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People today, are under fire.

Relentless stress, longer workdays, fewer vacations, destructive nutrition and an epidemic of inactivity have led to an adult generation plagued by chronic pain, fatigue, disease and frustration. In search of an answer that does not require a lifetime of medication, many have turned to complimentary and alternative medicine and more conscious forms of movement.

For many, yoga has led the way.

While more than 16 million people practice in the U.S. alone, though, that’s still barely 5% of the U.S. population and participation worldwide is dramatically lower. This wouldn’t be such a big deal, but for the fact that a huge chunk of nearly everything the hundreds of millions of non-yoga-practitioners in the developed-world complain about can be substantially alleviated by some aspect of the practice.

Yoga works, plain and simple.

The combination of breathing techniques, movement, mindset training and, if desired the exploration of the more spiritual, subtle-aspects are nothing short of transformational.

In fact, the benefits of these modalities are so promising and cost-effective, larger-scale studies are now underway, some funded by the National Institutes Of Health. A sampling of the currently published research includes:

  • Yoga More Effective For Back Pain Than Therapeutic Exercise & Self-Care (Annals 2005 Dec 20;143(12):849-856)
  • Yoga Effectively Treats Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (JAMA 1998 Nov 11;280(18):1601-3)
  • Yoga Yields Weight Loss In Middle Age (Alternative Therapies In Health & Medicine; Jul/Aug 2006)
  • Yoga Helps Reduce Anxiety & Depression (Altern Ther Health Med. 2004 Ma-Apr;10(2):60-3, Soc Behavioral Med Ann Mtg; March 1993; Am J Psychiatry 1992; 149:936-943)
  • Yoga Reduces Risk Factors For Cardiovascular Disease (JAMA. 1998;280:2001-2007, J Assoc Physicians India 48(7):687-94 2000 Jul, J Altern Complement Med. 2005 Apr;11(2):267-74)
  • Yoga Lowers Pre-operative Anxiety & Stress (AACN Clin Issues. 2000 Feb; 11(1):68-76)
  • Yoga Reduces Frequency & Severity of Migraine & Tension Headaches (Int J Psychosomatics 36, 1989, pp 72-78, Neurology India 1991 Jan; 39(1): 11-8)
  • Yoga Effective Complimentary Treatment for Type II Diabetes (Proc XII Ann Mtg Res Soc Study Diabetes India 1984, Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 1993 Jan;19(1):69-74))
  • Yoga Reduces Risk Factors For Diabetes Mellitus (J Altern Complement Med. 2005 Apr;11(2):267-74)
  • Yoga Decreases Severity of Asthma (Pneumologie. 1994 Jul;48(7):484-90)
  • Yoga Accelerates Healing of Psoriasis Lesions (Psychosomatic Medicine, 60, 5: 625-632)
  • Yoga Reduces Stress During Cancer Treatment & Recovery (Psychosomatic Medicine 62:613-622, Supportive Care In Cancer Mar 2001; 9(2):112-23)
  • Yoga Effective At Reducing Stress (J Alt & Comp Med. 2005; 11(4): 711-717)
  • Yoga Effective At Treating Stress In Fibromyalgia Patients (Gen Hosp Psychiatry 15(5):284-9 1993)

So, if you’re looking for a single activity to add to your routine in 2008 that boasts the ability to impact every aspect of your life, why not make it yoga?

Beware, though, choose your yoga carefully.

Before you rush out and dive in, you should know that there are more than 20 major schools or “styles” of practice today and many of them offer radically divergent experiences. Some, like ashtanga, vinyasa or power yoga provide a strong, flowing dynamic experience that can range from mildly to extremely rigorous. Others provide more of a gentle, restorative effect.

All approaches have value, but before beginning, it’s important to:

  • Identify what you are looking for from the practice,
  • Assess your physical condition and limitations and potentially seek input from your health-care provider,
  • Consider the type of setting you’d feel most comfortable in (gym, studio, retreat, home), and
  • Think about whether you’d prefer a group or a more private experience.

Once you’ve sussed out your preferences, it’s time to explore local yoga options.

Here is a brief summary of the major types of yoga you’ll run into and the general experience they’ll offer:

  • Vinyasa/Power/Flow/Ashtanga/Jivamukti – rigorous, flowing, dyamic practice, rooted strongly in movement, postures and breathing exercises. May be extremely challenging and generally also provides a great workout. Different teachers may bring in more or less of the subtler-side of the practice
  • Iyengar – more static, but still very physically challenging experience, with a strong emphasis on precision and alignment, holding postures for an extended time and very little movement.
  • Anusara – similar attention to detail as Iyengar, but more movement and focus on mindset and the energetic side of the practice. Less movement than Vinyasa, but more than Iyengar. May be highly challenging.
  • Integral/Sivananda – Very traditional experience, rooted more in the subtler-side, study of traditions, philosophy and scriptures, breathing and energetic work, with less emphasis on postures.
  • Hot/Bikram – set of postures and breathing exercises performed in a super-heated environment (105-degrees +) . The heat makes this a very intense experience.
  • Kundalini – experience taps strongly into the subtle-side in an effort to release the body’s lifeforce and allow it to travel up the spine. Strong emphasis on breathing, chanting, interaction and unique set of movements and postures
  • Hatha/Kripalu/restorative – balanced emphasis on breath, meditation and postures, many of which are designed to release physical imbalances and holding patterns in the body. Generally, a gentle experience, not tailored o those looking for a strong exercise-experience, but highly-valuable nonetheless.
  • Viniyoga/yoga therapy – individualized experience that is tailored to the precise diagnoses and needs of the individual. Most often done on a private basis, though, some classes may be found.
  • YogaFit – begun as fitness-classes, based on modified yoga postures, YogaFit is the designated yoga at a number of large health-club chains.
  • Hybrids – Yogilates – yoga and pilates, Tai Yoga – yoga and massage, Yoga boxing/Spinning – yoga and indoor cycling

Once you’ve determined your general yoga preferences and noted which styles of practice sounds appealing, search for the local setting and type of class that feels right to you and commit to trying it out. A great resource to learn more and find yoga in your local neighborhood is the beginner’s area at YogaJournal.com.

And remember, the nature of the experience, even at the same studio or gym, can vary fairly dramatically, based upon the skill, ability, experience and personality of the teacher.

So, even if your first or second experience do not immediately resonate with you, be sure to explore a few more teachers, styles or settings, instead of simply writing off a practice that has the ability to make your life a calmer, more energized, less painful, more enjoyable place to be.

Wishing you all an incredible 2008 ahead!

PS – This list is by no-means all-inclusive, so feel free to add to my list or share your thoughts, stories and ideas in the comment section below.

Namaste (Sanksrit for the light in me honors the light in you)

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