Yoga

Yoga means something a little different to everyone. This comprehensive guide will cover just about everything you need to know and will point you to even more detailed resources that fit your particular interests.

Feel free to navigate to each section within the table of contents and skip ahead to what you're most interested in!

 

The Definition of Yoga

 

woman sitting at the beach in the evening performing yoga

 

The word yoga is Sanskrit in origin and means union. In an ancient context, yoga may have begun over 5000 years ago, as a form of self-shamanism, in the Indus Valley region. It then spread through India as one of six philosophical systems within Hinduism. The discipline originally encompassed mental, physical, and spiritual practices. However, yoga was primarily a spiritual practice, which aimed to bring the mind and body together in universal harmony.

In the modern sense, yoga retains many of its ancient traits, including harmonization of the mind and body and a focus on spirituality. But today, more emphasis is placed on asana (bodily poses) and the physical aspects of yoga in general. In essence, the promotion of relaxation and fitness have come to the fore for modern yoga, and the practice is largely categorized either by style or by difficulty level.

 

History Of Yoga

Although origin dates vary, it is thought that the practice of yoga goes back approximately 5000 years — to 3000 BCE. Traditional Yoga began in ancient India as one of six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy. This is based on references to yoga in ancient Sanskrit texts — namely, the Vedic Sanskrit texts the Rigveda and the Upanishads.

 

Seeking Liberation

The original goals of yoga focused on spiritual development and self-realization. Many sources cite Moksha (liberation) as the ultimate goal. In this state, the practitioner would be free of suffering and fully aware of their higher consciousness.

 

Transformation Of Yoga

One of the key texts that spurred the popularity of yoga in the West was the Yoga Sutras. Attributed to a sage named Patanjali at some point between 500 BCE and 400 CE. The Yoga Sutras text includes 195 philosophical aphorisms about yoga, including an explanation of ashtanga (the eight limbs of yoga) that is largely considered to be the basis for modern-day yoga practice.

Yoga reached the West slowly, beginning in the 1890s and increased in popularity up until the mid-20th century when it truly began to flourish. Swami Vivekananda is often credited with bringing yoga to the West around 1893 when he emigrated to the United States from India. Hatha yoga became a practiced exercise in the United States in the 1930s and 40s, after Sri Krishnamacharya taught it to a number of the major Indian teachers in that country. Hatha Yoga gained momentum in the 1960s and reached its peak in the 70s when New Age idealism emerged in the post-60s era and interest in Eastern spirituality was high among young Americans. In the 1980s, a number of studies reported the health benefits of yoga. It was promoted as an exercise with its physical benefits taking precedence over its spiritual and mental ones.

 

Eight Limbs Of Yoga

Based on a classical ashtanga (eight limbed) yoga model, from which hatha yoga stems, the systemic eight-branched discipline encompasses a non-linear process. With the aim to attain universal unity and samadhi bliss.

These are the eight limbs of yoga:

1. Yama (interpersonal study)

Living harmoniously with the surrounding world and handling your personal conduct correctly.

 

2. Niyama (intrapersonal study)

Practicing key personal observances aimed at improving the yoga practice itself.

 

3. Asana (postures)

Refining the bodily positions of yoga, including a focus on feeling tensionless and steady in each posture.

 

4. Pranayama (refinement of breath)

Controlling and regulating the breath. In particular, deep diaphragmatic breathing.

 

5. Pratyahara (refinement of the senses)

Improving one’s attitude toward the senses. Notably, how the senses should serve the mind instead of the other way around.

 

6. Dharana (concentration)

Honing focus and concentration by withdrawing the senses, visualizing, and centralizing the breath.

 

7. Dhyana (meditation)

Being absorbed by meditation as in not doing anything in order to meditate, but rather, allowing oneself to be taken in and enveloped by the practice.

 

8. Samadhi (the settled mind)

Achieving enlightenment or bliss through bettered relationships of the inner self and with the outer world.

 

7 Chakras

Chakra meditation the 7 different chakra colorsChakras are energy centers, like mini-brains, that organize and transmit power throughout the body. They can be thought of as software programs, in what is called the subtle body, that runs the hardware of the physical body.

There are seven main chakras that run along the spine, creating an energy system that permeates the whole body. The main chakras are each related to the physical body through a nerve center (the nervous system) and a hormonal gland (the endocrine system). There are also chakras in the hands and feet and other minor chakras throughout the body. Each chakra has its own Sanskrit name, mantra, and associated color frequency:

 

The Kosash: Sheaths Of Self

  • Physical Body
    • Anamaya kosha is the physical food body.
  • Prana Body (energy, breath, life-force)
    • Pranamaya Kosha is the energy body.
      Moves through the body via the nadis, similar to meridians in Chinese medicine.
  • Mental Body (personality, ego, and emotion)
    • Manomaya kosha
  • Wisdom Body (Knowledge and Intelligence)
    • Vijnanamaya kosha
  • Bliss Body (Ultimate Consciousness)
    • Anandamaya kosha

 

Yoga Mantras And Chants

Mantras and chants are used often in yoga to help practitioners achieve a higher state of consciousness. This practice of using either forceful or silent, internal sounds to tap into the transcendental supreme sound (also known as shabda brahman1) or supreme voice (para-vac) is thousands of years old.

There are numerous mantras and chants that can be used in yoga, but these are four of the most popular:

  • Om: Pronounced “aum” this mantra is central to all yoga chanting. Om is the all-encompassing vibration that permeates the cosmic universe.
  • Om mani padme hum: Mani means jewel, Padme translates as lotus (wisdom), and hum means indivisibility. Thus, the goal of this mantra lies in the transforming of the body, mind, and speech into pure enlightenment through unity of wisdom and method.
  • Om shanti om: Shanti is peace in Sanskrit. Chanting Shanti multiple times, along with om, strengthens the peace of various parts of the practitioner. Namely, the mind, body, and voice.
  • Om namah shivaya: Known as the five-syllable mantra, om namah shivaya2 refers to the act of bowing or adoring Shiva, who is a principal deity of Hinduism. The mantra is meant to calm the spirit and bring the practitioner closer to themselves and a connection to joy and strength.

History Of "Om"

It is said that the first primordial sound of the universe’s creation was om and that all the universe is contained within this sound. The mantra originates within the Hindu tradition and it is widely known as the most powerful and important mantra used in the practice of yoga.

 

Science Of Yoga 

Yoga has become a well-known practice for many spiritual reasons, but its success also stems from its wide array of physical and mental implications and benefits. These cannot be understated.

A wide range of scientific research studies has confirmed that yoga can be a life-changing practice, leading to:

  • Better cardiovascular health.

  • Decreased heart rate and lower blood pressure.

  • Reduced joint and muscle pain.

  • Lower rates of cortisol (stress hormone).

  • Enhanced vagal activity (related to digestion, blood pressure, heart rate, communication, sweating, and more).

  • Better regulated blood sugar levels.

  • Easier weight management.

  • Improved breathing.

  • Better sleep.

  • Less muscle tension and headaches.

  • Many other benefits.

Where mental and emotional health are concerned, yoga has also been shown in scientific studies to reduce stress and anxiety across the board. This not only positively impacts many of the above-listed physical health risks, but it can also lead to overall happier, healthier mental states in practitioners. Those who regularly practice yoga report less daily anxiety and lower rates of depression and other mental health disorders.

 

Types of Yoga

There are numerous types of yoga, all of which have specific goals and benefits.
  • Hatha Yoga is likely the most traditional approach to the practice of yoga. The focus is generally on the physical postures (asanas) and there are accompanying behavioral elements to the practice as well. Hatha yoga is usually a slower, mindful approach to yoga than some other modern styles. It is an excellent yoga for beginners and their transition into the world of yoga.

  • Vinyasa Yoga focuses on the breath and stringing together various asanas (postures) in order to perform seamless sequences, which together create a unified flow.

  • Ashtanga Yoga focuses on set traditional yoga sequences, starting with the Primary Series, developed by Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. It is a challenging, dynamic vinyasa style. Ashtanga also refers to the eight limbs of yoga as identified in the Yoga Sutras.

  • Kundalini Yoga uses specific postures, mantras and chants, meditations, and unique kriyas (practices) to connect more closely with yourself and enlighten your consciousness. Practicing Kundalini with a certified yoga instructor you may experience the kundalini awakeningand the spirit bliss.

  • Gentle Yoga is, as the name implies, focused on therapeutic positions and fewer movements. The main benefits of this practice are improved breathing, gentle stretching, and reduced stress and anxiety. And it is all achieved throughgentle yoga sequenceand a process calledNerve Flossingor Nerve Glide.

  • Restorative Yoga is particularly helpful for those struggling with mobility issues. It can help individuals who are recovering from an injury or those with physical disabilities as movements are rare, and only a few, slow stretches encompass the bulk of each sequence.

  • Yoga Nidra is a relaxation-based and meditative form of yoga that is said to bring the practitioner to a semi-conscious, near-sleep state. Research has shown some forms of Yoga Nidra (such as iRest) can be an effective treatment for anxiety, insomnia, and symptoms of PTSD.

  • Kriya Yoga focuses on carrying the practitioner to an advanced state of spiritual development and awakening by taking specific yogic actions kriyas to better oneself. The goal is to ultimately live a more fulfilled life.

  • Tantric Yoga / Tantra aims to help practitioners get more in touch with their physical selves — through personal exploration and energy connections. This, in turn, can enhance one’s physical wellbeing and spiritual growth.

  • Yin Yoga is also referred to as Taoist yoga. It encompasses comfortable passive poses that don’t require much effort and often involve the use of props. This type of yoga helps with flexibility by stimulating the connective tissue of fascia, in the joints, as well as along meridian lines. 

  • Chair Yoga is most helpful for the elderly and those with limited mobility. Practitioners sit in a chair (or stand beside one) while performing poses and movements.

  • Power Yoga encompasses a full-body workout. Classes are more active, strength-oriented, and movement-based than other, more traditional styles of yoga.

  • Bikram Yoga comes from the Indian yogi Bikram Choudhury. Two breathing exercises and 26 postures make up this practice, which is to be performed in a hot, humid room with bright lighting. 

  • Hot Yoga is performed in a studio with a temperature of around 80 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike Bikram Yoga, postures and breathing exercises may vary.

  • Iyengar Yoga is also based on ashtanga yoga (the eight limbs of yoga). It was made popular by a famed Indian yogi named Iyengar. The use of props and a focus on breath control are central.

  • Self Awakening Yoga originated with Dr. Brahmanand Don Stapleton, PhD. It involves unique movements, such as tapping, unwinding, thumping, rolling, and more. 

  • Kripalu Yoga is perfect for all ability levels, including beginners. The goal is to perform a gentle (Hatha) yoga practice that focuses on spiritual transformation, compassion, and physical healing.

  • Sivananda Yoga originated with Swami Vishnudevananda in the 1950s. It encompasses five core principles: breathing, relaxation, diet, physical activity, and positive thoughts.

  • Yoga Therapy is the practice of using yoga as a clinical therapy for emotional challenges, mental health disorders, and physical ailments. It aims to push practitioners to higher health and well-being being overall. 

  • Prenatal Yoga is for women who are pregnant or expecting to become pregnant. The safety and health of the baby and mother are at the center of this calming, usually gentle practice.

  • Goat Yoga is a novel type of yoga class that involves practicing alongside happy baby goats that’ll likely have fun by climbing on top of you. This is goat yoga.

  • Integral Yoga is a type of gentle hatha yoga. It originated with the Indian yogi Sri Swami Satchidananda in the 1960s. The goal is to integrate or harmonize the mind, body, and spirit.

  • Acro Yoga combines yoga with traditional acrobatics. This recreational version of yoga is often associated with dance, circus performance, and physical prowess in general. 

  • Aerial Yoga is performed in a suspended attitude, using a silk hammock that is hung securely from the ceiling as a prop.

  • Raja Yoga is like ashtanga yoga. It is the yoga of peace, calm, and serenity and involves eight important stages (limbs) of self-realization.

  • Karma Yoga is also called karma marga. The goal is to help practitioners act based on Hindu dharma, regardless of the personal benefits. It is said to be the yoga of action and

  • Baby Yoga is for infants and toddlers. In some cases, parents perform alongside their children; in others, the class may involve only the babies and toddlers. The aim is to improve their flexibility, strength, and coordination.

  • Couples Yoga is for couples to perform alongside each other. Physically moving together in this way can improve both the physical and emotional aspects of any relationship.

 

Benefits Of Yoga

The benefits of yoga range from reduced muscle tension and lower blood pressure, to fewer headaches and better sleep.
  • Increased Flexibility: Yoga teaches gentle poses and movements while also challenging the practitioner to push their flexibility further than they would with other exercises or in non-active daily life. By engaging in repetitive poses and holding them for substantial amounts of time, flexibility is greatly increased.

  • Better Sleep: With regular yoga practice comes reduced bodily tension and lower rates of stress, both of which aid sleep. Yoga Nidra for sleep, in particular, can also help yogis sleep better and for longer.

  • Reduced Stress and Anxiety: Deep breathing exercises, practiced focus and an emphasis on the mind-body connection help yoga practitioners shed away stress and anxiety, both in the short and long-term, aiding your stress management.

  • Improved Mental Focus: Yoga teaches the importance of honing one’s mental clarity, pushing the practitioner to let extraneous thoughts and feelings float away. With consistency, this practice can greatly improve concentration and mental agility.

  • Better Resilience: The discipline of regular practice combined with the persistent shedding away of oft-scattered thoughts, feelings, and emotions teaches yogis how to stay strong and resilient even when they’re not actively practicing.

  • Reduced Inflammation: Certain illnesses and some poor lifestyle choices (bad diet, low levels of physical activity, and high levels of stress, for example) can lead to physical inflammation. Yoga can actually reverse these indicators, leading to lower inflammation on the whole and subsequently, lower incidents of inflammation-related illnesses and medical conditions.

  • Improved Breathing: In addition to a focus on physical movements and improved mental energy, yoga is very much an exercise in breathing. The practice teaches people not only how to breathe properly, but techniques on how to breathe deeply and fully. Something critical to cardiovascular health and stress reduction.

  • Better Heart Health: Reduced inflammation and stress combined with improved deep breathing and mental focus all contribute to better heart health. Those who practice yoga are far less likely to struggle with high blood pressure and heart-related illnesses.

  • Better Overall Health: Compared to those who don’t practice yoga, those who do are less likely to be overweight or obese. They also take fewer medications and tend to live longer.

 

Risks Of Yoga

It is important for yoga practitioners to take responsibility for their choices and actions on the path. An experienced yoga instructor will help to educate students about tools and techniques, but more importantly, will empower the student to listen to their bodies and develop their own inner teacher and internal practice. Students should beware that some instructors may either not be trained well, or may not be experienced in teaching and can even be abusive by not respecting the boundaries of the individual student. Respecting one’s own boundaries is an important part of yoga and the first principle of non-violence.

  • Possible Injuries: Especially for those new to the practice, challenging yoga postures and movements may result in excessive strain and subsequent injury.

  • Repetitive Stresses: Regular yogis may also encounter stress injuries caused by continuous strain on particular muscles and joints.

  • Ego-Driven Yoga: Pushing too far in order to impress, as in any physical practice or activity, yoga can become competitive. However, it’s important to remember that making yoga competitive threatens the practice’s ultimate benefits.

  • Guru Power Abuse: There have been many incidences of teacher/student power dynamics that are abusive. It is important for the student to maintain healthy boundaries, both personally and interpersonally, and to report inappropriate behavior.

 

Yoga Poses / Asanas 

List Sequences of popular styles (possibly in another section or article):

  • Ashtanga - Primary Series.

  • Bikram 26 sequence.

  • Jivamukti “Magic 10” or Spiritual Warrior class sequence.

Asana is Sanskrit for pose or body posture. It can be described as, “to sit in the seat of the Self”. These positions are the foundation of any yoga practice.

There are many yoga asanas, and they can be used interchangeably to make up sequences and flows. Here are the most important asanas that are used in various types of yoga:


Neutral Poses

  • Savasana Variation (bent legs) / Constructive Rest Pose involves relaxing into corpse pose (laying down on the back) and bringing the knees up, with feet flat on the floor. Allowing the legs to rest, with feet placed wide and knees touching inward, helps to relax the core psoas muscle, which can also be supported by props.

  • Tadasana / Mountain Pose is the basis for most standing asanas. While it may appear that it is just standing, it actually involves attention to many postural and alignment-related details.

  • Urdhva Hastasana / Upward Hand Stretch is an energetic pose that is performed by standing and raising the hands above the head. This pose can improve digestion and will also stretch out the shoulders and belly.

  • Chaturanga Dandasana / Four-Limbed Staff Pose is a rather challenging, but common, plank pose that is found within the Sun Salutation sequence. It helps to tone the abs and strengthen the arms.

  • Vasisthasana I / Side Plank is another rather challenging pose, which involves balancing in a side plank with legs stacked and one arm supporting your upper body weight. Benefits include strengthened arms, legs, wrists, and abs and improved balance.

  • Adho Mukha Vrksasana / Handstand is essentially the Mountain Pose flipped upside down. This advanced pose should only be attempted with a spotter at first. Once mastered, it provides strength to the arms and shoulders, improves balance, and relieves stress.

  • Sirsasana / Headstand is similar to the Handstand Pose, but the top of the head is used as well, in order to create a tripod of support along with bent arms. It is excellent at strengthening the back, shoulders, and arms.

  • Savasana / Corpse Pose is the final supine pose (lying on back, face up) for resting after yoga practice. It is also the core position for Yoga Nidra.

  • Utkatasana / Fierce (Powerful) Pose can be a challenging standing pose, but it’s excellent for strengthening the hip flexors and stimulating the heart and abdominal organs. It also tones the legs and stretches the shoulders and chest.

  • Ardha Attanasana / Half Forward Fold is an intense half-stretch standing pose that is beneficial for stretching the front of the torso and strengthening the back.

  • Virabhadrasana III / Warrior 3 Pose focuses heavily on honing your balance and maintaining stillness while steadying yourself on just one leg. It helps strengthen the legs and ankles, tone the abdomen, and improve overall balance and posture.

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Dog is a popular stretching pose that is wonderful for rejuvenating and energizing the entire body and mind while strengthening the legs and arms. It particularly involves a deep stretch of the hamstrings, calves, and shoulders.

  • Dandasana / Staff Pose is simple in appearance but involves several key details. Practitioners sit on the floor with legs outstretched and together while extending the torso slightly forward and sitting up straight.

  • Navasana / Boat Pose can be a challenging pose that strengthens the deep hip flexors and abs. It requires balancing on your tailbone and sitting bones while extending your legs and arms straight out.

Flexion Poses (Hips And Spine)

 

practicing-yoga-doing-head-to-knees-uttanasana-pose-700

  • Uttanasana / Standing Forward Fold is particularly helpful at relieving stress and calming the nervous system. The deep bend at the waist provides an excellent stretch for the hamstrings and calves, and also clears the mind.

  • Parsvottanasana / Pyramid Pose is an intense side stretch that is wonderful for improving balance and alleviating pain and discomfort in the lower back.

  • Balasana / Child's Pose is a resting pose that is performed in a kneeling position with forehead on the floor. It is exceptionally soothing and calming and provides a great stretch for the entire back.

  • Bakasana / Crow Pose is a challenging pose that involves balancing on the hands in a squat-like position. The pose strengthens the forearms and wrists in particular while giving a good stretch to your upper back.

  • Malasana / Garland Pose (Yogi Squat) is perfect for stretching the groin, back, and ankles. This squatting pose also opens the hips while also toning the abs.

  • Upavistha Konasana / Seated Angle Forward Fold is ideal for opening the back and providing a stimulating effect to the nervous system. It is also helpful at relieving pain from the sciatica and lengthening the hamstrings.

Flexion Poses (Spine)

  • Sarvangasana / Shoulder Stand is an inverted pose that is often used at the end of a yoga session to encourage circulation and strengthen the spine and core.

Extension Poses 

  • Virabhadrasana I / Warrior 1 Pose is a foundational pose that is wonderful at stretching out the upper body and belly, especially. One of the key challenges of this pose is keeping the back heel on the ground throughout.

  • Pincha Mayurasana / Peacock (Feather) Pose is similar to the Headstand Pose. However, the difference is that only the elbows and forearms are planted, and the head does not touch the ground. This pose improves balance and strengthens the shoulders, arms, and abs.

  • Salabhasana / Locust Pose is a magnificent pose to prepare the body for deeper stretches such as those involving backbends. It can also improve posture, strengthen the spine, and help relieve pent-up anxiety.

  • Bhujangasana / Serpent (Snake) Pose is a perfect pose for opening the chest and heart. It also increases flexibility in the spine, tones the buttocks, and helps reduce pain from the sciatica.

  • Urdhva Mukha Svanasana / Upward Dog Pose is performed after pushing up from a prone position. It gives a deep stretch to the chest and abs while strengthening the upper arms and forearms, and stimulating the abdominal organs.

  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana / Bridge Pose is performed by pushing up from a supine position with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. The pose gives a great stretch to the abdominal muscles and thighs while helping to reduce anxiety and relax the mind.

  • Urdhva Danurasana / Wheel (Bow) Pose is an advanced backbend pose that can provide a jolt of energy and improve flexibility in the spine and thighs.

Rotation Poses (Hips)

 

two-women-and-little-child-practicing-yoga-warrior-2-pose-700

  • Virabhadrasana II / Warrior 2 is a standing position, which provides a good stretch for the ankles and legs. It emphasizes concentration, strength, and stability.

  • Utthita Parsvakonasana / Extended Side Angle is a side-lengthening standing pose that gives a deep stretch to the hamstrings and groin area. Continual practice increases stamina and improves focus.

  • Utthita Trikonasana / Extended Triangle is a common standing pose that strengthens the inner thighs, calves, and hamstrings while lengthening the back and providing a boost of energy to the entire body.

  • Ardha Chandrasana / Half Moon is a pose that involves half your limbs having contact with the ground. One hand and one foot provide support while the other limbs are extended. It provides an excellent stretch to the shoulders, chest, groin, and hamstrings.

  • Garudasana / Goddess Pose requires focused concentration and a reserve of endurance. You must balance on just one leg, slightly bent, while carefully wrapping the arms and holding a balanced position.

  • Baddha Konasana / Cobbler's Pose helps to open the hips and give them a much-needed expansion. The seated position also provides a lengthening stretch for the back and shoulders while delivering peaceful stress relief.

  • Janu Sirsasana / Knee-to-Head Forward Fold is a seated pose involving a slight spinal twist and an excellent stretch for the back, shoulders, hamstrings, calves, and ankles.

  • Gomukhasana / Cow (Face) Pose is a challenging position that requires the legs to be crossed while seated, with the arms bent at the elbow — one up near the ear and the other down and around the back. This pose offers a good stretch for the shoulders, thighs, and triceps.

  • Virasana / Hero Pose is a seated pose that requires the knees to be bent beneath your seat, with feet splayed to either side. The position offers a deep stretch to the thighs and is a great alternative to Lotus Pose for meditation.

Rotation Poses (Spine)

  • Parivrtta Trikonasana / Rotated Triangle is a deep twisting position that stretches the hamstrings, opens the heart, and improves balance. While it can be a challenging pose, it’s important not to force the rotation, which could lead to injury.

  • Ardha Matsyendrasana / Half King Turn is a seated pose that involves shifting one leg over the other and twisting the upper body in the opposite direction. This pose strengthens the lower back and promotes flexibility in the spine

Yoga Stretches 

Various yoga poses and stretches can be used to increase flexibility and strength in specific areas of the body:

  • Hip Stretches: In order to stretch and strengthen the hips, it’s important to do so for the entire region of the pelvis. Some of the best stretches for this area include Warrior 2, Child’s Pose, Pigeon Pose, and Cobbler’s Pose.

  • Neck Stretches: Instead of using at-home massage tools or digital pressure to combat neck and shoulder pain, try yoga stretches such as Standing Forward Pose and Cow (Face) Pose. Also try using a yoga strap (yoga belt) with positions such as Locust Pose, which is great for stretching the upper back and chest.

  • Back Stretches: The best stretches for the back include bridge pose, upward-facing dog, and locust pose. These will improve spinal mobility and strengthen the core, which in turn will strengthen the back muscles.

  • Leg Stretches

    • Quads: To increase flexibility and reduce tension in the quads, try Child’s Pose and the Crescent Lunge.

    • Calves: To do the same in the calves, try Pyramid Pose and Thunderbolt Pose (with a rolled towel placed behind the knees).

    • Hamstrings: To increase flexibility and reduce tension in the hamstrings, practice the Downward Dog and Seated Angle Forward Fold.

Rotation Poses (Hips)

Aside from the myriad of individual posture names, yoga comes with a number of common terms that can sometimes confuse people who are unfamiliar with the practice.
  • Asana means posture in Sanskrit, and it is one of the eight limbs of yoga. All of the yoga asanas are meant to be comfortable and steady, according to the Yoga Sutras.

  • Pranayama is Sanskrit for two words: life force (Prana) and expansion (Ayama).
    Breath control through pranayama is an integral part of the yoga practice.

  • Chakra translates as circle or spinning wheel. We each have seven chakras that run the length of our spine and make up our main energy channel.

  • Drishti means focused gaze. It is a way to develop your discipline and concentration during yoga. There are nine drishtis in Ashtanga yoga, each with its own focus.

  • Namaste in English is "I bow to you.” It is a common greeting used at the beginning and end of yoga class.

Common Yoga Terms

Aside from the myriad of individual posture names, yoga comes with a number of common terms that can sometimes confuse people who are unfamiliar with the practice.

  • Asana means “posture” in Sanskrit, and it is one of the eight limbs of yoga. All of the yoga asanas are meant to be comfortable and steady, according to the Yoga Sutras.

  • Pranayama is Sanskrit for two words: “life force” (prana) and “expansion” (ayama). Breath control through pranayama is an integral part of the yoga practice.

  • Chakra means “circle” or “spinning wheel.” We each have seven chakras that run the length of our spine and make up our main energy channel.

  • Drishti means “focused gaze.” It is a means for developing your discipline and concentration during yoga. There are nine drishtis in Ashtanga yoga, each with its own focus.

  • Namaste means “I bow to you.” It is a common greeting used at the beginning and end of yoga class.

Yoga Online

Technological advancements have made online yoga learning a wonderful option for many practitioners. Taking part in online yoga classes with an experienced and certified yoga instructor is not only convenient but also affordable. Often more comfortable than heading to a physical brick-and-mortar studio.

Likewise, private yoga lessons can help you hone your abilities and improve all aspects of your practice at a much faster rate. With yoga available through your tablet, phone or computer you no longer have to search for yoga near me just to get your daily fix.


Yoga At Home

Performing yoga at home can be a delightful way to learn and practice yoga at your own pace, surrounded by the personal conveniences and comforts of home. Use of a quality yoga mat and other props (where necessary) is highly recommended. Advanced yogis may choose to manage their own practice or use online videos. Beginners might prefer to use virtual yoga courses or individual instruction from yoga experts.

 

Yoga For...

Yoga is for everyone. No matter your age, gender, background, or ability level, you can practice yoga and reap its amazing array of benefits.

Here’s how all groups can benefit from yoga:

  • Kids: Yoga for kids help them deal with issues such as stress, anxiety, and physical inactivity. Just as important to treat kids as they are adults. Yoga is the perfect physical activity for helping children improve their activity levels, awareness, focus, and inner strength.

  • Seniors: Yoga for seniors helps elderly adults stay physically active without risking injury. The soft movements of chair yoga, gentle yoga, and restorative yoga are especially beneficial for seniors.

Athletes

  • Tennis players benefit from yoga’s focus on balance and coordination while also improving their mental agility.

  • Skiers will do well to use yoga for maintaining focus and quick decision-making skills while on the slopes. Improved agility and coordination are also key benefits for skiers.

  • Golfers can improve their swing and range of motion overall by practicing yoga.

  • Surfers benefit greatly from the improved balance, stability, and strength that a regular yoga practice can provide.

  • Hockey players can soothe sore muscles and prevent further injuries by engaging in regular yoga practice.

  • Runners use yoga to stretch, increase flexibility, and prevent injuries. Especially if the practitioner is suffering from runners knee.

  • Baseball players may profit from yoga’s strength-training benefits, focus on deep breathing and oxygen distribution (particularly useful while running the bases).

  • Basketball players will specifically benefit from increased mobility and flexibility, both of which improve alongside yoga practice.

  • Soccer players can use yoga to increase their concentration and focus while preventing injury and stretching sore muscles.

  • Football players rarely slow down for gentle moving and focused poses. Yoga can be used as a successful cross-training tool for these athletes.

  • The Workplace: Modern workplaces are now implementing group yoga classes and insurance-covered yoga instruction. This practice serves both employees (their physical health and stress levels) and the overall goals of the company.

  • Families: Doing any activity as a family can enhance the familial bond and create more harmony in your household. Essentially any type of yoga can be practiced as a family. It’s a wonderful way to calm stress, clear the mind and get some exercise while spending time together.

Injuries/Chronic Pain

 

man-suffering-from-back-pain-700

  • Sciatica: Yoga can do wonders to reduce the intense, burning pain of sciatica. Try incorporating Locust Pose, Cobra Pose, and Child’s Pose.

  • Back Pain: Yoga is excellent for improving back pain as a focus on core strength and stretching are central to the practice. Just be sure to perform gently. Yoga that is performed incorrectly can also exacerbate pain.

  • Neck Pain: Pain and discomfort in the neck (and shoulders) are often caused by poor desk posture and our constant use of smartphones. Yoga stretches these areas of the body in critical ways that, in turn, curb discomfort and release tension.

  • Hip Pain: Be careful when doing yoga for hip pain that you do not make the pain worse by pushing yourself too hard. The best yoga poses for hip pain include Pigeon Pose and Bound Angle Pose.

  • Knee Pain: Consistent yoga practice can help align the patella and strengthen the interior thighs, both are beneficial at curbing knee pain.

  • Weight Loss: Though not all yoga is targeted at weight loss, certain types of dynamic and active yoga can certainly help practitioners burn more calories and build muscle strength.

  • Stress Relief: Yoga’s focus on deep breathing and letting extraneous thoughts fade away can help immensely in limiting the harmful effects of stress and chronic anxiety.

  • Posture: Because of yoga’s emphasis on correct positioning and holding (sometimes challenging) poses, posture is automatically improved.

  • Pregnancy: Both prenatal and postnatal yoga can help mothers feel healthier and more comfortable with their changing bodies.

Additional benefits can be found in our Yoga 101 article.

 

Yoga Breathing

In Sanskrit, pranayama means breath control. Prana translates as life force, and Ayama is expansion. Breath control through pranayama is an integral part of any yoga practice. There are numerous types of pranayama breathing.

Here are eight to be aware of:

  1. Dirga (three-part breath) is meant to calm and ground you. It involves inhaling in order to fill the belly, rib cage area, and chest with air before reversing the process and releasing the air from the chest, rib cage area, and belly.      

  2. Ujjayi (victorious breath) is said to improve energy and endurance while also bringing more mental focus to your practice. The breath is controlled with the diaphragm while the mouth remains closed. Each inhale and exhale lasts an equal duration of time. This is the standard breathing applied in Ashtanga and most vinyasa styles of yoga.

  3. Bhastrika (bellow’s breath) is a vigorous way of breathing that is meant to clear the mind and help you feel less like you're in a fog. It is invigorating and energizing.

  4. Anulom Vilom (alternate nostril breath) is best at helping to relieve anxiety and stress. One nostril is held closed upon inhale while the other is held closed during exhale.

  5. Surya Bhedan (right nostril breath) is a technique that involves using only the right nostril for inhaling. It is said to increase willpower and fortify bodily warmth and energy.

  6. Bhramari (humming bee breath) involves making an exhale buzzing sound (much like a bee). It is meant to relieve anger and agitation, reducing stress and calming the mind as well as the body.

  7. Sheetli (cooling breath) or Sitali is a breathing technique that literally cools the mind and body. Upon inhalation, the practitioner rolls their tongue (or an alternative technique can be used), and the breath is then held for several moments before letting it out.

  8. Viloma (interrupted breath) is meant to go against the natural flow of breathing. As you breathe, you actually increase your lung capacity by interrupting yourself briefly in the middle of certain breaths.

Yoga Meditation

Meditation is a broad term that includes many approaches to mental focus and self-regulation. It is an important part of the complete yoga practice and could even be thought of as a goal of the other aspects of yoga. Meditation goals and benefits include:

Yoga classes may start or end with a seated meditation, and vinyasa-style flow classes are intended to be moving meditation. Frequently, yoga teachers will incorporate techniques of meditation into their curriculum. Instructors may spend time helping their students to focus on the present by letting thoughts about the past or future go. The goal of both yoga and meditation practices is to keep bringing awareness back to the steady breath so as to harmonize the body and mind.


The core difference between modern yoga and meditation is that modern yoga tends to focus more on physical poses (asanas) while meditation is more about mental activity, concentration, and awareness. Still, the two can sometimes feel almost interchangeable, and they certainly go hand-in-hand in a myriad of ways.

 

Yoga Equipment

There are many types of yoga accessories and yoga props to choose from; available to both beginners and advanced students.
  • Yoga Mats are specially-made, rectangular mats, usually made out of rubber, plastic, and/or cork or hessian. They grip the floor and provide a clean, supportive, and stable surface for yoga practice.

How To Clean A Yoga Mat

Keeping your tools clean is essential. Here are a few easy steps on how to clean a yoga mat.
  1. Create your own natural cleaner.

  • You’ll need:

  • 1 ½ cups water

  • ½ cup distilled white vinegar

  • 5 - 10 drops of essential oil (tea tree oil works best as it has natural anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties)

  • An empty spray bottle

  • A clean cloth

  • Add your ingredients to the spray bottle, shake well, and label the bottle.

    Spray your entire mat.

  • Three to five good sprays should do it.

    Wipe off the cleaner.

  • No need to scrub hard unless you have a particular stain you need to get out. Simply wipe away the cleaner with your cloth.

    All your mat to air dry.

Avoid rolling up your mat when it’s still wet. Instead, leave it out to air dry, which should only take about 10 to 20 minutes.

  • Yoga Blocks are small rectangular blocks that are usually made of foam, cork, or another light material. They offer firm support and added balance for the head, back, hips, and other parts of the body when performing various yoga poses.

  • Yoga Straps are used to increase the range of motion for various types of stretches. They can also be used to bind the arms in certain poses.

  • Yoga Balls come in varied sizes (usually from 14 to 34 inches in diameter) and are used to increase the challenge of certain poses, better the stability and balance of the practitioner, and in some cases, add a soft cushion for the hips and back.

  • Yoga Wheels are hollow, wheel-shaped assistive props, used to stretch various parts of the body; most notably, the chest and front of the body. They can also be employed as supportive props or to add an extra challenge to standard yoga asanas.

  • Yoga Socks come in various forms. Some help keep the feet warm and/or wick away sweat, while others offer more grip and assist to spread the toes and realign them for improved steadiness.

  • Yoga Towels are most commonly used to wick away sweat and keep you dry during your yoga practice. They can also be used as a makeshift yoga mat.

  • Yoga Trapeze is a hammock-like piece of cloth that hangs from the ceiling. It is most commonly used to hang, twist, and stretch from during aerial yoga.

  • Yoga Pillows are essentially yoga bolsters. They are cylindrical or rectangular props that help augment challenging poses or provide body support during yoga practice.

  • Yoga Swings, also known as trapezes or yoga hammocks, are large pieces of cloth that hang from the ceiling. They are primarily used in aerial yoga.

  • Yoga Toes separate and stretch the toes to decrease foot- and toe-related pain and reduce injuries.

  • Yoga Bolsters are similar to yoga pillows. They are soft, rectangular or cylindrical props means to support and/or augment various postures.

  • Yoga Blankets can be used as adjustable bolsters to improve posture and offer support during your practice. They may also be used for cushioning, warmth, weight, or general comfort.

Yoga Brands

Several notable yoga brands create quality yoga mats, apparel, props, and other gear that can help you with your practice. Here are a few of the most popular yoga brands to be on the lookout for:
  • Lululemon: Based in Vancouver, Lululemon is best known for their comfy and stylish yoga pants. They also manufacture a long list of other types of yoga apparel as well as mats and various yoga accessories.

  • Gaiam: Founded in Boulder, Colorado, and popular for its wide range of wellness media and other products, Gaiam centers its business around yoga, meditation, and other holistic health practices. The company takes its name from the earth goddess Gaia (from ancient Greek mythology).

  • Alo: Started in Commerce, CA, Alo offers a long list of yoga apparel and accessories for the conscious consumer, including luxury fashion items that are also meant to be exceedingly comfortable and well-performing.

  • Lolë: Like Alo, Lolë offers luxury yoga apparel and accessories. The brand name is actually an acronym for Live Out Loud Everyday. The company is based in Quebec.

Yoga Books

While there are a wide range of yoga books available on the market, there are certainly some books that every yogi should own:
  • The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T.K.V. Desikachar

    This is the first yoga text to outline a step-by-step sequence for developing a complete practice according to viniyoga. Yoga adapted to the needs of the individual and his or her current state of health, age, occupation, and lifestyle. It covers the age-old principles of yoga: poses and counterposes, conscious breathing, meditation, and philosophy.

    Sri Krishnamacharya, who lived to be over 100 years old, was one of the greatest yogis of the modern era. Krishnamacharya's son T.K.V. Desikachar wrote The Heart of Yoga where he offers a distillation of his father's system as well as his own practical approach. Elements of his teaching have become well known around the world through the work of his other students: B.K.S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi.

  • Light on Yoga: The Bible of Modern Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar (1966)

    In Light on Yoga, Iyengar outlines yoga as a modern form of exercise, which is largely why it is referred to as the “modern yoga bible.” The book contains roughly 600 photographs featuring about 200 yoga asanas.

  • Yoga Sutras by Patanjali (Date unknown; likely between 500 BCE and 400 CE)

    This practical book, written many hundreds of years ago, is a spiritual guide to the practice of yoga. It was penned by the Indian sage Patanjali and contains 195 aphorisms or sutras within four chapters.

Yoga Quotes

A plethora of wonderful yoga quotes can be found in books, yoga instructional materials, and directly from yogis themselves. Here are several to light your journey:

"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured."
K.S. Iyengar

"In any pose, the breakthrough comes not when you learn what to tighten, but when you learn what to relax." – Bikram

"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." – Lao Tzu

"Move your joints every day. You have to find your own tricks. Bury your mind deep in your heart, and watch the body move by itself." 
Sri Dharma Mittra

"A calm sea does not make a skilled sailor." 
Nathan Gilkarov

"No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path." 
Buddha

Yoga Symbols

Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or a beginner, you’re likely to see a number of yoga symbols associated with your practice. Here are some of the most common symbols, all of which can help empower your yoga practice:

  • Om Symbol: Pronounced “aum,” this special word is often used as a tool for meditation, chanted as a mantra during yoga practice. It is the most important of all mantras as om is thought to be the first sound that permeated the universe at its inception (it is said to still permeate the universe today). The three components of Oṃ (a + u + ) correspond to the three stages of cosmic creation and celebrates the creative powers of the universe.

  • Mala Beads: These beads can be used during meditation. Each garland features 108 beads (a significant number in yoga) as well as a Guru Bead, which is meant to mark the beginning/end of meditation. It is also bigger than the others.

  • Chakras: Images of seated yogis in lotus position with several “centers” or “wheels” of color running up the spine is common in yoga. This is an image of the chakrasseven key points on the body that receive or discharge life force energy.

  • Mandalas: Translated as circles in Sanskrit, mandalas symbolize the perpetual connectedness and never-ending journey of life.

  • Lotus Flower: This flower represents rebirth, enlightenment, and purity. The analogy to these phenomena (and to the human condition in general) is clear in that the beautiful lotus flower is always able to grow and bloom in even the dirtiest and murkiest of waters.

Yoga Technology

Along with offering direct health benefits, the various yoga tools, including physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation, are part of a systematic technology for life transformation. As well as a step-by-step method for changing bad habits. As in many areas of life, other forms of technology have made significant strides in the modernization of yoga. While at its core, yoga is a traditional discipline that doesn’t require outside technology, modern advances have nonetheless provided an increasing amount of convenience, opportunity, and information to the practice.

Here are several key examples of technological advancements that may help you to improve your yoga practice:

  • Interactive Apps: Numerous apps are available that help motivates daily practice, improve alignment, and track progress.

  • Virtual Yoga Instruction: When going to class isn’t an option, practitioners can now login to a live stream of classes. This can be done from anywhere in the world as long as there’s an Internet connection

  • Heart Rate Monitors: Keeping your heart rate steady (or at least being aware of it) is central to a focused yoga practice. Heart rate monitors keep track of your pulse for instant bio-feedback.

  • Other Wearables: Sensors are now being placed in specially-made interactive clothing garments like yoga pants. These will buzz or vibrate when you’re out of alignment or being inconsistent with your movements.

Yoga Teacher Certification

In order to become a certified yoga instructor, you must earn your Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) credentials. This is offered by the Yoga Alliance. There are different levels of certification, based on varying levels of training hours and instruction focus.

As a RYT, you will have numerous skills and resources at your disposal to help you become successful in teaching yoga to others and improving your own practice. In order to achieve your certification, you must complete your training at a Registered Yoga School (RYS). You may choose to do so at the 500-hour or 200-hour level. Other specialty-level RYS certifications are available as well, such as Registered Prenatal Yoga (RPY) and Registered Children’s Yoga (RCY).

 

Yoga Therapist Certification

Yoga Therapy is an emerging profession. In order to become a certified yoga therapist, (designated C-IAYT) you are required to first have become an RYT, then an additional 800-hours of training at an accredited yoga therapy school. The International Association of Yoga (IAYT) supports research and education in yoga, and serves as a professional organization for yoga teachers and yoga therapists worldwide.

 

Famous Yogis

Many famous yogis have made their appearance as highly impactful teachers in the long history of yoga. Here are several you may have heard of:

  • Patanjali was a sage from India who lived at some point between 500 BCE and 400 CE. He is the author of the Yoga Sutras, a text credited with introducing the eight limbs of yoga and passing on the yoga tradition to the modern day.

  • K.S Iyengar originated the idea of yoga as exercise. He wrote numerous books and masterminded many spiritual and intellectual yogic practices that are still in use today.

  • Paramahansa Yogananda came to the West from India in 1920, bringing with him a spiritual campaign that would spread practices such as Kriya Yoga and meditation widely throughout the West.

Yoga In Pop Culture

Yoga isn’t just an ancient tradition. Its footprint can be found in all walks of life — even in popular culture! Here are just a few of our favorite instances:
  • Yoga in TV and Movies: Yoga class is regularly featured as the backdrop for TV and movie characters’ daily routines or life events. Some of the most popular shows and movies to incorporate scenes with yoga include Modern Family, Meet the Fockers, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Inside Amy Schumer, and most recently in the reality show Below Deck where two of the crew members perform yoga on a regular basis.

  • Yoga on Instagram: Many people follow yoga Instagram accounts to enter the world of yoga as a beginner. Others who are at an intermediate or advanced level use Instagram to refine their skills and get even better while practicing at home.

  • Yoga Products: Finally, we would be remiss if we didn't mention yoga pants as probably the most-beloved yoga product on the market. Admittedly, many lovers of these pants don't actually practice yoga but adore the comfort that these stretchy, forgiving garments provide. Other beloved products include the classic yoga mat, yoga blankets, and other stylish apparel and bags.

The Future Of Yoga

There’s no doubt that yoga is here for the long haul. But the question remains as to whether it will change in any fundamental way or remain essentially the same.

Of course, we can’t know for sure, but the trending projection tells us that technology will likely have the biggest impact on yoga practice in the future. Already, yoga students are seeking yoga training online, usually via YouTube or apps and websites that offer individual instruction via webcam or live feeds to group classes. At-home yoga practices allow beginners to feel more comfortable learning the ropes. And the ability to work one-on-one with highly skilled teachers means that even yogis in rural areas can receive advanced personal instruction.

Similarly, the popularity of biometric feedback technologies has enabled advanced practitioners and beginners alike to track their progress and to improve based on their own data.

Devices like Apple Watches, Fitbits, and other wearables offer real-time data with information such as the wearer’s heart rate, calories burned, and sleep quality. As these technologies improve, it’s only a matter of time before they become integral parts of certain yoga practices.

Yoga: Frequently Asked Questions

 

What is the point of yoga?

Yoga has many purposes. But generally speaking, the practice aims to harmonize the mind, body, and spirit, through gentle deliberate movements and physical poses. Yoga improves focus, breathing, posture, cardiovascular health, anxiety and stress, sleep, and much more.

 

Does yoga change your body?

Yoga can change your body. When done correctly, the practice can help reduce inflammation, improve posture, increase strength and flexibility, reduce muscle tension and even encourage fat loss.

 

Does yoga change your brain?

Yes, with regular practice, yoga and meditation can actually change your brain. With recent advances in understanding and technology, scientists now know about “neuroplasticity” and the brain’s ability to adapt and change it’s structure, even as we age. Brain cells, called neurons, form new connections among themselves, and the more you do something, the stronger these neural links become. Neurons that fire together, wire together.

Critical to understanding the brain and the mind’s role in maintaining our habits (both good and bad), is what the ancient yogis called samskaras. Samskaras are the habits of thoughts and actions, which, like grooves in a muddy road, get deeper all the time. These grooves become neural circuits in the brain and body.

From the yogic perspective, every time you do or think something, you increase the likelihood that you will do it or think it again. In yoga, we learn how to focus and control our mind and body, which over time, also changes our brain.

 

Can you lose weight by doing yoga every day?

As a rule, yoga is not a go-to practice for encouraging weight loss. Still, it can definitely be part of a healthy physical lifestyle. Similarly, when you engage in more dynamic, active forms of yoga, you may end up losing a certain amount of fat and developing leaner muscle. Also, gentle yoga that reduces stress, inflammation, and lowers the hormone cortisol will help your body and mind to regulate, let go of excess weight, and even help with impulsive habits or emotional eating.

 

Is yoga a religion?

Yoga developed in India as a part of Hinduism. It has also been associated with Buddhism and Jainism, among other religions. However, yoga itself is not a religion.

 

Why is yoga good for anxiety?

Central to yoga is a focus on deep breathing, which can help slow down the heart rate and limit extraneous, restless thinking. This, combined with the meditative and spiritual benefits of yoga, can lead to substantial reductions in stress and anxiety.