Yoga may seem like a hip and modern fitness routine, but it's actually an ancient mind and body practice that was developed in India more than 5,000 years ago. Its positive effects encompass your physical, mental and emotional health. So whether you're looking to shed a few pounds or you simply want to alleviate your stress, this meditative activity can surely benefit your health.1
Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that combines postures, breathing techniques and meditative practices to improve physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Numerous studies also suggest that yoga is good for alleviating several medical conditions. The term "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit word "yuj," which means to join or unite, indicating this practice's ability to unify the mind, body and soul.
The earliest written record of yoga appeared in the yoga sutras, which are written by the Indian sage Patanjali. The yoga sutras contain the fundamental principles, practices and philosophies of yoga, which are passed down from one generation to the next and are still followed by yoga practitioners today.2
According to Patanjali, there are eight "limbs" or stages of yoga. The first two, yamas and nyamas, are centered on ethical disciplines. The third and fourth stages are focused on physical postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama). The remaining four stages are meditative practices, which include sense withdrawal (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and enlightenment (samadhi).3
Because it's generally a low-impact exercise, yoga is typically safe for beginners and even for kids or seniors. There are also different types of yoga, so finding one that suits your needs and preferences shouldn't be a problem.4
Yoga instructors didn't just pass down the basic fundamentals of yoga to their students, but they also created their own approaches and techniques. This led to the development of numerous types of yoga. Although these types have slight differences from each other, they're still aimed to unify the mind, body and spirit. Here are some of the most common types of yoga that you can perform:5,6,7
1. Hatha yoga — Considered the most popular type of yoga taught in the U.S., hatha involves basic breath-controlled exercises and yoga postures that are great for beginners.
2. Ashtanga yoga — Ashtanga is a vigorous form of yoga that involves quick movements, with the aim of improving strength and endurance.
3. Bikram yoga — Bikram involves 26 patented poses, which are practiced in a room that's heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with a humidity of 40 percent. It's aimed to help loosen the muscles, cleanse the body and relieve symptoms of chronic diseases.
4. Vinyasa yoga — Vinyasa is adapted from the traditional ashtanga techniques, which means that it's also an active form of yoga. The only difference between these two types is that vinyasa involves varying poses, while ashtanga sticks to a single routine.
5. Kundalini yoga — Kundalini emphasizes fast-paced flow of poses, proper breathing techniques and meditation to improve balance of the body. This form of yoga is more challenging than others, so it may not be suitable for beginners.
6. Hot yoga — Similar to bikram, hot yoga is also performed in a heated room. However, the room temperature and humidity for this yoga style is not defined. The routine may also be composed of varying poses.8
7. Core power yoga — Also known as power vinyasa, core power yoga is a strenuous routine that's aimed to stretch, strengthen and tone the muscles while emphasizing mind-body connection.9
8. Prenatal yoga — Prenatal yoga includes a series of postures that are specifically designed to help pregnant women prepare for labor, delivery and postpartum recovery.
9. Aerial yoga — Aerial yoga makes use of soft, fabric hammocks that are held up by carabineers, straps and support chains. You need sit on the hammock and use it for support while you perform aerial adaptations of traditional yoga poses.10
When choosing the type of yoga that you want to take up, make sure that you consider not just your interests, but your fitness level and health condition too. Talk to a yoga instructor to find out which style matches your health goals. Don't hesitate to ask about the physical demands and intensity of the type of yoga that you're interested in.11
Yoga and Pilates are very similar low-intensity workouts that are aimed to improve both the mind and body. Both activities require mental focus and proper breathing techniques. But despite their similarities, they still have distinct differences, which include:12,13,14
• Origin — As mentioned above, yoga originated from India more than 5,000 years ago. On the other hand, Pilates is a relatively new form of workout that was developed by Joseph Pilates toward the end of World War I to rehabilitate wounded soldiers.
• Principles — Pilates only focuses on the connection of the mind and body, whereas yoga involves spirituality into its practices.
• Objectives — The practices of Pilates are focused on core strength, whereas yoga is centered on flexibility and balance.
• Routine — Yoga routines are more flexible, since different postures and sequences can be performed. On the contrary, Pilates classes are more structured when it comes to routine.
When choosing between Pilates and yoga, consider your health goals and your fitness priorities. If you're looking for both flexibility of routines and spiritual experience, then yoga may be your best bet.15
It's no big secret that yoga can improve your overall well-being in a variety of ways. Here are some of the major physical and mental health benefits that you can get from this workout routine:16
- Increased flexibility
- Better balance
- Improved strength
- Higher stamina
- Better body alignment
- Reduced stress levels
- Improved mood and behavior
- Enhanced mindfulness
The physical health benefits of yoga also make it a useful workout for athletes, like runners and swimmers, since it helps improve athletic performance and prevent injuries.17 Yoga's potential for healing has also been the subject of numerous studies over the past years. Research shows that the right set of yoga poses may indeed help relieve several medical conditions, such as:18,19
Complicated yoga positions can be really intimidating, especially if you're just new to this workout routine. Don't let this discourage you, though, since there's actually a lot of yoga poses for beginners. These basic yoga postures are also great for kids, as they're not too strenuous to reenact. They include:20,21,22,23
1. Mountain pose (tadasana) — The mountain pose is considered the base of almost all poses. It's aimed to improve your posture and strengthen your core. To do this, stand with your feet together and heels slightly apart. Rest your arms at the side of your torso and bring your fingers together. Hold this pose for five to 10 seconds.24
2. Tree pose (vrikshasana) — This pose helps improve your balance, clear your mind, and strengthen your leg and back. You simply have to stand on one leg then bring your other foot up to your ankle, shin or thigh. Once you find your balance, put your arms in the air and bring your palms together.
3. Warrior II pose (virabhadrasana II) — This basic yoga pose is aimed to strengthen the lower portion of your body, including your hips, groin and legs. You can do this by standing with your feet wide apart. Turn your right leg out on a 90-degree angle, and then point the toes of your left foot to the front.
Stretch your arms out to the sides, with palms facing forward, and then slowly bend your right leg while keeping the other leg straight and firm.
4. Child's pose (balasana) — This is a resting posture that you can perform in between vigorous poses. You just have to bend your knees and sit on you heels, then slowly lower your head to the floor and stretch your arms out in front of you.
5. Chair pose (utkatasana) — This is a powerful pose that aims to strengthen the muscles in your arms and legs. To do this, you have to stand straight with your feet apart, then stretch your arms over your head. Slowly bend your knees as if you're sitting in a chair. Be sure to keep your back straight and your hands parallel to the ground.
6. Triangle pose (trikonasana) — The triangle pose helps stretch your hamstrings, thighs, calves and ankles. Stretch your right foot out to a 90-degree angle, while keeping the left leg close to your torso. After that, extend your right arm up and slowly stretch it toward your left side. Be sure to keep your waist straight.
Some of the poses mentioned above are used in hatha yoga,25 while others are included in the 26 patented bikram yoga poses.26 Performing these regularly can help you become more flexible over time. Whichever pose you decide to take on, make sure that you adjust it according your fitness level to avoid straining yourself.27
If you're new to yoga, it can be a bit confusing to figure out the basic equipment that you need for your classes. The good news is that this workout does not really require a lot of accessories, so you don't have to spend too much money. Here are some of the basic yet essential equipment that you'll need:28
• Yoga mat — Also called sticky mat, a yoga mat keeps you from slipping while doing your routines, since they provide traction for your hands and feet. They also cushion you from the hard floor, and define your personal space inside the room.
• Yoga clothes — Wearing comfy and breathable clothes is extremely essential when performing yoga, since you don't want your clothes to hinder you from properly recreating different positions.
Women usually wear yoga pants and sports bras so they can move freely, while men often wear shorts. Shoes and socks are no longer needed, since yoga is usually performed barefoot. If you don't have these clothes, then any form-fitting and stretchy clothing will do. Some of the other equipment that you may need include blankets, blocks and straps — these are used as props to improve posture, provide extra support or avoid injury.
Keep in mind that everyone's health condition, fitness level and health goals are different. While yoga is generally beneficial to many people, you should consult a professional trainer before including it into your routine. While this form of meditative activity is generally considered safe for any age or gender, there are still situations wherein it may put your safety at risk.
If you have underlying health issues, such as a herniated disc, eye conditions, severe bone disorder, uncontrolled blood pressure or balance problems, you should consult your doctor before taking up yoga, since there may be poses or stretches that are not suitable for your condition.
Make sure that you also seek the guidance of a professional trainer if you're planning to do yoga while pregnant, since there are certain poses that you may need to avoid.29 Remember that the goal of yoga is to improve your physical, mental and emotional well-being. The last thing that you want is to harm yourself just because you tried to perform it without ample knowledge or help from a professional.
Q: Why is yoga good for you?
A: Yoga is a good workout routine since it not only improves your physical health, but also enhances your mental, spiritual and emotional state.30
Q: What does yoga do for your body?
A: Yoga provides a variety of physical benefits, such as increased strength and flexibility, better balance and improved range of motion. It may also help maintain or improve your cognitive and mental health by improving your memory and concentration, reducing your stress levels, and fighting mental disorders like depression and anxiety.
Research also shows that yoga may help ease several medical conditions, like arthritis, asthma and heart diseases, among others.31
Q: How many calories does yoga burn?
A: It's hard to tell exactly how many calories you can burn by doing yoga, as it depends on a variety of factors, including the type of yoga that you're practicing, the intensity of your workout, the poses that you're doing and the duration of your routine.
According to Harvard Health, a person who weighs 155 pounds may burn 149 calories after doing 30 minutes of hatha yoga.32 Rigorous forms of yoga such as ashtanga may burn many more calories since they keep your heart rate up.33
Q: Is meditation a part of yoga?
A: Yes, meditation is an integral part of yoga. In fact, the last stages of yoga are all focused on meditative practices to unify the mind, body and soul. Almost all yoga types and poses emphasize the importance of meditation.34