Yoga encompasses a vast collection of spiritual techniques that allow the user to incorporate their body and mind to achieve a state of calm and relaxation. As the most widely performed exercise system in the world and with hundreds of variations available, it’s continual growth and adaptability to modern times have made it the popular discipline it is today.
For many people, yoga is far more than the exercise of body and mind and is more of a way of life. The numerous benefits that can be found from this ancient discipline are the main reason why millions of people around the world choose to practice it.
Dating back over 5,000 years, the origins of yoga are quite fascinating. From then to the modern practices we now know today, some things have changed slightly while others stay the same. Almost every street in a busy neighborhood has a yoga studio or fitness center which offers this exercise system, and there’s a style out there to suit everyone.
With thousands of yoga poses and sequences to master, as well as a variety of styles, yoga is an unlimited source of exercise and enlightenment. The poses can be used to achieve mental wellbeing, weight loss, physical rehabilitation, and improved flexibility, among countless other things.
Simply put, yoga is an ancient discipline that centers on achieving enlightenment with body and mind. It achieves this by using a range of techniques and practices performed in different sequences and poses. There are literally hundreds of different variations of yoga available to practice, with the most common types in the Western world being referred to as “Hatha Yoga”.
Each different path of yoga focuses on its own set of approaches and techniques, so it’s really about finding one that suits your personal goals. The philosophy behind yoga is universal so there’s no need for anyone to feel excluded based on religion, race, or background, as it aims to encompass all people around the world.
Most yoga practices are calm and relaxing, with a large focus on breathing. This breathing is referred to as Pranayama and begins with the act of deepening your breathing. These breaths are done to coincide with various physical poses so that your entire body, mind, and spirit work together to achieve enlightenment.
Many people practice yoga as both a form of physical exercise and mental meditation, and its unique ability to combine the two has given it the popularity it knows today. No matter which style you choose to practice and how you practice it, there are countless benefits to be had with this ancient exercise system.
To understand more about yoga, it’s essential to know where did yoga originate? Although there are varying accounts of its true origins, the most common belief is that it began in Northern India. Dating back 5,000 years ago, the Indus-Sarasvati civilization is often referred to as the birthplace of yoga.
Because the original teachings of yoga were transcribed on palm leaves, these fragile items weren’t strong enough to stand the test of time. Most of what yoga encompasses has been passed down through oral recollections, lending to the obscurity and uncertainty of this ancient practice.
As centuries went on, yoga itself went through quite a few variations. From the pre-classical yoga where ideas about karma and ego were acknowledged, right up to post-classical periods which focused more on rejuvenating the body, all of these amazing changes gave us the modern form which we know today.
The modern world of yoga looks quite different today to how it first began, depending on where and how you practice. Western yoga is particularly different, as these customs and techniques have been modified to suit our lifestyles.
In 1947, Indra Devi opened the first yoga studio in Hollywood and bought this amazing system to the western world. Although it took many years to gain the popularity it has today, this is still recognized as one of the most important moments in hatha yoga and western civilization.
Nowadays, approximately 15 million Americans are estimated to perform at least some form of yoga in their exercise routine, making it a hugely popular system. These systems generally focus more on the physical aspect of yoga and less on the spiritual side, which is more suited to our modern culture.
However, some may argue that these modern forms of yoga practiced in Western civilization look nothing like traditional methods due to this fact. Nonetheless, the Hatha yoga which has been adopted here is still full of its own amazing benefits for both body and mind.
Although the actual figure is hard to determine, there is thought to be hundreds of different variations of yoga out there. These nine represent the most common types of yoga practiced, each offering their own unique benefits and purpose.
As the most ancient and holistic system used for physical and mental well-being, it’s no surprise that yoga has a range of benefits. No matter which style of yoga you choose to practice or where you do it, you’ll notice instant benefits to traditional forms of exercise when you partake in a class.
There are many reasons why people choose to practice yoga, whether they benefit from the regular exercise and improving their physical well-being or appreciate more the mental impact it can have on their stressful lives. So, what is yoga good for?
There aren’t many exercise systems available that improve your overall fitness the way that yoga can. For most, practicing yoga for fitness is the main reason why they choose this workout. Although some styles of yoga might not give you a solid cardio workout, research has found that almost all styles will improve your strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance.
Considering just how connected yoga and spirituality are, it makes sense that this is one of the most popular reasons why people practice it. No matter your background, religion, or beliefs, the spirituality taught in yoga can be universally attained by anyone. Yoga truly is a holistic package that unites your body, mind, and breath to achieve great things.
If you’re looking for an exercise system that won’t leave you bored, yoga is definitely it. There are hundreds of variations available to try, and within each of those teachings, there are hundreds of poses and positions to master.
You can work out anywhere you like with yoga, and you can enjoy it on your own or with others. It’s a truly versatile exercise that can be enjoyed by all shapes, sizes, ages, and fitness levels.
For those people who tend to push themselves too hard at the gym and end up injured and sore, yoga is a great alternative. Yoga teaches us to pay attention to our body and mind at all times, so we’re far more aware of when we might be pushing ourselves to the limit.
Not only is it an effective workout, but yoga can be used for physical rehabilitation and relieving pain, so it’s extremely valuable to learn.
Although traditional yogis practiced with little else than their own mind and body, yoga equipment is a market that has grown significantly today. In Western practice specifically, there are quite a few useful props that you can use to improve your form and get the most out of your yoga poses. Here are just some pieces of yoga equipment favored by studios and followers in modern times.
Perhaps one of the only pieces of yoga equipment that have been used for thousands of years, yoga mats are by far the most popular. Although traditional yoga mats were made from animal skin, the most common type today is PVC. These mats have a range of benefits including hygiene, stability, safety, and giving the user their own personal space to stay focused.
Yoga blocks are sold in pairs and are generally used under your hands to bring the ground closer to you. These allow you to achieve poses and stretches that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, but they can also be utilized in different parts of your body for resistance training and finding your alignment.
They’re made from foam, cork, or wood usually, depending on the personal preference of the user for density and comfort.
A yoga strap is a simple device with a lot of benefits, but one that seems to be underused by many. These straps help with flexibility and create a bridge between your hands so that you’re able to achieve poses. Some people shy away from them as they don’t want to appear inflexible in class, but they are ideal for building your form.
A relatively new product, but one that is picking up popularity, is the yoga wheel. These simple wheel designs can be used underneath your back to achieve bends, laid flat on the floor to rest of for various poses, and incorporated into just about every yoga pose there is.
Not to be confused with everyday towels, yoga towels have been designed specifically to go over the top of your yoga mat. These towels help to protect share mat users from bacteria, but also provide an extra grip in difficult poses particularly if your mat has become sweaty. They’re made from microfiber materials and usually with a rubber base that allows them to stick to your mat.
Another term for the widely popular exercise ball, these fitness devices have found their way into common yoga practice. Using a yoga ball with certain poses gives you more engagement in your muscles, and they’re ideal for physical rehabilitation while you perform your practice.
One of the most important yoga basics you should know is breathing, as every single style and form of this ancient exercise will focus on the breath. As you progress through your yoga journey, the concepts related to breathing get more complicated, but for beginners, they are quite easy to master.
Most hatha yoga classes use ujjayi breathing which is a steady and resonating breath. The best way to find this style of breathing is to close your eyes first and focus on your natural breathing state. Pay close attention to the pace, sound, and rhythm, as well as how long it takes you to inhale and exhale.
The observation of our natural state of breath places a huge role in yoga, and through this observation, we’re able to create a state of awareness in our body and mind. Once you have a good understanding of your breathing, you can then begin to make adjustments to it.
Start by trying to match the length of exhales and inhales. As you breathe in and out of your nose, try to shift the focus of where the breath is coming from. You want to now breathe from the base of your throat so that it’s less nasally and more soothing. There’s no need to do this loudly just for it to be effective, as most people commonly believe.
The more you practice this breathing the more effective it will be, and it’s the best way of harnessing your mind and staying focused. The aim is to keep a steady ujjayi breath through your practice, even during rigorous moves, and this can be very hard to achieve at first.
Along with learning the breathing and physical aspects of yoga, you should also make yourself aware of the language used. If you’re ever attended a yoga class, you may have heard some Sanskrit phrases and words use before, but not had any idea what they mean. Here are some popular terms used and what they mean for yoga practice.
Pranayama: This is the Sanskrit word for breath control and breathing exercises, and it’s a crucial part of yoga. Pranayama is important for achieving stillness and inner awareness.
Mantra: This means a tool or instrument of thought, and refers to the chants, sayings, sounds, and words that are used during yoga. These are repeated with the purpose of creating a positive mental transformation.
Asanas: Meaning seat, asanas refers to the physical postures performed during a yoga session.
Om/Aum: Commonly chanted in repetition during yoga and meditation, om is thought to be the first sound of creation.
Mudra: This refers to a seal, and during yoga, there are different seals your body can perform. It’s believed that certain positions of your body can have an effect your energy, so a seal is commonly used with the hands.
Savasana: The literal meaning of this is “corpse pose”, but it refers to the ending of your yoga session and the final relaxation pose you perform.
Ujjayi: This is a style of breathing commonly found with Vinyasa yoga, and relates to a large hissing breath that fully expands your lungs.
Namaste: This translates to “I bow to you” and it’s a respectful way to end each yoga session. This is done by placing the hands together at the heart chakra, closing your eyes, and bowing your head.
Even if you’ve never practiced before, there are some basic yoga poses that you’ve likely heard of. These terms cover some of the simplest yoga exercises and they’re a great way to test the waters and see if you like what this ancient system can offer.
By far the most commonly heard yoga pose, downward facing dog stretches your entire body in the one move. To begin, start on your hands and knees with knees below hips and hands just forward of your shoulders.
As you exhale, lift your knees away from the floor making sure you keep your knees slightly bent. Lengthen your tailbone and use this resistance to lift your sitting bones toward the ceiling. Exhale again and stretch your heels flat onto the floor and straighten your knees.
Keep your outer thighs and outer arms firm as you press index fingers into the floor. From here, lift your inner arms and firm your shoulder blades as you bring them towards your back. Widen them again and draw them into your tailbone as you keep your head between your upper arms.
These are postures used to strengthen your body and stretch, and there are a few variations of sequences. With 12 different postures within, a sun salutation or “Surya Namaskar” should be done first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. These yoga stretches are ideal at waking you up and giving you a refreshed start to the day.
A sun salutation looks similar to a standing posture which then goes down to the floor and stretches out your entire body, then returning to standing position again. This classic sequence gives a rough outline to how a sun salutation is performed:
This is a resting pose, commonly performed as a starting pose. It’s quite simple to achieve and ideal for beginners. This pose massages your organs, stretches your entire body and improves overall blood flow so it’s quite effective in many areas.
Kneel on the floor onto your mat. Bring your big toes together so they’re touching behind you and then sit on your heels. Separate your knees in front of you so they’re as wide as your hips. Exhale and lay down so your torso is resting between your thighs. Widen your pelvis while narrowing your hip bones so they nestle into your inner thighs.
Pull your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis and lift your skull away from the back of your neck. Place your hands on the floor beside you with palms facing up and then let your shoulders hang to the floor. Stay here for at least 30 seconds to enjoy this resting pose.
This pose is considered the foundation for most others, and it’s effective at improving your posture and increasing your balance and stability. Begin by standing straight on your mat with your feet hip-width apart. Lift your toes up and spread them before placing them back on the floor. Pull up your knees and squeeze your thighs so your hips are directly over your ankles.
Inhale and lift your body up, trying to imagine the crown of your head straining to reach the ceiling. Exhale and let your body drop back down and try to reach your fingers to the floor as you stand. Inhale and bring your arms up and into an H position with your palms turned out.
Exhale and relax your shoulders down while you keep the crown and fingers stretched up. Hold this pose and breathe for 4-8 breaths. Exhale and bring your arms down to your side again.
This pose is ideal for building upper body strength, improving your core, and can also lengthen your spine. For those with lower back pain, this pose is great for finding relief. Start in a push-up position down on your mat and spread your fingers far apart on the floor. Keep your tailbone tucked under so that your entire body is a straight line and push the crown of your head forward.
Exhale and keep your body straight as you slowly lower yourself to about four inches above the floor. Keep a 90-degree angle in your elbows and make sure that your shoulders are at the same height as them. Hold the pose for around four breaths and exhale to take yourself all the way to the floor. Alternatively, you can inhale yourself up and into plank pose to finish.
If you’re using a yoga ball to work out, you’ll know that it has amazing powers for physical rehabilitation. These balls can help you to achieve poses in a gentler way, and even be added to increase the challenge of certain poses. Here are a few exercises you can use for rehabilitation with your yoga ball.
The seated stork pose can not only improve your balance and posture but also open up your hips and strengthen your arms and legs. It’s ideal for a low impact exercise that reduces strain on the body while having an effective workout on your muscles.
As you sit down on the yoga ball, cross your left foot over your right knee. Keep your back up straight and then bring your palms together in front of our chest. Inhale and draw your hands up and over your head, then lead forward into your pose. Hold this move for three breaths and then return to sitting position.
This exercise works at conditioning your core without too much intensity, and although not traditionally a yoga move it can be added to most of your poses for an added challenge.
Lay with your torso down on the top of the yoga ball and slowly roll yourself forward with your hands until you’re resting on forearms. Your legs should be straight behind you and flexed as you open them slowly and then close them again. Try to imagine a scissor opening and shutting slowly as you keep your abs contracted.
For anyone suffering from back pain, this is a simple exercise you can do to improve its strength without putting too much strain on your body. These rotations are commonly referred to as spinal twists in yoga.
Sit on top of the ball with your legs straight out at the front and arms down to your sides. Keep your posture tall and face forward. Rotate your torso to the right and take your left arm towards your right foot. Come back to the center and swap sides, performing the move again.
Although there are many great yoga studios available, some people may prefer to practice at home. As yoga can be a very spiritual experience for some, they may prefer to do this in privacy and in a space where they feel comfortable and safe. For those practicing yoga at home, here are some tips that you can use to ensure you’re getting the best from your session.
While it’s not necessary to have your very own yoga studio at home, it’s important to have a space in your house that is just for this ancient practice. Some people prefer to work outside in nature or others indoors, but wherever you set up your mat needs to be a calming and safe place for you to practice.
Before starting your yoga session, ensure that you have all of the relevant equipment ready. You don’t want to get half way through and find that your strap is missing, so get everything organized beforehand so you don’t have to give it a second thought.
Before you start a session, have a clear understanding of the poses and sequences you’re going to follow. Whether you’re using an instructional video or relying on your own methods, it’s best to go into it with a defined routine that you’ll follow.
When you’re not with others or an instructor, it can be easy to push yourself too hard. Take your time with difficult poses and understand that you will get better with time, knowing that yoga isn’t just about achieving the physical aspects alone.
You should always enjoy yoga, so take your time to relax and get into it. Once you’ve finished with your session, always end with Savasana as a chance to take a final relaxation and end the yoga practice correctly.
Yoga isn’t something that can be mastered in just one lesson, so ensure you are putting in regular practice. Just like anything that is worth learning, yoga will take time and patience to understand all of the principles, breathing techniques, and poses.
There truly is no other exercise system on earth as wonderful as yoga, and it offers one of the most diverse workouts of all. Yoga can be enjoyed by people of all backgrounds, spiritualties, ages, sizes, and fitness levels, for a truly universal workout of both body and mind.
Although there may be a bit to learn with all of the different poses, techniques, and beliefs, the rewards found with yoga are simply phenomenal. No other exercise system has the ability to bring you such a diverse range of mental and physical benefits, so it’s worth your time and patience to learn.
Whether you’re just starting out and want to try some poses at home or are interested in joining your local yoga study, there’s so much diversity to be found with this ancient method. As the most popular exercise system in the world, it will be immediately easy to see why it’s gained so much praise.
Performing yoga for health and wellness is one of the most rewarding exercises you can do, so whatever your reasons are for enjoying this activity they’re sure to be shared by millions of others too. Whether you’re just starting out or have many years of practice behind you, the journey that the yoga practitioner takes is never without a challenge or enjoyment.