A few nights ago, the HuffPost Lifestyle section had a holiday gathering that included a yoga session with Elena Brower, founder of VIRAYOGA and author of The Art of Attention (Jago Yoga, 2012). I'm admittedly a yoga newbie (I had to ask to borrow a mat for the session!), and my yoga experience is limited to one class at Tara Stiles's New York City studio and one class with my mom back in Arizona. But despite my inexperience with yoga itself, I am well aware of its many potential benefits -- after all, a large part of my job involves covering the latest health studies, including those on yoga. I know, for example, that yoga could help relieve back pain, problems with balance in stroke survivors, and even depression in caregivers.
And lo and behold, the night after that yoga session with Elena Brower, I learned firsthand yet another benefit: a good night's sleep.
The past few weeks had been busier and more stressful than usual -- something I chalk up to it being the holiday season -- but it had been taking a serious toll on my sleep. Over the last month, my bedtime was becoming progressively later and later, to the point where I was consistently going to bed around 2 a.m. every night. I would lay in bed, not able to sleep, only to finally drift off late into the night and then be jolted awake (alarm clock, you are so rude) early the next morning.
But the night after yoga, I got into bed around 11 p.m., watched some TV on my laptop, and then realized my whole body was relaxing, un-tensing, getting almost jelly-like... I was getting tired, and it wasn't even midnight yet! I dozed off by the 12 a.m. hour and slept a solid, uninterrupted eight hours.
Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. After all, a recent Harvard study showed that yoga improved both sleep quality and quantity in people struggling with insomnia. Other studies have shown similar results in other groups of people, including cancer survivors and post-menopausal women.
Now, it's important to note that in these studies, the participants practiced yoga more than once -- for weeks, in fact -- to see these benefits. I only did one yoga session, and it's indeed possible that I zonked out more easily than usual because my muscles were so tired out from the session. But even if that's the reason why, isn't that reason enough?
Already a seasoned yogi? Try these unconventional practices:
It's a bird ... it's a plane ... it's -- yoga, in a suspended hammock? Antigravity Yoga (also referred to as Suspension Yoga, Upside-Down Yoga and Aerial Yoga) is not for the faint of heart. The practice incorporates traditional yoga poses mixed with acrobatics in a silk hammock suspended from the ceiling. What are the benefits of yoga off the ground? Kayda Norman, <a href="http://news.health.com/2012/08/07/aerial-yoga-learning-to-fly/" target="_hplink">who documented her Aerial Yoga experience for Health.com</a> writes, "Aerial yoga allows you to stretch further and hold positions longer than other types of yoga. Suspension yoga also helps to decompress tight joints and relieve pressure." Alexandra Sifferlin, a reporter for <em>Time</em>, <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2012/08/22/we-tried-this-aerial-vinyasa-or-upside-down-yoga/" target="_hplink">also shared her go with a Suspension Yoga class</a>. She <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2012/08/22/we-tried-this-aerial-vinyasa-or-upside-down-yoga/" target="_hplink">reported in a video of her experience</a> that the aerial class was helpful for "better controlled movements as you strengthen your core muscles." And for those without the strength and control for traditional inversions like headstands, Aerial Yoga gives us a chance to try these out.
Tantrum Yoga can help you access your inner child: the grumpy one, who needs to throw a tantrum to get back to center. It isn't violent; instead, it's an outlet -- a release -- that combines traditional yoga poses, dancing and, yes, some yelling. <a href="http://www.hemalayaa.com/" target="_hplink">Yoga teacher Hemalaaya </a>developed this therapeutic kind of yoga as the next step in her fusion-focused classes. And, as <a href="http://www.hemalayaa.com/?p=1629" target="_hplink">she puts it</a>, throwing a little tantrum works to relieve her own frustrations. She encourages her students to release stress by yelling, chest-pounding and laughing. "I believe we are emotional beings and there are times we need to express in order to let go of emotion, especially old stuff that is sitting in there, festering. Otherwise it gets stuck in our bodies and could turn into stress, disease, etc." she told <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/food_coach&id=8666290" target="_hplink">ABC News</a>.
Perhaps it is Wheelchair Yoga that best demonstrates the versatility of the yoga practice. Many of the actions performed in Wheelchair Yoga (or, similarly Chair Yoga) are traditional poses adapted for those who are in wheelchairs. The <a href="http://www.livestrong.com/article/319124-yoga-exercises-for-someone-in-a-wheelchair/" target="_hplink">Cat Stretch, Cow Pose and Eagle Pose</a>, for example, have all been modified to be performed while sitting. Chair Yoga prioritizes breath-work and physical postures and can be incredibly beneficial for those with limited mobility. The activity can help to <a href="http://www.ncpad.org/disability/fact_sheet.php?sheet=345&view=all" target="_hplink">decrease physical pain and tension</a> and it promotes the many benefits of physical activity to those with disabilities might not otherwise have access.
Harmonica Yoga is a form of Raja Yoga (yoga for both the body and the mind). Harmonica playing and yoga are both based on the control of the breath, making this a fun way to work on mindfulness. "Harmonica is the easiest and most accessible way to practice breath control," <a href="http://www.davidharp.com/" target="_hplink">David Harp</a>, the founder and originator of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=ntt_athr_dp_sr_1?_encoding=UTF8&field-author=David Harp&ie=UTF8&search-alias=books&sort=relevancerank" target="_hplink">HarmonicaYoga™</a> and HuffPost blogger wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. "This allows practitioners to short-circuit mental patterns such as fight or flight responses, and thus develop mindfulness," he continued.
If laughter is the best medicine and yoga touts countless health benefits, the combination of the two must be infallible. In this silly practice (its founder, Sebastien Gendry, <a href="ttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/06/laughter-yoga-benefits_n_1478960.html" target="_hplink">called it "bizarre" and "weird"</a>) you might find yourself clapping joyously, milking imaginary cows and pretending to be a lion, just as <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/06/laughter-yoga-benefits_n_1478960.html" target="_hplink">Catherine Pearson did in her Laughter Yoga class, as she reported</a> in HuffPost's Healthy Living. Laughter Yoga incorporates much less of the physical aspects of yoga and much more of the social and mindful aspects. Still, the physical benefits are not completely lost: laughter has been found to <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16652129" target="_hplink">burn calories </a> and <a href="http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/5/1651.full" target="_hplink">lower blood sugar levels</a>.
Karaoke Yoga, developed by Los Angeles-based yoga instructor <a href="http://jenniferpastiloff.com/" target="_hplink">Jennifer Pastiloff</a>, gives people the opportunity to stretch their limbs <em>and</em> their vocal chords. The class is equipped with a TV screen to display song lyrics and, luckily for those with stage fright, there are no solo performances. You can expect to sing along with the whole class to songs from Adele, Elton John and Journey. The focus of the class is joy, not the perfecting of poses. "It's not about alignment, it's about connecting to your joy," Pasiloff <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/food_coach&id=8713322" target="_hplink">said in an ABC News interview</a>. Though not about the yoga, per se, it's still about the workout: "It's longer exhales, it's sweating, dancing," she insists. Pasiloff wrote in a<a href="http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5085/What-the-Heck-Is-Karaoke-Yoga.html" target="_hplink"> blog post for <em>Mind Body Green,</em></a>"It is connecting some of the greatest pleasures I know of in life: dancing, singing, yoga, connecting and good old fashioned rock 'n' roll."
Yoga Raves bring the yoga studio to the club -- so don't forget your glow sticks (and glitter). Combining music, movement and meditation in a single space, Yoga Raves also promote drug-free fun. Many of these raves begin with a guided meditation as a warm up, to lead into a more free movement. According to the not-for-profit movement's website <a href="http://Yoga Rave" target="_hplink">Yogarave.org</a>, "The Yoga Rave Project will bring the spiritual element back to celebration and the way we have fun, offering a drug free alternative for our youth to gather and release their energy and tension." <a href="http://www.artofliving.org/us-en" target="_hplink">The Art Of Living Foundation</a>, which funds and organizes <a href="http://Yogaraves.org" target="_hplink">Yogaraves.org</a>, is not the only initiative propelling the yoga dance party. <a href="http://www.jivamuktiyoga.com/" target="_hplink">Jivamukti</a> and <a href="http://www.laughinglotus.com/" target="_hplink">Laughing </a>Lotus are among the yoga schools supporting the combination of yoga and "getting down." <a href="http://www.yogadork.com/news/grab-your-glow-ga-sticks-yoga-raves-all-the-rage/" target="_hplink">Yogadork.com might have said it best:</a> "The Yoga Rave: a place where you can totally trip out drug free, get friendly with your fellow man/woman and wake up in your own bed the next morning (if you so choose)."
And just for fun, here's a video of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/14/tao-porchon-lynch-93-worlds-oldest-yoga-teacher_n_1515579.html" target="_hplink">the world's oldest yoga teacher</a>, 93-year-old Tao Porchon-Lynch, showing off all she's got.
Yoga instructor Seane Corn explains the benefits of Vinyasa yoga.
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