
Yoga probably isn’t in the same category of aerobic exercise as running or biking, says Laskowski. But the amount of aerobic benefit a person could get from yoga depends a lot on the style and pace of the type of yoga you’re doing, he says.
Yoga can also help build strength, Laskowski says. Certain positions and poses where a person must hold up part of their body weight will challenge a muscle and make it stronger, he says.
It’s a good way to get your resistance training in, because yoga builds functional strength (meaning you get stronger by using multiple joint and muscle groups together rather than strengthening a specific muscle in isolation, as you might do in weight lifting). “That’s good, because that’s what we do in our daily life,” he says.
Instantly become inspired by these yogis — and their breathtaking poses — from around the world.
“The benefits of yoga are different for different people,” Laskowski says. “Overall, it has components that can help with flexibility, strength, balance, and stability.”

Vinyasa yoga is one of the most popular kinds of yoga in the United States, says Jen Fleming, a yoga teacher and manager at YogaWorks in Atlanta, who is certified by Yoga Alliance. Although vinyasa can be a set sequence of poses that never changes, as in ashtanga vinyasa, flow vinyasa classes will be different every time, she says.
Different styles of vinyasa yoga also include power yoga, Baptiste yoga, Jivamukti, and prana flow. These kinds of classes are among the most athletic and physically challenging, says Fleming.
It can be difficult to keep up with the pace of a vinyasa class if you don’t have yoga experience, adds Shala Worsley, a yoga instructor at Asheville Yoga Center in Asheville, North Carolina, who is certified by Yoga Alliance. “If you want to try vinyasa yoga and you don’t have much experience, try to find a studio that offers a beginner or a slow flow class,” says Worsley.
Yoga lowers stress and inflammation, which could help manage eczema and other skin conditions.
Hot yoga is yoga practiced in a hotter-than-normal room, and the style of yoga performed can vary from studio to studio, says Samantha Scupp, the founder and a teacher at Heatwise, a New York City–based hot yoga studio, who is certified by Yoga Alliance.
Here are a few things to know before you try it.

Not only can the temperature fluctuate depending on the studio (check the class description or call the individual studio to find out details), but the method of heating can be different as well, says Scupp.
Along with conventional heating, some studios use a humidifier to make the room feel warmer. Some studios, like Heatwise, use infrared heat that comes from electric heat panels that are placed on the ceiling or around the room, which can feel more natural than forced-air heat, she says. The size of the room, the weather outside, and how packed the class is can all be factors in how hot the room gets, Scupp says.
Yoga done in a hot environment is called “hot yoga.” Hot yoga became popular in the 1970s with a specific style called Bikram yoga, and heat is now used to enhance a variety of yoga styles.
Vinyasa yoga or flow-type yoga practiced in a heated studio can also be called hot yoga. It would be a good idea to have some yoga experience before you step into a hot yoga class, says Scupp. Depending on the studio, there may be a beginner level course offered.
In general, hot yoga is safe for someone as long as they’re in good health, says Laskowski. If a person has certain preexisting chronic health conditions, previous heat injury, certain heart conditions, easily gets dehydrated, or is pregnant, it may not be safe to do hot yoga, he says.
“It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor if you’re going to try an activity that could stress your body,” says Laskowski.
There are about 20 major types of yoga, and certain kinds can appeal to certain individuals, says Laskowski. That’s because people often have different goals and reasons for wanting to do yoga, he says.
Depending on where you live and the size of the yoga community, you may find several types of yoga offered at studios near you. Here are a few of those types.
Hatha yoga (pronounced HAH-ta, not -tha) encompasses several types of yoga, including ashtanga, vinyasa, and power yoga. Hatha classes tend to be slower-paced than vinyasa classes, and may not necessarily flow from pose to pose, says Fleming. Poses are typically held for several breaths before another pose begins. What is consistent across different types of hatha yoga is that the physical poses and postures are meant to be linked to your breathing patterns.
Ashtanga yoga is a physically demanding type of yoga that moves quickly from pose to pose. Unlike flow or vinyasa yoga, there are set sequences that are meant to be performed in a specific order. Ashtanga yoga can be practiced in a teacher-led class or in a Mysore format. Mysore is self-guided with an instructor present but not leading the class. In a Mysore format, students are expected to know the sequence and timing of the poses from memory, Fleming explains.

Yin yoga is a style in which there’s no flowing from pose to pose. You stay mostly seated on the floor or lying on your back or belly, Fleming says.
It’s more passive and focuses on stretching. And the poses are held longer than in other types of yoga, says Fleming. “This kind of stretching can be good for the joints in a different way than active stretching,” says Fleming.
Yoga nidra is more of a meditation than a pose-filled yoga class. Students lie on their backs (a blanket or bolster can be used to add comfort) as the teacher guides them through focusing on and relaxing different parts of the body. People who practice yoga nidra are encouraged to “let go” and surrender to total relaxation and peace. It can be as relaxing and restorative as actual sleep, says Fleming.
The more you practice yoga, the more yoga poses and postures you’ll likely learn. But everyone starts with some of the same basic poses. Learn more about these beginner poses, which can offer big benefits, like easing back pain, stretching your hips, and improving balance.
From Downward-Facing Dog pose to Sukhasana, try these postures if you’re just starting out.
There’s a misconception among some that props are designed for beginners or people who “aren’t good at yoga.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. Props are used by newbies and seasoned yogis alike for all sorts of reasons, from comfort to deepening stretches to making a pose safer if you have an injury or limitation, says Carol Krucoff, an instructor certified by the International Association of Yoga Therapists and Yoga Alliance, and the author of the book Yoga Sparks: 108 Easy Practices for Stress Relief in a Minute or Less.
Props can be an equalizer to help make poses accessible to people of all body types, says Krucoff. Some people have shorter arms or a longer torso and a block or a yoga strap can help people get into a pose safely, she says.
Props can also be an important component of class, as in a chair yoga class, in which most (if not all) seated poses are performed in a chair rather than on the floor, says Krucoff.
Try these adjustments to take pressure off your joints.
New to yoga? Here’s what you need to know before you try out a class.
How much do you know about yoga? Is yoga exercise? Are yoga props just for beginners? Learn more.
There are a few things to keep in mind as you begin your search for a yoga class that fits your schedule and your needs.
Cleveland Clinic Center for Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine School of Yoga
Want to know more about how yoga can help with your specific health needs and conditions? Check out Cleveland Clinic’s School of Yoga at the Center for Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine. You can purchase instructional DVDs to start a yoga practice at home, and find several resources on the benefits of yoga on the center’s website.
Yoga Alliance
Yoga Alliance is a nonprofit professional and trade association that represents the yoga community. Yoga Alliance certifies yoga instructors, as well as yoga schools. The organization also advocates for safe yoga practices and yoga education.
CorePower Yoga
CorePower Yoga offers yoga classes that provide a high-intensity workout, as well as a retreat for your mind. “We believe in working every muscle and every emotion” is the motto on the brand’s website. Get ready to work and sweat. Studios are open in 23 states and Washington, DC, and classes can be streamed online.
Yoga to the People
Yoga to the People is about yoga for everyone. Yogis of all levels, ages, and backgrounds are welcome, including those who have never taken a class before. Check out their class video channel where you can follow along on an at-home yoga session on YouTube.
YogaWorks offers beginner-level yoga classes through challenging advanced classes in all different styles of the practice. (Looking for vinyasa, yin yoga, ashtanga, Iyengar, or prenatal yoga? YogaWorks has them all and more.) YogaWorks classes can be streamed online.
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