New to yoga and wondering what all the terms mean (from Utkatasana to Balasana) or what class etiquette you should be aware of? Or if you've been practicing for awhile, are you unsure if you'll ever be able to master some of the more challenging poses? Whether you're a newbie or have been Downward Dogging it for years, there's a lot to celebrate—and learn—about this ancient practice. From confidence-building moves to health benefits to must-follow Instagram feeds, here's some fresh motivation to strike a pose right now.
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It will actually whittle your waist
Now that we've got your attention, check this out: A review of 30 trials concluded that yoga is a sage and effective way to help overweight or obese people slim down. And a study of more than 15,000 middle-aged adults found that those who practiced for four or more years were less likely to gain weight over a 10-year period. Want to up your burn even further? Try adding light weights while flowing through a vigorous vinyasa.
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Yoga helps your health big-time
An awful lot of research has shown that yoga may affect your body at the cellular level. "If you practice it on a regular basis, you'll notice a cascade of health changes that can occur within a relatively short amount of time," says Mindy Caplan, a certified exercise physiologist and yoga instructor. Three things in particular it may help with:
Less back pain: Dozens of studies have revealed that yoga can ease lower back pain.
An improved immune system: Folks who flowed for 90 minutes once a week for 12 weeks had higher antioxidant levels and stronger immune function, per research in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
Better numbers: It improves blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol, according to a review of 37 studies.
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It's ridiculously easy to find inspiration
With more than 20 million photos sporting the #yoga hashtag, snapping and browsing pictures of favorite poses has become a full-on Instagram movement. Where to begin? Scroll through these feeds for mat magic.
@aubrymarie: Whether Aubry Wiltcher (pictured here) is backbending on a truck or nailing a partner pose against a sunset, her amazing flexibility and breathtaking shots will have you unrolling your mat ASAP.
@chelsealovesyoga: You'll always catch Janelle Monáe's personal yogi, Chelsea Jackson Roberts, with a big smile on her face, no matter how difficult her pose. Her passion for yoga (and for helping others) is infectious.
@Yulady: A breast cancer survivor and mother of six, Yulady Saluti inspires us with not only her poses but also her can-do attitude.
@nude_yogagirl: You'd expect naked yoga to look like something from the pages of Playboy, but @nude_yogagirl (she doesn't divulge her real name) shows the beauty of the human body—even when she's stretching into some incredibly complicated positions.
@mynameisjessamyn: Fun and fearless, Jessamyn Stanley proves that getting bendy isn't limited by size or body type. "Yoga has given me the only two tools I need: confidence and opportunity," she posted. "Give yourself the same."
@Laurasykora: Yoga instructor Laura Kasperzak offers followers plenty to like, including shots of herself posing with her daughter and husband and contorting her body in wild ways.
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The latest gear is sharp
Yoga may be more about finding inner peace than raking in the compliments, but who says a girl can't look good while getting centered? Here are three pieces we're crushing on:
• The biker-style Alo Moto Leggings ($110; nordstrom.com)—a fave among celebs, including Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner—mix mesh cutouts with quilted stitching for a chic bottom you can rock in and out of class.
• Yoga can be transformative. So can the cushy La Vie Boheme Fuji Yoga Mat ($86; laviebohemeyoga.com). Focus on the earthy pattern while doing inversions.
• Supporting enough for the girls but not at all constricting, the supercute Athleta Colorblock Triple Dare Bra ($49; athleta.com) allows you to flow freely through your poses.
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It's gone viral
Mad busy? You don't need to make it to a studio to keep up your practice. Get your asana into shape any and everywhere with these on-the-go options.
If you can't live without your smartphone: Try the popular Daily Yoga app (free; iTunes and Google Play), which offers 400-plus yoga poses and a library of more than 50 lush HD videos. Pick your goals, from weight loss to stress reduction to toning, then download a series of your choice. Upgrade to the paid servie—starting at $8 per month—to access a larger selection.
If you want to practice in the park: You don't have to be an athlete to love the yoga features on Nike Training Club's app (free; iTunes and Google Play), but you'll appreciate them even more if you are. The six-minute Run Ready Yoga session (led by—surprise!—singer Ellie Goulding) is ideal for stretching tight muscles after a run.
If you want to practice like a celeb: Strala Yoga founder and celebrity instructor Tara Stiles (clients include Brooklyn Decker) provides personalized training with her FitStar Yoga app (free; iTunes), which adjusts your routine based on the feedback you give. Rate each session (even each pose), and it will adapt your next workout accordingly.
If you're stuck at the airport: There are few things more stressful than catching a flight. Arrive a little early and enjoy some time to chill at one of the growing number of U.S. airports (San Francisco International, Chicago O'Hare and Midway, Burlington International, Dallas-Fort Worth) offering yoga and meditation classes, most of which are free.
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It just may perk up your posture
We spend most of our day rounded forward, so it's refreshing to go into reverse. Wheel pose is ideal for this. To try it, lie faceup with knees bent, feet hip-width apart on floor. Bring palms to floor next to ears, fingers facing toes (A). Inhale; press into feet to lift hips (B), then into hands to lift shoulders and head (C).
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It keeps evolving
While the practice may be thousands of years old, creative yogis are always coming up with new cool—and effective—hybrids.
1. Aqua yoga transfers poses to the pool; the buoyancy of the water allows for greater freedom of movement. It's perfect for people who are recovering from an injury or who experience limited range of motion. To find a class, visit the Yoga Alliance online directory (yogaalliance.org), which lists certified aquatic yoga instructors worldwide.
2. Channel your inner supermodel (hey, plenty of them practice yoga) with Voga, which combines yoga and voguing—you know, like, from the 80s. Great for anyone who wants a little more attitude in their practice, along with cardio benefits. Houseofvoga.com has demos and class info.
3. The surprisingly stable standup paddleboard (SUP) supplants the yoga mat in SUP yoga classes, where the entire practice is done while floating on water. Classes are offered at waterways (and even at pools!) around the country year-round; search "SUP yoga" to find one near you.
4. In Sound Off or Silent Disco yoga classes, students wear wireless headphones to hear the instructor's cues (as well as some background music). The disco version features a live DJ spinning tunes that get piped into your ears. Look for classes at soundoffexperience.com.
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You can have an immersive experience
These days, yoga is so much more than 60 minutes on the mat. Folks are now seeking full-on mindful-living celebrations. Take a deep dive into events like the I Am Yoga Festival (iamyogafestival.com), Wanderlust (wanderlust.com), or AcroYoga Festival (acroyoga.org) to get zen.