Who doesn’t want to feel like the best version of themselves? Chances are, you have already Googled to know about your favourite celebrity’s fitness regimen. You must have found that almost all of them practise Yoga regularly. Be it for enhancing your flexibility, building endurance or staying healthy overall- yoga helps you accomplish whatever wellness goals you have. But what is Yoga? Let us find out.
If you want to be healthy and active, you will find that Yoga is perfect for you, immaterial of your current fitness level or future fitness goals. Any regular yoga practitioner, health expert or doctor will swear by the benefits of Yoga. However, while people seem to have a rough idea about the term, not many know what Yoga actually means and what the philosophy behind it is.
What is Yoga? What do you mean by Yoga?
Yoga, in simple terms, is a discipline, which not only empowers the body, mind and soul but also propagates a compassionate attitude towards the self and the world. While most people mistake Yoga as a form of only physical exercise, it is actually a powerful technique to discover and activate our latent potential.
Yoga is one of the six schools of ancient Indian philosophy and comprises a number of physical, mental and spiritual practices. It has its seeds in ancient ascetic traditions and finds mentions in various Indian scriptures. Historians estimate that Yoga has been developed and practised since pre-Vedic times.
Who invented Yoga? Who wrote Yoga Sutra?
Since Yoga is an ancient discipline, it is impossible to determine historically who the founder was. While all Indian ascetics are believed to be practitioners of different forms of Yoga, sage Patanjali was the first to compile the ancient guidelines into a single, practice literature called the “Yoga Sutra of Patanjali.” (source)
Yoga as a discipline has evolved through the ages; and has manifested in many forms today. Yoga traditions and poses were adopted by spiritual masters like Buddha and Mahavira, who are often depicted as sitting in certain asanas while preaching or attaining enlightenment.
Yoga poses and mudras are depicted in classical dance forms like Bharatnatyam, and in various art and sculptures found in temples across South Asia. Even some ancient seals dating back to the Indus Valley civilization depict figures sitting in yoga asanas.
What is meant by Yoga?
Yoga came to the west in the 20th century. It was introduced by great yoga masters. Subsequently, Swami Vivekananda’s famous speech in Chicago about the richness of Indian civilization developed a further curiosity about Indian language, traditions and philosophy.
Since then “yoga” has not just become a way of life in the west, it has further branched into various fitness practices like power yoga, hot yoga and aerial yoga.
While fitness enthusiasts in the west practise Yoga as a physical form of exercise with emphasis on poses, asanas, posture and breath control, in India, Yoga is understood to be a practice for the overall development of the mind and body, with meditation and spiritual wellbeing at its core.
What is the meaning of Yoga? What is Yoga definition
“Yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word "Yuj", which means "to join". Hence, in plainest terms, Yoga is about harmoniously unifying the mind, body and soul together. It is a path of spiritual development with strong roots in meditation. A person who practises Yoga with a serious commitment is called a "yogi"(male) or a "yogini"(female).
The ultimate goal of Yoga is "moksh" or liberation. While different schools of Yoga define the end goal differently, it may be understood primarily as an expansion of consciousness so that the mind and spirit rise above earthly sufferings and pain giving way to the spirit to attain salvation. (source)
Yoga in the modern world - Why Yoga is important
As our lifestyles evolve to adapt the times and technologies, so do our ways of accommodating fitness routines and mindfulness. The end goal here is to attain holistic wellness so that the mind is free and at peace, while the body reaches a desirable level of physical wellness.
Social media today is full of pictures and videos of yogis and yoginis striking complex poses. This is a clear indicator of the popularity of Yoga. Many fitness enthusiasts benchmark gradual progress through increasingly complex postures as reaching high personal goals.
However, to reach such advanced stages, you need to start with basics, which include breathing exercises - pranayama and meditation.
It helps to educate yourself about which type of Yoga is best suited for you according to your fitness and personal goals. It is advisable to join a yoga class, where a trained Yoga teacher can take you through a routine best suited for you.
One must keep in mind that many yoga poses are forbidden for people who suffer from specific ailments. So, before you start practising Yoga, consult a good practitioner or doctor to check which asanas you are allowed to do and which you should avoid.
How many types of Yoga are there?
In philosophy, “yoga” is often depicted as a tree. There six main branches that suggest six different approaches and goals are:
1. Hatha Yoga
The visuals of poses that you get in your mind when you think of Yoga are certainly of Hatha Yoga. This form probably originated in the 9th or 10th century CE and is focused on physical techniques. Its approach is broader because it eliminates the need for religious paraphernalia and a spiritual intermediary. Roughly, Hatha Yoga focuses on physical and mental development and the alignment of the two. (source)
Hatha yoga is great for beginners as it starts with gentle poses and gradually progresses to more challenging asanas. It treats all poses as separate exercises and focuses on how long one is able to hold a pose or stretch, rather than combining them in a flow. Although It is unlikely that practising Hatha Yoga will leave you sweaty and tired, it will work on your muscles, and you will feel relaxed and stretched. It may also help you reduce specific aches.
2. Ashtanga Yoga/Raja Yoga/Classical Yoga
Ashtanga Yoga (Ashta – Eight, Anga – Limb) is based on eight stages and guidelines outlined by sage Patanjali in Yoga Sutras. It requires all facilities of the body, mind and soul to come together (or keep trying to) with a committed and serious attitude towards building a harmonious, healthy and meaningful life.
According to Patanjali, the eight limbs of classical Yoga are:
Moral and ethical principles like non-violence, truthfulness and self-control that help you to achieve harmony with the universe and all beings around you.
Moral and ethical principles like cleanliness, discipline and contentment that help you achieve harmony with your own self.
The postures. For those who practise ashtanga yoga, there are two kinds of asanas to focus on: the health of the spine and correct posture. Focusing on these two broad categories of asanas is supposed to ensure the practitioner’s overall health.
The first kind of asana focusses on developing the ability to sit in a straight position for as long as possible. The second kind teaches rigorous poses and sequences to work the spine – Surya Namaskar being the most popular.
Also known as ‘Science of Breath’; it is the Yoga practise of controlling one’s breath. Pranayama is the core of ashtanga yoga and can also be practised independently as it is highly beneficial for internal organs.
Possibly the most relevant limb in today’s times, Pratyahara is the practice of withdrawing oneself from excess. This may include certain lifestyle elements(including social media-scrolling), and physical elements like toxins, food and other harmful substances.
Dharana + Dhyana + Samadhi
According to the Yoga Sutras, sage Patanjali says that the first five stages of Yoga lead to the last three, and all three may be looked at as one group – sanyam or control. Dharana in the process of building focus or meditating using a one-point mental or physical object. Dhyana is a state of being keenly aware of yourself, your thoughts and surroundings without a need to focus. The final stage of Samadhi is reached by prolonged meditation. It is the ultimate goal of Yoga of achieving self-realization and activating your latent talent.
3. Karma Yoga
As the name suggests, karma yoga focuses on action/deeds - or rather, selfless action. Karma yoga’s core philosophy is that the practitioner must pay attention to doing what is right, regardless of the consequences. The Bhagwad Gita underlies the importance of following karma yoga or the path of karma for the liberation of the human spirit. (source)
4. Bhakti Yoga
This form of yoga practises loving devotion towards one’s personal God or personal endeavour. While bhakti is an ancient tradition in Hindu philosophy, it gained more prominence during the bhakti movement which sidestepped rituals and the need for a priest and talked about the direct ways in which a devotee could worship and commune with his or her God.
5. Gyan Yoga
Gyan yoga or jnana yoga refers to the “way of knowledge”. Unlike Bhakti Yoga, which is based on faith, Gyan Yoga is based on knowledge, asking questions and seeking answers to the question "who am I" or "what am I". For Gyan yoga, one needs a teacher or guru for guidance through the process so that one can understand the nature of the “atman” or self. (source)
6. Tantra Yoga
Tantra yoga emphasizes on rituals, mystical practices, and working with various energies, which is beyond the perceived philosophies of Yoga. It focuses on the combination of asanas and channelling energy through chakras and is often experimental in methods exploring our minds and bodies. In Tantra yoga, the end goal is to reach a state of bliss where one can commune with the divine and reach ecstasy.
Although not all of the above forms of Yoga practices may seem practical to implement as physical exercise forms due to today's busy lifestyles, various other forms have evolved and reached Yoga Studios.
Types of Yoga :
1. Vinyasa Yoga
Often, “vinyasa” and “ashtanga” yoga are used interchangeably. This is because both these methods take their asanas from Hatha Yoga and turn them into sequences and give them a flow. While both the methods are rigorous and provide a good workout, the Ashtanga method uses the same set of sequences for each class.
The Vinyasa method, on the other hand, offers flexibility in picking the sequences and the order of poses, which means there’s always an element of surprise. A Vinyasa Yoga class usually has a theme for the day and the sequence of postures leads to a peak pose, and another set recovers from it.
Both Vinyasa and Ashtanga methods are beneficial in building stamina and are great for athletic training.
2. Power Yoga - What is Power Yoga?
Power Yoga is a contemporary take on the Vinyasa method with emphasis on faster and dynamic movements. It focuses more on physical fitness than older methods by moving faster from one pose to another, one sequence to another and burns more calories.
While it is not recommended for a beginner, it is excellent for people who are regular practitioners of traditional forms of Yoga to bring in some burn. It is also suitable for regular gym-goers to transition into Yoga.
Power Yoga is treated as cardio and strength training, and many teachers even use music in their classes.
3. Iyengar yoga
Iyengar Yoga was developed by B.K.S Iyengar, who was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan for his method. Iyengar yoga is different from other forms of Yoga as it makes use of various props like belts, straps, cushions and blocks, which aid in better alignment during asanas and minimizes the risk of injury.
The form gives strict importance to precision, alignment and sequence of poses, which further helps in awareness of the posture. Iyengar Yoga is especially helpful for people who are aged, have any ailments or are recovering from injuries.
Iyengar yoga gurus have to undergo years of thorough training to understand what they are teaching and provide accurate instructions.
4. Aerial Yoga
Aerial Yoga is a kind of Yoga, which is performed defying gravity by being suspended from a silk-hammock from the ceiling. It uses similar poses that are done on a mat but minimizes pressure on the shoulders and spine. It can be practised by both beginners and experts and uses core strength to support various asanas. It is beneficial in improving flexibility, trimming the waist and performing complex asanas.
5. Kundalini yoga
Kundalini yoga starts with the belief that our bodies have spiritual energy centres aligned with the spine. In the ancient scriptures, Kundalini is described as the dormant potential force that lies at the bottom of our spine or at the root chakra.
The purpose of Kundalini Yoga is to activate it and heal emotional and mental ailments. When Kundalini energy can be conducted through the seven chakras, the practitioner is believed to have reached a state of awareness.
In the 70s, Yogi Bhajan popularised Kundalini Yoga worldwide. His method includes dynamic Pranayama and dynamic asana flow; clubbed with chanting and meditation to heal the organs, glands and the nervous system.
6. Jivamukti yoga
Jivamukti Yoga was founded by David Life and Sharon Gannon in the 80s. It takes teachings from the ancient forms and philosophies of Yoga and converts the idea for a contemporary way of living. It propagates compassion, non-violence, veganism, the reading of scriptures and the importance of mutual happiness and joy in relationships.
This is a combination of vinyasa yoga and other things like reading of texts, meditation and chanting. Jivamukti yoga is more about broader yoga education. It starts with a series of well-defined poses and ends with students learning something new or in-depth.
7. Yin Yoga
Yin Yoga derives its name for spiritual and medicinal spiritual traditions of China. The method focusses on the long and deep holding of asanas. It is ideal for people who want to attain greater flexibility, increase circulation to the joints and exercise the bone and joint areas. It works very well on the connective tissues like tendons and ligaments.
While Yin yoga is great for anyone who seeks to relax and restore after a week of vigorous physical activities, the method has another form called ‘Restorative Yoga’ which is aimed mainly at recovery.
8. Weighted Yoga
Many teachers have started introducing weights or dumbbells to their Vinyasa routines. This method is innovative because it helps in working out the upper and lower body together, giving faster and firmer results. It’s also beneficial is building lean muscles, enhancing bone density and losing weight.
9. Chair Yoga
Chair Yoga is a form of Yoga which one can do seated on a chair. Many Hatha Yoga poses can be modified and practised in this method and are excellent to improve flexibility and agility and get rid of muscle stiffness. While it is perfect for people suffering from ailments that prevent them from practising traditional Yoga, it's great for people with desk jobs or who travel a lot.
Practising yoga for staying fit
Yoga remains a great practice if you want to stay healthy and happy and is excellent because it is suitable for all kinds of bodies and has various methods to choose from. Remember, if you want to stay fit, you should try to have an active lifestyle and eat well.
One can find a good Yoga class or a yoga trainer easily in most cities. It can be done solo or can be practised in groups. Yoga can be done both indoors and outdoors, throughout the year.
There are several online video classes and books, which can help practise it yourself in the comfort of your home, but it is best to have a guru or teacher guide you. A teacher can ensure that you are following the right routine and that the transition is smooth without extra stress. (source)
Senior citizens, pregnant women, patients with cardiovascular or heart conditions and people who have injuries must consult a qualified yoga teacher and their doctor to know what are the proper asanas for them.
If you are doing other forms of exercise or going to the gym, talk to your instructor to know whether you can do both simultaneously. If yes, find out what should be the right routine for you.
Why Yoga? What is the importance of Yoga?
There are many advantages of Yoga, and its regular practice leads to a wholesome and fulfilling life.
1. Better flexibility
Yoga is excellent for increasing flexibility. Yoga poses are about stretching your body in different ways, which makes you more flexible.
If you practice Yoga, you will feel more relaxed and are able to move with increased agility. Studies show you can increase your flexibility by 35% within eight weeks of practising Yoga regularly.
2. Develop Strength
Most people think that you can develop strength only if you undergo serious weight training or use gym equipment rigorously. Well, Yoga can help you with that too!
Forms of Yoga like vinyasa and ashtanga yoga- are more vigorous and can help you develop strength. You will notice your muscle-tone improve markedly if you practise specific asanas regularly.
Poses that you have to do standing, especially when you hold them for several long breaths, benefit your abs, quads and hamstrings. On the other hand, poses like the upward dog, downward dog and plank pose to build your upper-body strength.
Several poses also strengthen your back.
3. Increase endurance
Even if you follow the less rigorous forms of Yoga, like Hatha Yoga, you will notice that your stamina has built up considerably. When done right, Yoga helps you build your core strength.
4. Improve Posture
Yoga can help you improve your posture. Most of us spend the days hunched before a screen on a desk. At home too, most people watch television or read in awkward poses. This not only throws off your posture but may also affect your spine and lead to severe pain in the back and the waist.
According to Yoga teachings, good spine health leads to a youthful body and slows ageing. So, the spine is at the centre of all asanas. Several asanas also improve sitting posture while also reducing pain in the back.
5. Better breathing and exercise for lungs
When you practise Yoga, especially Pranayama, you have to pay attention to your breathing. All forms of yoga focus on breathing correctly and regulating your breath. Many asanas may also require certain breathing techniques. Hence, it is excellent for your lungs and other organs.
6. Good for mental peace
Meditation is an intrinsic part of Yoga, which helps you relax your mind. Similarly, breathing exercises also help you centre your mind. Yoga asanas help connecting your body and mind and get rid of stress and toxicity while reaching a state of calm.
Moreover, when you do physical exercise, your body releases endorphins and feel-good chemicals which help elevate your mood.
7. Good for your heart
Since Yoga helps you reduce stress and lowers blood pressure, it is good for your heart. This is the reason most doctors nowadays recommend Yoga for all patients. Studies show that stress is bad for your heart, and it elevates your blood pressure.
Yoga is a great way to relax and stay healthy for people of all ages, including children.
How to practice Yoga - When to do Yoga
Yoga is versatile. You can do it anywhere, at any time. However, it may be useful to pay attention to a few things:
1. If you are practising Yoga indoors, invest in a good yoga mat. This will help you avoid slipping on the floor.
2. Usually, morning is the best time to do Yoga, as it helps in forming discipline and follow the laws of nature. However, you can do it any time that suits you as well.
3. If you are doing Yoga indoors, make sure there is plenty of light and air in the room.
4. Make sure that you have enough room around you to move around while doing the asanas.
5. Try to maintain a peaceful, serene environment with no distractions if you are meditating.
6. Wear the right clothes. High-quality yoga wear like fit yoga pants allow you to move freely and make sure circulation is not cut off. Yoga leggings are especially recommended as they are stretchy and they do not come in the way of your feet.
The fabric needs to be breathable and moisture-wicking to let the sweat evaporate. Absorbing material is a no-no as it traps moisture and bacteria and clings to your skin. Check out some great options at www.bodilingo.com.
Yoga has pretty much taken the world by storm. 21st of June is celebrated as International Yoga Day since 2015. From students to celebrities, many people practise Yoga regularly and improve their lives. If you are a fitness enthusiast or want to stay healthy, you must give Yoga a shot.
Fortunately, many schools are now encouraging Yoga as a part of the curriculum, so that the students can learn about the asanas from childhood and understand the proper techniques to do them. This also ensures that the students have a healthy and active lifestyle, and can cope with the stress of competition and studies better.
More people are waking up to the benefits of Yoga. If you do not find the time for outdoor activity, or are unable to go to a gym, or are stuck indoors due to weather, Yoga is a great way to throw in the day's fitness activity.
Women, people with diabetes, senior citizens and people who have high blood pressure or are stressed out should especially check out Yoga. It has proven to improve health within just a few weeks.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab your yoga pants, and get going. Yoga will change your life.