Yoga is an umbrella term for several types of physical, spiritual and mental disciplines that aim to improve the body and mind simultaneously. It is originally from India where versions of the different disciplines were practiced in ancient times. The term “yoga” means “to join” or “to unite” in Sanskrit. Although it is considered a form of exercise in many parts of the world, its original practice has a spiritual and meditative core.

The earliest version of yoga is believed to have originated in pre-Vedic India but the most probable period of origin is likely to be around the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. In terms of chronological development, however, its history is not established, due in part to a variety of sources and the difference in the periods when written records appeared and when they were practiced. The Patanjali Yoga Sutras, for example, date back to the 1st millennium Common Era but it only became prominent in the West during the 20th century.

Yoga was introduced to the West by Indian gurus starting in the 19th century. It became a popular form of exercise in the 80s and its popularity continued to grow. Today, the discipline is one of the most popular forms of physical and meditative exercises that millions of people practice around the world.

How Does Yoga Work?

Yoga postures or asanas consist of stretches, poses and contortions that are originally meant to unite the physical and mental aspects of the individual. Postures are controlled poses, wherein the practitioner performs a beginning stance and gradually transitions to another stance following a specific series of movements. These movements are performed while making controlled breaths.

The movements done during a session are smooth, relying on the practitioner’s ability to control their body to perform the asanas. Due to the nature of the discipline, it is not surprising that practitioners achieve a relaxed and calm state.

Different Types of Yoga
The types involved in this discipline vary in focus, which may differ slightly. Not every type of yoga is recommended for every individual because of differences in physical abilities, health conditions and interests. The different types of this discipline include:

Ashtenga – rigorous and fast-paced; the oldest form of the discipline

Vinyasa – poses are performed while focusing on breathing.

Iyengar – characterized by poses that are held for long periods; usually recommended for individuals with chronic illnesses or injuries.

Bikram – known as “hot yoga”; does not feature handstands and headstands.

Kundalini – uses quick and repetitive movements with chanting.

Benefits of Yoga
There are many health benefits to practicing this discipline. These include:

Improved Flexibility
The discipline encourages stretching and proper breathing through its sequence of poses. The end result is improved flexibility, which is probably the first benefit practitioners notice. Beginners progress from being unable to bend down far enough to touch their toes to being able to lay their palms flat on the floor as they bend at the waist with their legs straight. As people practice stretching, muscles lengthen and joints loosen up, making more complicated poses easier to make.

Improved Posture
Correct posture is one of the most overlooked and underrated conditions of good health. Bad posture can lead to a number of health issues, including problems with the neck, back, joints and muscles, and the flattening of the natural S-shaped curve of the spine. The latter condition could potentially lead to painful degenerative spine arthritis and back pain.

Elimination of Pain in the Joints and Muscles
Some types of body discomfort and pain are caused by tight muscles and joints which lead to improper alignment of the skeletal system. As the practitioner progresses in yoga, pains and aches in the muscles begin to disappear.

Increased Muscle Strength
Practitioners perform controlled movements that encourage muscles to stretch and contract. By simply using one’s body weight, practitioners are able to increase muscle strength. Strong muscles not only protect the bones but also help maintain balance and flexibility, thus aiding in reducing the risks of falls and the development of conditions such as back pain and arthritis.

Increased Oxygen Intake
Yoga teaches the proper way to breathe and with this new skill, practitioners become more efficient in introducing oxygen into their lungs. This aids in improving the lung functions and in ensuring that oxygen-rich blood flows throughout the body.

Improved Blood Circulation
Yoga exercises help get the blood flowing, particularly to the extremities. Twisting and performing inverted poses are believed to redirect the flow of venous blood to the heart and keep the lungs pumped with oxygenated blood, thus aiding in the elimination and prevention of swelling in the arms and legs.

Improved Physical and Mental Health
Yoga is believed to regulate the adrenal glands, prevent hypertension, increase cardiovascular function, and improve the immune system.