Namaste. That’s the respectful and honorable greeting spoken as a Hindu customary and deeply rooted in yoga practices across the globe. Vinyasa. That’s a style of yoga focused on moving seamlessly from one position to the next, pairing movement with breath. Yin. It means to be passive, cool, and calm.
The terminology in yoga is just one aspect of the practice that sets it apart. While many know it as a physical practice that can help reduce fat, strengthen muscles, and promote flexibility, yoga is really a full mind and body experience. “One of the most influential yoga scripts is said to be written more than 5,000 years ago,” says Alyssa Marty, owner of Shine Yoga Studios in Lincoln Center. “The practice has evolved over the years, of course, but it’s roots in spiritual development and self-observation have always remained the same.”
If you ask Alyssa, the non-physical benefits of yoga actually far outweigh the physical. For her, it’s cultivating a stillness and connection with yourself. “Yoga is one of the greatest and most proven ways to learn to quiet or still the mind,” she says, which does wonders for reducing stress and anxiety. “When you are practicing yoga, you are learning to focus on the present moment through the breath.”
Vinyasa uses breath to move through positions. The result is called a flow because instead of practicing static exercises one at a time, you are flowing your body into different positions, moving from one to the next without interruption. Adding in breathwork only elevates the practice. Alyssa says, “One of the reasons we link breath to movement in vinyasa yoga is that it allows for a deeper level of awareness and allows the mind to focus on one thing.” This ramps up the mental benefits of the practice. But breath can also be used to elevate the movements. Often in Vinyasa Flow, instructors will suggest pushing your stretch further during an exhale so the breath actually aids your body in extending movements and opening up. “In yoga, because we focus so intensely on deeper/more complete breathing patterns, we can learn to access this calm breath more easily in stressful situations off of our mats.”
Of course, while the mentals are important in yoga, the physical still plays a part. Physical activity of any kind boosts our mood as serotonin surges. And yoga will lead to lean muscles and inner and outer strength. Flexibility is one of the biggest benefits of the exercise and can help athletes reach their potential in other activities, too. “Because I am active and like to do weights classes and cycling, my hips get tight,” Alyssa says. “Yoga has… so greatly influenced my other workouts because I have flexibility and strength I hadn’t been able to tap into before.” For that reason, positions that stretch the hips are some of Alyssa’s personal favorites, including pigeon pose, which focuses on both the outer hips and the hip flexors at the same time.
“Yoga offers something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for the physicality of the practice or to find a way to manage your stress or anxiety,” Alyssa says. “[One of the most important aspects of yoga is] learning to be comfortable in our own bodies and gaining a deeper understanding of who we really are.”
Shine Yoga Studios
308 Lincoln Center, Stockton