The Origins of Yoga
Yoga originated in northern India over 5,000 years ago, and its principles fall amongst the philosophies of Hinduism and become a large part of Buddhism and the practice of meditation. Therefore, while yoga itself is not a religion, its beginnings were founded from Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. The teachings of yoga then arrived in the West in the late 1890s via Indian monks who spread their learnings to the Western world.
Did you know the word ‘yoga’ was derived from the Sanskrit term ‘Yuj’, meaning ‘to join’ or ‘to unite’? Referring to the union of the body, breath, and mind.
Today, yoga is a widespread practice used for self-realisation, primarily to heighten one’s sense of self-awareness and consciousness, unify the mind, body, and breath, and foster overall health, happiness, and inner harmony.
Types of Yoga Practices & Teachings
After yoga’s introduction to mainstream culture, many different yoga practices and teachings began to arise including:
Yin yoga aims to target your deep connective tissues such as ligaments, joints, and bones. The practice is typically slower and meditative, enabling you to tune into your mind and body.
This type of yoga also involves slow, long holds that enable you to have greater control of your breath and work through discomfort and sit with one’s thoughts.
Health benefits of Yin Yoga include:
- Lengthens connective tissues
- Increases flexibility
- Boosts circulation
- Reduces stress
Hatha yoga involves a set of yoga poses and breathing techniques that are practised slowly with still posture holds. This is typically the most common type of yoga taught in the West today, with popular poses such as the ‘downward dog’.
These poses taught in hatha yoga aim to challenge strength and flexibility while promoting controlled breathing and posture.
Health benefits of Hatha Yoga:
- Stress reduction
- Reduced depression symptoms
- Muscle and joint flexibility
- Core strength
The term Ashtanga translates to ‘eight limbs’. Therefore, the practise of ashtanga yoga focuses on the eight practices to experience the true goal of yoga. It allows you to exercise mindfulness, flexibility, and meditation. Ashtanga yoga also encourages sweating as it claims this will help the body eliminate toxins to assist with healing.
The eight limbs are:
- Yamas (behavioural observances)
- Niyamas (behavioural restraints
- Asana (practice of physical postures)
- Pranayama (the practice of breathing techniques)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (transcendence)
Health benefits of Ashtanga yoga:
- Improves flexibility
- Increases strength
- Helps with muscle toning
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Lowers blood pressure
- Increases focus and creativity
- Improves cardiovascular fitness
The Benefits of Yoga
There are so many advantages that practicing yoga provides, including mental, emotional, and physical benefits.
- Improves Flexibility: Yoga is great for improving your flexibility. By practising its teachings through poses and postures, you can slowly improve your body’s flexibility in muscles and joints. It also lengthens connective tissues.
- Improves Blood Flow & Cardiovascular Health: The relaxing nature of the yoga practice helps your circulation, bringing more nutrient-rich oxygen to your cells. Yoga can also lower blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate and other risk factors.
- Improves Gastrointestinal Health: Research has revealed that through regular yoga practice, the digestive system is activated, thereby eliminating stomach-related diseases.
- Improves Energy & Sleep: Yogis often report feeling energised and rejuvenated after practising yoga regularly. The practice also helps relax your mind, release tensions, and promote a night of better and deeper sleep.
- Increases Strength: Yoga utilises your body weight in its practice to improve your strength.
- Increases Core Strength: Yoga can also increase your core strength, which is regularly engaged and activated to hold poses throughout the session.
- Improves Balance: The practice of yoga is all about becoming more in tune with your own body and maintaining your centre and balance through your breath and body to hold challenging poses.
- Builds Bone Density: Studies have found yoga can increase bone density if practised regularly and consistently.
- Improves Breath Practices & Training: One of the most essential elements of yoga is breathing. Breath training can help to improve lung capacity and can assist with sports such as diving, swimming, and running.
There are also a number of emotional benefits to be gained from regular yoga practice.
- Reduces Stress & Anxiety: The practice of yoga enables you to focus on your breathing as well as the poses or stretches you are completing. This enables you to centre your attention on the exercises and reduce any stress or worry clouding your mind. It can also help with breathing practices which can also be used to overcome anxiety.
- Increases Focus & Creativity: Yoga engages your mind through meditation, enables you to reflect internally and open your mind to become more self-aware. A result of this is often an increase in creativity or the ability to focus and concentrate.
- Improve Your Mood: Regularly practising yoga is known to uplift your mood as you focus on your mind, body, and breath connection.
This is only the tip of the iceberg in the plethora of benefits the practice of yoga can provide. We like to believe that yoga is medicine and with regular practice, you will soon see and feel its benefits.
Is yoga a sport or exercise?
Yoga is adopted by many as a form of exercise primarily used for strength training, to tone and define the muscles while building a mind-body connection. However, yoga is not currently considered a sport as it offers spiritual and psychological aspects and does not entail any competition.
Can yoga strengthen your core?
Yoga is a great exercise that revolves around engaging your core to centre your body in the different asanas (poses).
What type of yoga is best for beginners?
Hatha yoga is an excellent practice for beginners looking to try yoga. It focuses on simple and basic poses featuring slow-paced movements and holds.
Can I lose weight doing yoga?
While yoga traditionally is not considered a cardio-based exercise, some types of yoga are more physical, including Ashtanga and Hot Yoga. These classes tend to keep you more active, which can help to burn calories.