You’ve been feeling stressed out. You want to get into shape but are having a hard time getting excited about going back to a gym. Wouldn’t it be great to relax and unwind while you’re getting exercise and getting into shape? Learning yoga may be just the experience for you.

The ancient mind-body practice has been around for almost 5,000 years. The first historic evidence of yoga has been tracked back to an ancient civilization in northern India, and every day more than 2 billion (that’s billion with a b) people practice it around the world.

So, what exactly IS yoga? Although there are dozens of styles and options for participating, at its core yoga is a series of guided stretching and athletic poses accompanied with breathing and meditation techniques that can improve your physical and mental health.

Some of the physical benefits

Because it has been around for literally centuries, there are several documented benefits to learning yoga.  Like any health or exercise program you start, individual results can depend on your current physical condition, any unique health challenges you may have, and how frequently you practice. Some of the physical benefits of yoga basics can include:

  • Yoga weight loss
  • More flexibility and muscle tone
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Improved performance in your other sports or activities

Some of the mental benefits

If you practice yoga basics regularly and embrace the mind-body connection taught in most yoga classes, there are mental health benefits as important as the physical benefits. In fact, many yoga devotees say the mental benefits are what first got them interested in learning yoga and why they stick with it. Mental benefits can include:

  • Stress management and stress reduction
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Improved concentration and focus
  • The long-term benefits of meditation
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Decreased insomnia

What kind of yoga is your kind of yoga?

The growth of yoga in the USA has been phenomenal, with new variations and techniques popping up everywhere. For beginners, all those options can make it confusing to learn yoga. Browse these basic styles for the benefits of yoga, select one or two that sound interesting, then look for beginner-level classes.

Hatha yoga

  • Usually a slower moving class
  • Introduces basic techniques and poses
  • Excellent for beginners to get started

Vinyasa yoga

  • A fast-paced experience often with music
  • Continuous movement from pose to pose
  • Designed to get your heart rate up
  • Similar to higher-intensity exercises like interval training

Bikram yoga

  • Features 26 specific poses and two breathing exercises
  • Practiced in 90-minute class in a room set at 105 degrees F
  • Designed to make you sweat and exert yourself physically
  • A good way for beginners to get a physical and mental workout

Hot yoga

  • Very similar to Bikram yoga
  • Goes beyond the 26 poses of Bikram
  • Practiced in a heated room
  • Delivers a strenuous workout
  • Generates lots of sweat
  • May be challenging for some beginners

Yin yoga

  • A slow-paced experience that is meditative
  • Poses are held for several minutes
  • Yoga props are used to maintain poses
  • Excellent if you want to stretch and unwind

Restorative yoga

  • A very relaxed experience
  • Slow moving class with long pose holds
  • Yoga props are used to fully support you in each pose
  • Relaxation techniques are excellent for type A personalities, those with insomnia and those with anxiety

Some yoga basics

As with any health program, it’s best to check in with your doctor before launching into yoga. Be sure to stay hydrated before, during and after your yoga sessions. Ask your instructor questions, and give yourself at least two or three sessions to learn and get used to the experience. Good luck, and as yoga practitioners often say to greet each other, Namaste (I bow to you)!