What is yoga?
Yoga is a discipline of self-discovery, a re-learning of oneself as an entity, which seeks a perfect harmony between the body and the mind, which are inseparable. In the West, the most popular form of yoga, Hatha Yoga, employs poses that aim both to calm the mind and increase muscle tone.
Anyone who practices yoga regularly will find it gives valuable help in everyday life. In difficult times, they will feel stronger and more serene.
Many Yoga experts have defined it to conform to their own evolutionary process. Jacobsen defines Yoga as having five principal aspects:
- Proficiency in the control mechanism of mind and body.
- A conditional approach to attain a goal.
- A goal of doing all Yogic practices.
- Specific methods of practicing Yoga (especially those with terms having prefixes such as mantra- or Hatha-.
- A Philosophy system or school associated with this practice.
Diversification in Yoga
For his part, David Gordon White says Yoga had its principles in place since the 5th century CE itself. Many variations developed in time as given here:
- A means of meditative discovery of cognitive and perceptive functioning that were out of place. We overcome these to let go of suffering and attain salvation and inner peace. This is amply illustrated in Hindu texts (Yoga Sutra, Bhagavad Gita), Buddhist Mahayana writings, and Jain texts.
- Coexistence with everyone by expanding and raising consciousness with everything around us explained in the Vedic literature (Mahabharata), Buddhism (Niyaka texts), and Jainism (Prasamarati Prakarana).
- A way to enlightened consciousness and omniscience that allows us to discern the permanent and impermanent reality. Permanent is that which is true while the impermanent is elusive. This is highlighted in different ways in Buddhism (Madhyamaka) and Hinduism (Vaisheshika and Nyaya).
- Supernatural feats such as entering other bodies, making multiple bodies, and the like.
- These remain described in Tantric literature in both Buddhism and Hinduism.
A differing school of thought also exists (James Mallinson) that such practices are not a part of mainstream Yoga practices. In mainstream Yoga, meditation is the way to get liberated as per religions in India. An explanation for these practices says that these are ‘yogi’ practices and not ‘Yoga’ exercises.
The practice of yoga began over 5,000 years ago in Northern India; although some researchers say the practice goes as far back as 10,000 years ago. All in all, the Indus-Sarasvati people first developed Yoga.
“Yoga” was first mentioned by the oldest sacred text Rig Veda which was used to collect texts that had rituals, mantras, and songs used by Vedic priests. The word yoga was derived from the Sanskrit word Yuj which means ‘to yoke’, ‘to unite’, or ‘to join’. The translation makes sense because in those days (the pre-classical yoga era) yoga was only viewed as a means to unite the body with the spiritual realm.
After the pre-classical yoga era came the classical yoga era; this new era was led and defined by the father of yoga himself, Patanjali’s. Patanjali’s yoga was presented by sutras, which were the first organized presentation of yoga. Here Patanjali systematized the practice of yoga into an eight-limbed path that was meant to guide people to exceed beyond the mind and achieve yogic freedom or Samadhi which means enlightenment.
Types Of Yoga
One of the amazing things about yoga is its variety of options when it comes to choosing a method to practice. There are numerous types of yoga, which is amazing because our physical needs are not always the same. Sometimes we want to just stretch, other times we want to do an exercise that will make us sweat while other times we just want to keep fit. Yoga caters for all your needs by providing you with different types of yoga. Here they are:
Vinyasa is a fast-paced type of yoga. Its main aim is usually to link your movement and breath together with a series of yoga poses in a dance-like way. In vinyasa classes, teachers usually put on music that the students use to create a continuous flow from one movement to the other. In short, they match their movements with the beats. In vinyasa, flow is very important and that is why some people refer to vinyasa classes as flow classes.
If you love high-intensity workouts then vinyasa is the thing for you.
2. Hatha Yoga Definition
Hatha yoga is a blanket term that stands for different types of yoga. It is among the first yoga styles to be discovered and it is mainly a combination of pranayama (breathing exercise) and asanas (yoga postures). The method is usually about you linking your poses with your breath, which helps bring peace and relaxation to your mind and body.
In a Hatha class, you can expect to hold on to each pose for long and have a slow pace when transitioning from one pose to another. This method is good for you as a beginner because it doesn’t put as much pressure on your body as vinyasa does. Therefore, if you are a fun of relaxation yoga then this should be what you want to do.
Iyengar yoga is more detailed and precise than Hatha and Vinyasa. In an Iyengar yoga class, you are normally taught to hold on to a pose for a certain period while focusing on the musculoskeletal alignment within each yoga posture.
In this method, you are allowed to use props such as ropes wall, straps, blankets, and yoga blocks among others. These props are mostly meant to create a safe and effective environment that helps you be as detail-oriented as you are supposed to be when performing Iyengar yoga movements.
Iyengar yoga is right for you if you love paying attention to details. It is also good if you have injuries.
4. Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga is a challenging but orderly type of yoga. This method normally consists of six series of sequenced yoga poses that increase in difficulty as you move from the first pose onwards.
When you attend an Ashtanga class, a yoga teacher normally leads you through the 6 poses while he/she encourages you to breathe over each pose to build internal heat. The idea of this method is to make you perform 6 poses in the exact same order. The process is usually fast, vigorous, and challenging.
As a beginner, it is best if you try Hatha or Vinyasa before going to Ashtanga or you can master one series, move to the next and so on until you perfect the method.
5. Bikram Yoga
Bikram yoga normally consists of a series of 26 postures and two breathing techniques that are supposed to be practiced in a room that is 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity for over 1 1⁄2 hours.
It is important to point out that there are numerous types of yoga out there. We cannot highlight all of them so we have just given you the common types of yoga that you need to know as a beginner.
I believe you now know what yoga is, its history, and the common types of yoga. The question now is why should you do yoga? What do you stand to gain?
There was a study that was conducted by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance in 2016. The study was called yoga in America. In this study, the researchers found out that there were 36.7 million people practicing yoga in America in that year. This was a whopping 50% increase from 2012. Clearly, something was attracting people to yoga and keeping them there. At the time, it was unclear what it was but it was later discovered that the rise of popularity was mostly attributed to the promising benefits of yoga.
Below is a couple of some of the benefits of yoga, which are going to answer the question ‘why should you do yoga’.
1. It relieves stress
No one in this world is unfamiliar with stress. We all get frustrated and disappointed with life sometimes. That then makes us stressed. For most people, managing stress is really challenging, which then leads to the accumulation of stress for a long time. The accumulation of stress usually causes an imbalance in your nervous system which makes it hard for you to focus, sleep, and unwind.
One of the benefits of yoga is its ability to relieve you of stress. The breathing exercises that yoga makes you do usually lower your heart rate, which slowly shifts your nervous system into a relaxed state. It slows down your mental loops of fear, anger, regret, and frustration. That then helps you to think clearly, which not only improves your focus but also your sleep. The encouragement of relaxation also helps your body to lower
the stress hormone cortisol. That relaxes you further and improves the quality of your life.
2. It helps to manage diabetes
If you are at a high risk of diabetes, you will be glad to know that yoga can actually help you reduce your risk of getting diabetes as well as managing it. How? Yoga helps you counter diabetes by reducing the contributing factors that lead to diabetes.
When you practice yoga, you usually do postures that switch back and forth between poses. Some of these poses contract certain areas of your abdomen while others relax those areas. That alternation usually stimulates your pancreas, which increases its oxygen and blood supply. This improves the ability of the organ to produce insulin. The improved production of insulin ensures that your blood sugar levels are well managed and that helps you avoid as well as manage diabetes.
The other contributing factor of diabetes that yoga deals with is stress. More often than not, stress leads to emotional eating of comfort foods high in sugar. The high sugar levels cause your body to produce high levels of insulin to manage your sugar levels. Over time, due to consistent high sugar levels, your pancreas needs to produce more and more insulin, which it is unable to do so leading to pre-diabetes and eventually diabetes if you don’t do anything about the situation.
3. It boosts your immunity
Practicing yoga constantly makes you move your organs around as you contract and stretch your muscles. When you do that, you usually increase
the drainage of lymph in your body. Lymph is a viscous fluid that is rich in immune cells; thus, when it is distributed more through your body, it increases your immune defenses which improves your body’s immunity to internal and external attacks.
4. It makes you happier
One of the reasons why we as human beings feel sad and angry is because we do not live in the moment. Let me break it down for you; the majority of us usually spend time thinking about the future or the past. What this does to us is it keeps us busy planning, worrying, or regretting. All of that only increases our nervousness and leaves us feeling miserable.
The practice of yoga usually encourages you to meditate. Meditation helps you to unplug from your thoughts and helps you focus on what is happening in your body and your life. Being in the present is where happiness is found.
5. Increase Flexibility
One of the reasons why you should do yoga is so that you can increase your flexibility. Yoga is usually full of postures that work your whole body and this includes even the forgotten joints. This leads to a good sense of balance and harmony. Your muscle groups start working together as opposed to them working against each other, and that is what makes you flexible when you practice yoga.
In the beginning, you might not feel this flexibility but if you keep at it, you will be surprised at how you will gradually loosen up to a point that you are able to do poses that you thought were impossible.
6. Helps you sleep better
One of the sort after benefit of yoga is its ability to improve your sleep. Yoga does two things that help you sleep better and deeper. One, it takes you through physically challenging postures a good example being when you are performing Ashtanga and Bikram yoga. This exhausts your body and puts your body in a position where it badly needs sleep in order to reenergize itself.
Secondly, yoga gives you mental relaxation, which provides downtime for your nervous system. This eliminates stress and constant thoughts that keep you awake at night, which means that you get better sleep with it.
7. Builds your muscle strength
You might not know this but muscles don’t just make us look good, they also guard us against conditions like back pain and arthritis. One of the best ways to build muscles is through doing yoga. The reason why it’s the best is that it helps you with both muscle regeneration and bodyweight training.
When you practice yoga, you normally bring yourself into positions where your muscles need to support you. Such poses include handstand and downward dog. When you do those types of poses, you usually build your muscle strength using your own body weight.
The good thing about yoga is that it works your whole body targeting all your muscles including the little ones that you might not notice. Yoga also increases the endurance in your muscles by making you hold on to poses for a certain amount of time.
8. Makes you have better sex
Let’s be honest, sex is one of the most amazing things that we have in this world. That said, many of us don’t get the best out of it. Yoga is good at improving your sex life. How? One, the physical challenging postures like plow pose, chaturanga, and the downward dog helps you lift your pelvic floor muscles, which automatically increases your core strength. What this does to you is it helps you go for long when having sex; if you are a man.
Two, yoga helps you have a better orgasm. When you do Mula Bandha, you contract the pubococcygeal muscles in your pelvic region, which creates an energetic seal that locks your breath inside the body. This brings awareness to your pelvic region, which increases your ability to be aroused, and that usually results in a powerful orgasm.
Last but not least, yoga improves your focus, which helps you channel your sex energy on your partner. That helps you to be more at the moment and helps you avoid premature ejaculation.
You now know how beneficial yoga is. Your next question must be how can I start practicing yoga? That question will be fully answered but not before, you get a little bit of introduction to the world of yoga. The next topic is going to orient you into the world of yoga by educating you on things you should know and do before you start practicing yoga.