Some yoga styles are intense and vigorous, and others are relaxing and meditative. Regardless of which type you choose, yoga is an excellent way to stretch and strengthen your body, focus your mind and relax your spirit.
"There are many branches of yoga, a 5,000-year-old discipline from India developed as a practice to unite the mind and body," says Mara Carrico, author of Yoga Journal's Yoga Basics and a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego. "All hatha yoga styles can help balance your body, mind and spirit, but they achieve it in various ways."
For example, the different styles of physical or hatha yoga differ in how poses or asanas are done and whether they focus more on mastering and holding the posture, strict alignment, breathing or the flow of movement.
"But no style is better than another; it's a matter of personal preference," says Ms. Carrico. "I suggest finding a style that furthers your goals and looking for a teacher and class you feel comfortable with." If you've never done yoga, here are 10 good reasons to give it a try.
1. Increased flexibility and reduced risk for injury. Each yoga pose targets specific muscles, thereby increasing flexibility and reducing the risk for injury in your activities.
"If you're just getting started in yoga, be sure your teacher knows about any injuries or health conditions you have and is aware and knowledgeable enough to advise you of any positions you should avoid," says Ms. Carrico.
2. Less stress. Yoga can help soothe the mind and lower stress levels by focusing the mind on the moment and the movements rather than on external distractions.
3. Increased awareness and concentration. A primary component of yoga is rhythmic, focused breathing.
"Taking full, complete breaths makes it easier to relax and center the mind," says Ms. Carrico.
4. Better understanding of the mind-body connection. Yoga requires you to focus all your energies on performing each movement or pose precisely. This benefits both the mind and body and teaches you to integrate the two.
5. Greater strength and stamina. More vigorous styles of yoga, such as Vinyasa and Ashtanga, promote strength and stamina as well as flexibility and relaxation.
6. Fewer muscle imbalances. Those who are new to yoga may begin to notice muscle and flexibility imbalances they hadn't been aware of.
"Many women carry one shoulder higher than the other without being aware of it," says Ms. Carrico. "Yoga poses can help correct these and other imbalances over time."
7. Better balance and stability. Balancing poses require you to engage your core stabilizer muscles, which can help improve overall stability.
"This is helpful for anyone, but it's of great benefit to older people or people with injuries or disabilities that affect their balance," says Ms. Carrico.
8. Improved posture. Yoga poses strengthen and open tight areas of the body, such as the shoulders and muscles of the upper back, which is necessary for good posture.
9. Greater body awareness. Yoga requires you to contract and/or relax specific muscles as you stretch into each pose, thereby increasing awareness of the body's strengths and weaknesses.
10. Cross-training benefits. Yoga combines flexibility, strength training and balance to create a mind-body activity that's a perfect addition to any fitness regimen.
Even people who participate in different kinds of sports or physical activities find doing yoga on a daily basis provides a range of physical and mental benefits unavailable anyplace else," says Ms. Carrico. "Once you have learned a few yoga moves and breathing techniques, you can easily integrate them into your regular fitness routine."