If you ask any practitioner to define what yoga is and what it means, you will likely get a large variety of answers.
For many, yoga is a great way to feel good about your body, whereas, for others, it’s more of a spiritual practice.
Regardless of the approach to defining yoga, it can be an extremely beneficial practice to engage with if you want to unravel unconscious or habitual patterns.
Essentially, yoga is an excellent way to gain flexibility and strength while also actively working to cleanse your mind of impurities and negativity. Plus, it’s much more than just a form of exercise!
Yoga is made up of a set of disciplines designed to calm your mind and bring about feelings of happiness and peace.
We understand that yoga can be intimidating with its gravity-defying poses and overwhelming principles. But there’s far more to this ancient art and science that seeks to harmonize your body, mind, and spirit than simply wanting to be more flexible.
A (Very) Brief History Of Yoga
Yoga derives from the Sanskrit “Yuj,” which roughly translates as “to unite” or “to join.” It is meant to help practitioners overcome suffering and help them evolve spiritually to an independent state.
Yoga is one of the oldest sciences in the world. The term “yoga” has many ancient roots in The Vedas, a large body of religious texts that originated in ancient India between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago.
Yoga seeks to promote humanity’s spiritual and material well-being and has fundamental human values at its heart. It aims to achieve a state of equilibrium between mind and body and achieve enlightenment with the universe.
In some philosophical texts, yoga is simply a state of mind that has nothing to do with movements or physical posture.
According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an ancient text compiled by an ancient sage called Patanjali, the many different types of yoga out there can be compiled under a single umbrella. This results in structured guidance that demonstrates how you can achieve a “yogic” state of mind.
Patanjali explains yoga as having (or encompassing) eight “limbs” that act as a sort of prescription for both moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline. They are also a guide to show you how to live your life with purpose and meaning.
The Eight Limbs Of Yoga
One of the most well-known definitions of yoga comes from “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,” which was compiled before 400 A.D. Yoga is defined as the “cessation of mind wandering” in the second verse of the first book.
The yoga sutras also provide an eight-limb system that guides any practitioner through transcending beyond the mind to achieve yogic freedom.
1. Yama (Ethical Standards And Integrity)
Yama, the first of the eight limbs of yoga, deals with ethical standards, moral disciplines to the outside world, and a sense of integrity. It is the first step to set us on the true path of yoga by helping us to focus on our behavior and the way we conduct ourselves in day-to-day life.
The five Yamas are:
- Ahimsa (this means non-violence)
- Satya (truthfulness)
- Asteya (non-stealing)
- Brahmacharya (correct use of energy)
- Aparigraha (non-greediness)
While the active practice of yoga can be beneficial in increasing your flexibility and physical strength, dedicating some time to focus on improving your mental space is also ideal.
2. Niyama (Self-Discipline And Spiritual Observances)
The second limb, Niyama, refers to duties and inner observances directed towards ourselves. The sole intention is to help us build character and discover the truth hidden deep within.
There are five Niyamas:
- Saucha (cleanliness)
- Santosha (feelings of contentment)
- Tapas (discipline or burning desires)
- Svadhyaya (self-reflection or study)
- Isvarapranidaha (surrendering to higher powers)
These are traditionally practiced by individuals who want to travel far along the Yogic path. They are also intended to help people build character in this way too.
Working with the Niyamas helps guide you from the grossest parts of yourself to find beauty within.
3. Asana (Physical Postures; What Many Westerners Think When We Think Yoga)
Asana, the third limb related to the physical postures of yoga, is also extremely important. Here, the word Asana means to take a seat to practice meditation rather than being able to perform aesthetically impressive moves.
The idea behind yoga is to sit comfortably so that we aren’t pulled or tormented by big aches and pains within the body. Sitting comfortably also reduces restlessness, which allows you to focus more on your breathing and emphasizes mindfulness.
Many yoga practices in the West today have a strong focus on Asana. However, you must remember that putting your body into specific physical postures is just one small part of yoga.
The yoga practice is much simpler than contorting your body and is also far more profound.
4. Pranayama (Breath Control)
The word Prana means “life source” or “energy.” Therefore, it can refer to the essence that keeps us alive and the energy in the universe all around us.
Prana is also often used to describe breath. By working on and focusing on the way we breathe, we can make significant and real changes in our minds.
Pranayama is essentially the physical act of working with different breathing techniques to alter the mind. You have access to various stimulating techniques, including Chandra Bhadana or Kapalabhati.
All the ways of breathing can significantly impact our entire state of being, but it is entirely up to us how we perceive this. You can view it as a way to control your feelings or free yourself from the habitual way your mind will often work.
5. Pratyahara (Sensory Transcendence)
The first part, Pratya, means to “withdraw,” and the second part ahara refers to the sensory things that we can take in ourselves.
When you sit for a formal meditation practice, taking stock of the things around you is likely the first thing you do. The emphasis here is on drawing in and embracing your emotions, including focusing on how you approach breathing.
The phrase “sense withdrawal” may conjure up images of being able to succeed past the senses you use daily and suggests that you can switch your senses off with lots of direct concentration. This part of the practice is generally quite misunderstood.
But instead of losing sensory abilities or experiencing sense withdrawal, Pratyahara alters the general state of mind so we can become absorbed into what we are focusing on. It also gives us the chance to meditate without outside distractions from occurring.
Experienced yoga practitioners might be able to translate this limb of yoga into everyday life, focusing on remaining present in the moment and less distracted.
6. Dharana (Concentration)
This sixth limb of yoga is a Sanskrit word that means specific and focused concentration. Dha means “to hold or maintain,” and Ana means “something else.” Dharana has a close relationship with the previous two limbs and is the binding of attention to more than a single spot.
To focus on something specific, there must be a withdrawal of the senses to all of your attention directed towards that point of concentration. Intent, concentration, and focus must co-occur to draw in the senses.
Dharana is often the stage many of us get to when we believe we are meditating. Regularly practicing Dharana will enhance your yoga practice by improving your chance to remain focused, regardless of what you’re doing.
Notably, in yoga practice, Dharana trains the mind to remain calm and increases mental strength.
7. Dhyana (Meditation)
The seventh limb refers to meditation or meditative absorption. This is the state where we become wholly absorbed into the focus of our meditating.
Everything that we learn online, in a class, or directly from a yoga teacher are simply techniques that help us settle, concentrate, and focus on the bigger picture.
It’s important to note that meditating isn’t something one can actively “do” off the bat. Instead, it is a spontaneous action that occurs due to something (or everything) else in your life.
If you’re genuinely meditating and giving your mind the time and space it needs to help you take a deep breath, you won’t actively have the time to think, “Oh, I’m meditating.”
So if you are thinking about your actions while meditating, you might want to reconsider your approach.
8. Samadhi (State Of Ecstasy)
Finally, we come to the eighth limb of yoga. Samadhi means “enlightenment” or “state of ecstasy.” The final step on the journey to enlightenment occurs once we have re-organized our relationship with the inner and outer world.
In this instance, “enlightenment” does not mean happiness. Instead, this particular stage helps you come to different realizations about the life you are leading and what potentially lies in front of you.
The ability to “see equally” (a literal translation of Samadhi) without risk of distraction from your experiences, or likes and dislikes, leads you to a state of bliss.
However, Samadhi isn’t a permanent state unless you are entirely ready to live with a pure mind without aversion, habits, desires, and attachments. If your mind is pure enough to experience Samadhi, you may also be able to attain moksha, which refers to being released, free, and liberated.
Unlocking The Benefits Of Yoga
If you can incorporate yoga into your daily routine, you will be able to unlock lots of health benefits. Yoga spans the emotional, mental, and physical realms and works by engaging the mind, body, and spirit in all capacities.
The sheer number of benefits associated switch yoga is quite astounding. Here are some of the most important benefits:
According to research, yoga has a lot of potential as a treatment for relieving various types of chronic pain. As the practice focuses on connecting the mind and body, it helps ease pain by reducing inflammation and improving flexibility and will also help people mentally cope with the pain.
Yoga can decrease pain perception by disassociating negative emotions from any pain. This means individuals may be more accepting of pain and might feel their pain has significantly lessened than what it once was.
Some primary yoga poses you can try are:
- Bridge Pose helps relieve chronic inflammation, improve blood circulation, and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
- Child’s Pose works to relieve anxiety, fatigue, and stress.
- Supine Twist is great for alleviating inflammation and pain in the lower back and shoulders.
- Warrior 2 Pose helps to relieve muscle pain and improve respiration and circulation.
Lifestyle factors, including stress, can potentially cause extreme inflammation. These can increase your overall risk of developing particular diseases. The best news is that yoga can be a powerful way to combat these issues before they occur!
Actively practicing yoga helps to reduce cytokine levels that are typically known to promote inflammation. This means that engaging with yoga will help lower the overall number of compounds within the blood, reducing the inflammation levels.
There are lots of simplistic yoga breathing techniques that you can implement in your life to lower your stress levels. In addition, you can do this at home in just a few minutes each day!
Yoga breathing exercises can either be activating or calming. However, this depends on the type of yoga that you are practicing.
Better Heart Health
Exercise that gets your heart pumping isn’t the only thing that will manage or prevent you from developing heart disease. Lower impact exercise, including yoga, also proves to be very effective.
Beyond unloading massive amounts of stress, being able to practice yoga can have a positive impact on heart health. It might also help you lower your blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol levels, and heart rate, making it a beneficial addition to your lifestyle.
You also don’t need to contort your body into strange shapes to make the most of a yoga session. It’s best if you don’t strain your body during yoga and instead focus on holding a comfortable posture.
There is research out there that supports the idea of yoga being fantastic for improving heart health, although this area does remain quite limited.
Talking therapies have always been the preferred way of targeting mental health issues. But more complementary approaches—including yoga—stack up better in targeting and treating such complex conditions.
There is quite a bit of evidence that emphasizes yoga as an effective solution for helping to get rid of negative feelings, including anxiety and depression. And it’s easy to see why it’s such an effective form of treatment!
Yoga works by activating a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This has been linked to decreased anxiety and an overall better mood.
Yoga has also been said to help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While yoga cannot be used as a single form of treatment, it can be used as an effective add-on treatment to reduce intrusive thinking and memories to produce steadier breathing.
Slower and deeper breathing is typically associated with calmer states of mind because it helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
Yoga gives people the chance to channel their focus and energy into their mental resources, allowing for greater mental clarity. A couple of minutes of yoga a day can significantly improve brain function.
Some popular yoga practices that are great for improving focus include breathing (pranayama), physical postures (asana), and even meditation.
All of these give you the chance to increase your focus by syncing your mind with your body and allow you to let go of distracting or intrusive thoughts simply.
Practicing yoga positions involving inversions, such as shoulder or headstands, helps to increase blood flow to the brain. This means the brain is receiving more oxygen, raising awareness, focus, and alertness.
Gratitude is a compelling emotion that can (and should) be incorporated into your daily routine. It involves focusing and exercising thankfulness and appreciation towards someone or something in your life.
There are many ways to practice gratitude daily, from writing in a gratitude journal, making time for mediation, or even practicing yoga. However, it’s the latter that could make a lot of difference.
Practicing yoga has effectively been proven to decrease depression, reduce stress, and actively improve relationships with yourself and others all at the same time.
Implementation of regular yoga practice can be beneficial in shifting your mindset to one that is far more positive.
You may be able to better deal with daily struggles, will be better at managing stress, and could even have the greater mental clarity to understand the way you view particular situations.
Weight Loss And Strengthening
Yoga is an excellent complementary activity for many facets of your fitness routine, including weight lifting, swimming, and hiking. While it isn’t an exhaustive physical exercise, it has many benefits.
Not only can yoga help you to tone your body and give you more core strength, but it will provide you with more self-control and a greater understanding of meditation practices. This could do wonders for your physical and mental health.
The most important thing to remember is that yoga is a process and a lifestyle. This means you shouldn’t worry too much about—or rush into—losing weight, strength training, or contorting your body into unique shapes. This will come with time, practice, and energy.
Focusing on your breathing is a crucial part of practicing yoga. However, some yoga gurus rank pranayama over asana (focusing on physical postures) as the practice’s greatest and most valuable aspect.
Prana translates as the force or breath sustaining the body, and Ayama translates as “to extend or draw out.” When mixed, these two words symbolize control or breath extension.
There are many different pranayama techniques; one of the most common is Ujjayi. This should be both relaxing and energizing and is created by gently constricting the opening of the throat to develop resistance to the passage of air.
Breathing deeply in yoga might help you to avoid sustaining injuries. The steady flow of breathing in and out also creates a transformation that extends over the mind and body, allowing your true essence to flow and shine.
The second you give in to your inhibitions and begin actively practicing gratitude in your daily life, you will feel your expectations slowly slipping away.
You may hold yourself to a high standard with some ridiculous expectations, including “I should be able to move my body in this way by now…” or “This move looked so easy on YouTube; why can’t I replicate it?”
The trick is to focus on the core of your actions rather than anything else. For example, you might be looking for ways to start yoga to see some extreme physical changes in your body. However, the main thing is to begin prioritizing the mental aspect.
Releasing any expectations of yourself and putting yourself into the right mindset could make a massive difference in the way you approach yoga. The practice will be able to evolve safely and naturally.
Yoga isn’t all about having extremely flexible limbs or being able to contort your spine and muscles into strange shapes.
Instead, yoga is all about finding ways to master your breathing. To discover your inner strength via meditation techniques, allow your body to be free using simple yoga poses.
Teachings of yoga philosophy show that dedication, humility, effort, clear intention, and meditation practice helps uncover our soul’s core values and true purpose.
So, by developing and maintaining healthy teaching practices, you will understand the core of yoga while learning more about yourself.
Human beings dread idleness and sitting in the quiet. As a result, many of us find it difficult to switch off and remain still.
We’d rather be up and moving, keeping ourselves busy by checking off essential items on our daily to-do lists rather than sitting still.
Even when we’re having a bit of downtime in our homes, our hands will typically always be doing something to keep them occupied. Our thoughts will likely travel to plans or a particular conversation we’ve had in the past.
Instead of trying the most complicated yoga poses out there, you should focus on being present and in the moment first.
For example, the next time you get the urge to grab your phone, try to observe your thoughts and understand why you’re feeling the urge to use it. Don’t immediately give in to your demands.
Fitness classes and trainers worldwide are incorporating yoga into more traditional workout classes as an effective way of mind and body conditioning. This helps athletes and novices alike to focus on breathing better and increases their focus as they exercise.
An excellent way to practice yoga poses safely and effectively is to learn directly from an experienced yoga instructor in a class environment.
A qualified yoga instructor will provide you with lots of instructions about modifying poses to achieve the best results for your body. They can also point out mistakes to correct your form and encourage you to let go of self-judgment.
You can find nearby yoga instructors by searching online. But if you can’t find in-person classes anywhere near where you live, plenty of online sources will show you exactly what to do and guide you through the process.
Unlike what your social media feeds may suggest, you don’t need to spend loads of money on fancy yoga clothing to do yoga! Instead, you can practice anything that you find comfortable and freely move about. This applies to both home and public gyms.
Whether you want to work out in your favorite lounge set, leggings and a sports bra, a basic sweatpants and t-shirt combo, or even pajamas, you can truly wear what you want.
Men may want to opt for a moisture-wicking t-shirt and joggers, or even a pair of shorts without a shirt to exercise in.
With yoga, the key is finding cozy clothing that moves with your body and doesn’t get in the way as you switch positions.
Remember never to wear socks to a yoga class! They can make you slip out of position as you proceed through the practice, but they can also make standing postures more unsafe.
You should try to do as much yoga as you possibly can. This will do wonders for your physical health, but it will also ensure more mental clarity.
If you can practice yoga three or more times each week, you’ll likely see improvement in your range of motion, strength, flexibility, balance, and overall well-being.
It’s recommended that you start with short and frequent sessions, especially if you’ve never taken part in yoga before. These sessions should be around 20 to 45 minutes long and occur several times a week.
Practicing yoga any less than this will still have benefits, but you will see smaller and less significant improvements over more extended periods. Like any other skill, the more time you dedicate to practicing it, the more benefits.
The essential ingredients for seeing improvement in yoga after starting are consistency and patience.
Yes, yoga may be a little frustrating if you aren’t entirely familiar with the practice, but it will work out if you remain motivated.
If you want to develop and progress your yoga abilities, you must stay committed and make sure there is some repetition in your practicing yoga routine.
Once you have found a teacher, yoga studio, and a particular style of yoga that best suits you, you can then implement the following tips:
- Adopt a yoga-filled lifestyle.
- Attend yoga workshops to understand certain aspects of yoga better.
- Commit to a regular yoga schedule (home practice or in classes).
- Find different sources of inspiration.
- Increase the number of days you practice and the length of each practice.
- Journal the impact of a consistent yoga schedule on your body, mind, and spirit.
- Make friends who like yoga and join your local community.
- Read about the practice and study it to learn much more.
If you persevere in your yoga practice, you might develop the confidence to add this motivation to many other aspects of your life.
But sometimes, staying motivated and finding the time to practice yoga can be tricky, especially if you lead a hectic lifestyle.
Some key ways of keeping motivation up are:
- Find a regular time to practice yoga and stick with it. Creating a routine will ensure you can always fit yoga into your schedule.
- Continue to inspire yourself by self-reflecting and setting goals.
- Keep your sessions short and sweet (you don’t need to do 90-minute practices if you can’t). However, even 15-minute sessions can make significant differences!
- Take things slowly, and make sure to focus on deep breathing.
Yoga is a practice that can provide many physical and health benefits to you. Its sole intent is to increase your body’s natural approach toward self-healing and guarantee your overall health. This is typically achieved by focusing, concentrating, and dedicating to the practice.
Yoga also gives you the tools to focus and use various techniques, including breathing and meditation, to build awareness, strength, and harmony between your mind and body.