Healthy Living

Health Benefits of Yoga, Tai Chi & Pilates

Many consider yoga as a method to stretch and tone the muscles and improve and expand the mind. “The physical benefits of yoga are very often underestimated," says Julie Rudiger, a therapist in Denver. According to her, practicing this activity has helped her to be stronger, more flexible, both physically and mentally.

Physical activities like Tai Chi, Yoga, and Pilates are called mind and body fitness methods because of the stress each gives on physical and mental strength. “The poses, or the movements in these activities, strengthen the body and improve the flexibility by teaching how to move the body and concentrate the thoughts”, says Kevin W. Chen, PhD, MPH, associate professor in the Center of Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

To burn more calories, advanced yoga and Pilates sessions are beneficial, since they have more faster paced movements. For example, up to 300 calories can be burned by an average person doing a regular one-hour yoga session. The other yoga session that may be of help to burn more calories include Bikram yoga or power yoga. These yoga sessions requires the person to be in a complex pose for a longer time, making it an intense activity. The initial classes help a person to perfect the postures and this provides more benefits other than just the burning of calories. In addition, the basics of yoga help to prevent injury when one moves to more advanced classes.

Tai Chi includes a number of graceful movements involving all major muscle groups and joints which helps to improve the balance and strength. Pilates helps to strengthen the core of the body improving muscular endurance and flexibility. In general, all of the activities that involve body and mind practices help to reduce body weight, stress, blood pressure and improve sleep. During a three month study, yoga reduced the levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides by more than 12 points.

The intensity levels in a session of any of these activities will depend on the instructor and the style. According to Chen, the specific practice that is selected is not as important as doing it. Any of these practices improves the strength and flexibility. It is normal to do mistakes in the poses initially, just being there and doing it is more important, Chen adds. According to Rudiger, she is more flexible and has a better core strength when compared to her brother who is a marathon runner.

How to get started with any of the activities:

Search for a local Studio - Call the studio and have a discussion with the instructor before joining a class. You can also ask for options for a specific style of yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi that will suit the beginner.

Take a Trial Class - Take a test class, often for free, to see what suits you best before make a commitment. 

Dress appropriately – Comfortable clothes are an important component in these.  Remove your shoes before the session. It will give you a feeling of being grounded, a very important philosophy in these practices.