Yoga has been around for many centuries. It originated in ancient India as a part of spiritual practices, and in its Hindu and Buddhist roots, yoga wasn’t specifically focused on physical fitness. But during the 20th century, a new and different, secular version of yoga started emerging in the West.
Today the modern practice of yoga remains one of the top fitness trends in the U.S., year after year. Studies have shown that incorporating yoga into your exercise plan can help with your flexibility, muscular strength and endurance, stress reduction, and improving overall health and fitness.
There are various forms and styles of yoga. In the Western world, modern hatha yoga focuses on the physical practice of various poses (called asanas) to increase strength, balance, flexibility and mindfulness. The asanas help people to tune into their bodies.
Benefits of asana practice include better control and awareness of breath; better balance; increased strength, stability and flexibility; increased bone density; and reduced anxiety, pain and discomfort.
Yoga can also help ease back pain and arthritis symptoms, reduce body-wide inflammation, benefit heart health, and relax you to help you sleep better (Johns Hopkins Medicine).
I can tell you from my experience leading a Gentle Yoga class comprised of mostly midlife and older adults, it is one of the most popular and beneficial forms of exercise in this population. Participants find the poses empowering, and they enjoy the unique combination of physical and mental focus and sense of well-being that yoga brings.
Focus on breathing
One thing that differentiates yoga from other forms of exercise is mindfully connecting the breath to your movements. The idea is to help you become more present in the moment and to link body and mind.
Focus on long, slow, deep breathing. Try to match the length of your inhales with the length of exhales. Traditionally, in hatha yoga, breathing is done in and out of the nose. However, breathe in the manner that is most comfortable for you. See this Yoga Journal article for more on breathing technique.