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Everything you need to know about yoga

by Ezra 6 minutes read

Last updated: 20 Jul, 2023

Yoga is a holistic discipline that originates from ancient India. By encompassing a wide range of techniques and practices, it offers a pathway to physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. In recent years, yoga has gained widespread popularity as it is a powerful tool for self-care and personal growth.

Yoga is the union of the mind, body, and spirit. The word stems from the Sanskrit term "yuj", meaning to unite or join. The practice of yoga involves a combination of physical postures (“asanas”), breathing techniques (“pranayama”), meditation, and ethical principles for living a balanced life. The holistic discipline is designed to cultivate strength, flexibility, relaxation, wholeness, balance, and focus in those that practise it and promotes inner peace and harmony.

The origin of yoga

Although the exact origin of yoga is difficult to pinpoint, the earliest evidence of the discipline can be traced back to around 2700 BCE. Indus Valley seals have been discovered that depict figures sitting in meditation postures. This implies that the ancient Indus Valley civilization, a civilization from the Bronze Age who lived in the north-western regions of South Asia, practised yoga in some form.

It was not until 400 BCE, when the ancient sage Patanjali wrote The Yoga Sutras, that yoga was understood systematically and comprehensively. Written in Sanskrit, the text consists of 196 aphorisms and provides a compilation on the practices and principles of yoga. It explores the nature of the mind, explains how to attain spiritual liberation, and offers guidance on ethical principles, physical postures, breath control, and meditation. The Yoga Sutras is regarded as one of the foundational texts of yoga philosophy.

Yoga has evolved over a long period of time through various teachings, traditions, and practices. It incorporates elements of the philosophical traditions of India and has drawn influence from indigenous spiritual practices as well as several religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. There are now many different lineages, schools, and types of yoga, each with their own approach and focus to suit individual preferences and needs. Yoga can be gentle and meditative, dynamic and physically demanding, or spiritually awakening.

Hatha yoga Hatha yoga focuses on yoga poses and breath control to strengthen and align the body, promote relaxation, and improve flexibility.
Bhakti yoga Bhakti yoga, also known as hot yoga, is practised in a heated room as heat promotes flexibility and detoxification. It consists of a series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises.
Ashtanga yoga Ashtanga yoga follows a specific set sequence of postures that are synchronised with rhythmic and deep breathing. It is a structure and demanding physical activity.
Tantra yoga Tantra yoga combines yoga poses, breath control, mantra chanting, meditation, and visualisation techniques, to connect with the divine essence within themselves and achieve higher states of consciousness, spiritual awakening, and self-realisation.
Karma yoga Karma yoga is one of the four main paths of yoga, encouraging selfless action and service. It promotes kindness and empathy, offering a broader perspective beyond the ego and personal desires.
Power yoga Power yoga is a physically challenging yoga style that aims to build strength, stamina, and flexibility.
Yin yoga Yin yoga is a gentle yoga that involves holding passive poses for an extended period of time to promote deep relaxation, flexibility, and inner stillness.
Vinyasa yoga Vinyasa yoga is a dynamic style of yoga that involves a continuous and fluid sequence of movements which is in synchronicity with the breath.
Kundalini yoga Kundalini yoga aims to promote spirituality through breathwork, dynamic physical postures, chanting, meditation, and mantra repetition.

Modern day yoga

It was not until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that yoga began to gain attention and popularity in the United States and other western countries, primarily due to the influential Indian teachers Swami Vivekananda and Paramahansa Yogananda. Today, yoga is practised by millions of people worldwide and has evolved and adapted to the modern lifestyle.

While the ancient roots of yoga are deeply rooted in Indian culture and spirituality, the discipline is not limited to any specific religious or philosophical belief system. Yoga can be practised by people from diverse backgrounds and those of differing ages, fitness levels, and flexibility.

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Benefits of yoga

Regular yoga practice can positively impact both the mind and body. It enhances physical and mental health, spirituality, and offers a better overall quality of life. As yoga is deeply personal, the health benefits of yoga can vary from person to person.

The benefits of yoga include:

  • Improves flexibility and muscle strength, reducing chronic low back pain

  • Develops fitness and stamina

  • Helps mental health by reducing stress and anxiety, reducing blood pressure

  • Enhances mental clarity and focus

  • Improves quality of sleep

  • Boosts immunity

  • Improves bone health

  • Increases energy levels

  • Creates a mind-body connection

  • Promotes mindfulness, relaxation, and emotional well-being

  • Encourages better posture and body awareness

  • Inner growth and self-discovery

For a more in depth explanation on the benefits of yoga, you can read our article here.

Yoga: For beginners

Yoga is accessible to all, including beginners. The most common ways it is practised is in a yoga class in a yoga studio, an online class led by a yoga teacher, at home with the help of instructional videos, at a yoga retreat or workshop, and private yoga sessions.

For those who are just beginning their yoga journey, it is important to remember to:

Start with basic poses

Begin with the foundational yoga poses such as Mountain Pose ("Tadasana"), Child's Pose ("Balasana"), Downward Dog ("Adho Mukha Svanasana"), and Warrior I ("Virabhadrasana I"). These poses are more suited to beginners as they are easy to follow.

Find a qualified teacher

Attending beginner-level yoga classes led by a qualified instructor can be helpful to ensure you practise safely. A teacher can offer proper guidance on the discipline, including breathing techniques and posture.

Focus on your breath

During practice, pay attention to your breath. Breathe in deep, smooth, and mindfully (“Ujjayi”) to help calm the mind and stay present in the moment.

Use props

Don't be afraid to use yoga props like blocks, straps, and blankets. These can help make poses more accessible, especially if you are working on your flexibility or strength.

Cultivate body awareness

Always listen to your body and respect its limitations. Avoid overexerting or pushing yourself into positions that cause you pain or discomfort. Instead, work with your body's current capabilities and modify poses so they are more comfortable for you.

Yoga is not a competitive sport, it is a personal journey. Progress is gradual, not instant, and there is no need to master complex poses quickly. Instead, focus on proper alignment, move at your own pace, and be patient with yourself.

Take breaks when you need them; it is essential to balance physical activity with relaxation. Include restorative poses and relaxation techniques like Corpse Pose (“Savasana”) at the end of your practice so that your body can recover properly.

Practise regularly

In yoga, consistency is key for progress. Aim for 2-3 sessions per week to establish a steady practice. Even short, regular sessions can yield positive benefits!

Disclaimer: We provide this information for educational purposes only. No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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