What is Yoga as Exercise?

Yoga is an ancient discipline, encompassing a range of practices – including exercises and stretches, patterned breathing techniques, meditation, and philosophy. As yoga has become more of a mainstream practice, many varied versions of yoga’s history, doctrines, texts, and styles have been disseminated in the media and in classes across the country. While many of these are valid and valuable, some are not. So when venturing into any level of study, it’s always a good idea to check the source of your information.

The part of yoga that involves physical exercise is call “asana.” Asana includes a great variety of postures. A typical yoga session consists of a series of yoga asana, which often incorporates patterned breathing. For example: breathe out while you lower yourself down in a push up, and breathe in when you raise yourself up. Some positions in yoga seem simple at first; but as you practice the nuances become significant. These nuances, in fact, can become the focus and key to your practice! In my own practice, I have discovered more muscles and focal points than I ever thought could exist in even the seemingly simple standing posture, what is called Mountain pose.Man practicing yoga in Himalaya mountains, with view of Machapuchare, Nepal

There is even a national yoga competition, which is every bit as intense and demanding as the floor series in Olympic gymnastics. However, only a few yoga practitioners set out with competition in mind. For most, yoga exercise is the best way to feel great, be healthy, and maintain a good attitude.

Yoga is so popular now that many yoga teachers across the United States have developed their own style. Baron Baptiste is one well-known example. His parents ran the first yoga studio in San Francisco, and he studied and practiced many styles of yoga for years. Finally, he integrated his ideas into his own style of practice, a challenging vinyasa flow called Power Yoga that is now taught around the world.

There is no governing board of the various yoga styles and practices. There is nothing to differentiate an experienced teacher well versed in anatomy and injury prevention, from an inexperienced teacher who has earned a teaching certification but has limited knowledge. You can actually get an “official” yoga teacher certificate by filling out a form and paying a small fee online. Knowing this, there are important things you can do as a student to stay safe. Always check out your instructor with Yoga Alliance as a start. Yoga Alliance works to put some standards in place for the yoga community, and one of their most important roles is credentialing teachers. Most importantly, stay aware as you practice in class – if something doesn’t feel right for your body, don’t do it. Even yoga teachers with valid credentials are free to create and teach variations of yoga positions , and some of these could be dangerous to beginners, or even advanced students without the proper cues and instruction.

Because there are no teaching standards after certification, our content here will focus on styles that have evolved over time, those that we have the most confidence in as being safe and healthy for the body. Our focus will be on styles of yoga that can be counted as real physical exercise – those that incorporate a lot of physical effort and movement.

As featured on YogaNoDogma

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