Yoga is a life philosophy from India and a system of physical, mental and breathing exercises that dates back 4000 years. There are at least several dozen varieties of yoga. Each differs significantly from the other both in theory and practice. As an art of exploring the world, yoga functions in many religions – not only in Hinduism, but also in Buddhism or Jainism. What is known today as “yoga” refers to specific practices – a combination of asanas, pranayama (the art of breathing) and meditation. Such activities are classified as hatha-yoga.
A brief history of yoga
It is difficult to talk about a short history of yoga, if its oldest traces date back to 3300 BC. Found artifacts – terracotta figurines imitating human figures in characteristic poses – testify to the ancient practices. The next key mentions of the philosophy come from the oldest sacred books of Hinduism (Vedas). The basis of modern yoga is found in the eighth century BC. (Upanishads). The first treatise entirely devoted to yoga was born in the third century BC. However, the culminating stage of its development falls on the 1st century BC. – It was the time of codification and ordering of previously known practices. The following centuries were devoted to the development of alternative varieties of meditative traditions and the popularization of yoga techniques.
What is yoga?
Let us focus on the currently given definition of yoga as a modern health activity. Discussing it in a broader philosophical context for many could be not only boring but also tiresome. Simply put, yoga is a training of the body and soul. It consists of many postures (asanas) and states. It is versatile, accessible to anyone regardless of age or gender, and can be done almost anywhere – at home, on vacation, outdoors, in special classes, etc. Gradual mastery of each successive yoga pose translates into control of the body’s urges, nerves or whims – anything that limits an individual in personal growth and self-improvement.
Effects of yoga on human health
Yoga as a physical activity affects all systems and organs of the human body. The first health effects can be noticed after just one month of regular practice. Asanas, or yoga postures, work the body in four planes: stretching, strengthening, pressure and relaxation. Pranayma, on the other hand – meditation combined with breathing techniques – promotes purification of the nervous system, as well as general detoxification of the body. It facilitates control of emotions and calmness.
Yoga and weight loss
Although yoga exercises take a rather static form, this activity is perfect if you want to reduce excess weight. Properly selected positions, implemented gradually, affect the deepest muscle structures. As mentioned earlier – there are many types of yoga. Most modern activities are based on hatha-yoga with elements of others. When losing weight, it is best to choose hatha-yoga with elements of ashtanga-yoga or hatha-yoga with elements of bikram-yoga.
- Ashtanga yoga is also called dynamic yoga. It is based on an eight-step path. The key to success is the experience and realization of all the following points: yama (moral principles), niyama (self-work), asana (physical exercises), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense control), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (self realization). The final step is total enlightenment – coming to terms with one’s self. Despite appearances, Ashtanga Yoga exercises are very demanding. Each successive position increases the strength and flexibility of muscles and tendons. The effects are visible after each practice.
- Bikram-yoga is based on basic hatha-yoga exercises, with the difference that they are performed in appropriate conditions – in 40-degree temperature, with high humidity (up to 50%). Due to the specification, such activity is possible only in specific, previously prepared places. High temperature and humidity significantly raise the bar, making the exercises even more intense than under normal conditions.
It is estimated that one and a half hour yoga classes allow to burn up to 1000 kcal.
Systematic exercise (at least three times a week) accelerates the process of cleansing the body, adding energy. Increased resistance to stress, decreased appetite, less tendency to snack and increased demand for more nutritious, “green” products helps to achieve the desired weight in a very short time.
Yoga and the treatment of physical illness
Yoga is a versatile modality that affects virtually the entire body. Practiced regularly and gradually, it increases flexibility of the spine and joint mobility. It is perfect for people struggling with various types of pain. Adequate oxygenation of the body contributes to lowering blood pressure and improving lung capacity (makes it easier to breathe). This is especially important in asthma. It is also impossible not to mention the fact that yoga perfectly affects the entire endocrine system, including normalizing blood sugar levels. In addition:
- increases overall fitness, makes the body stronger and more flexible, less susceptible to injury, slows down the natural wear and tear of tissues, and increases fluidity of movement
- regulates cholesterol, as well as glucose, sodium and triglycerides, increases ATP levels, increases antioxidants and stimulates the body to self-cleaning and self-healing;
- delays the aging process of cartilage, thus reducing the risk of fractures or diseases such as osteoporosis or arthritis
- reduces the risk of lifestyle diseases (overweight, obesity, stroke, atherosclerosis, diabetes or heart attack)
- improves digestion, stimulates metabolism and reduces the risk of gastrointestinal diseases;
- helps to tame “female problems”, stimulates endocrine glands, strengthens pelvic floor muscles (reduces the risk of premature birth), and alleviates pregnancy disorders.
Yoga and the treatment of mental illness
Scientific research shows that yoga contributes to stress reduction by reducing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-adrenal axis. It also decreases salivary cortisol, plasma renin, blood sugar, and the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, as well as inflammatory markers that appear in the body due to stress. Regularly practiced yoga has a key impact on the human psyche – it increases an individual’s adaptability, whether in terms of thinking, behavior or emotions. The practice not only facilitates stress management, but also reduces the tendency to irritability and increases self-efficacy. It reduces symptoms of depression, promotes treatment of phobias, neurosis, obsessions, sadness, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, and insomnia. Studies have shown that when used by chronically, terminally ill people, it improves their quality of life.
Yoga for every stage of life
Although yoga is a universal solution, recommended practically to everyone, regardless of age, there are several contraindications, limiting the possibility of its practice. As mentioned earlier – it relieves back pain, but we are talking about temporary ailments. In case of chronic diseases it is necessary to consult a doctor or a yoga teacher. Yoga is not recommended for people with balance problems or advanced osteoporosis. For safety reasons, uncontrolled workouts are not recommended for pregnant women. Such people should exercise only under the supervision of a trainer.
Yoga for kids
Yoga for children combines pleasant and useful. The introduction of traditional asanas should proceed much slower in case of the youngest, taking into account their friendly figures. As children get bored quickly, in order to encourage them to continue working, it is worth to use the picture method or bring the exercises to the form of play, for example pretending to be animals or mythical figures. If the training is too strict, the dog may be discouraged, so it should “wag its tail”, “lift a paw” or “dig a hole with one paw”. A departure from classical nomenclature is particularly important in this case.
Yoga for seniors
Yoga for seniors is based on exactly the same principles as any other yoga. However, in the case of people 65+ it helps to cope with additional limitations resulting from old age. Introducing regular physical activity, and in turn making the body more flexible and removing tension or stiffness caused by lack of movement, helps to reduce degeneration within the skeletal system. Yoga is designed to help seniors cope with everyday activities such as climbing a flight of stairs, going shopping or running to the bus.
Yoga for beginners
Some tips on how to start practicing
- Does the right outfit matter?
In the market you can find a number of fashion solutions dedicated to yoga classes. Contrary to popular belief, none of them are necessary for us. The key to success is loose, comfortable clothing. Just wear what you feel comfortable in.
- Is a mat necessary?
A yoga mat is useful both in class and during home practice. However, this does not mean that you have to buy the most expensive product available in the store. A simple, classic PVC mat will suffice. However, it is important that it is non-slip.
- Does yoga go hand in hand with diet?
Everything depends on individual resolutions. When it comes to eating before training, it is recommended to limit food intake to 2 hours before exercise. An empty stomach promotes steady and calm breathing.
- Why do I feel frustrated?
Frustration is a typical symptom when you skip the basics and jump in at the deep end. Yoga is not as easy as it seems. Only gradually increasing the level of difficulty will allow you to tame your body.
- Does breath matter?
Yes. Correct breathing technique translates into correct yoga training. The first classes, whether at home or in a club, should come down to learning pranayama.
- How often should i practice yoga?
In this area the most important thing is regularity. It is better to practice 3 times a week for 30 minutes than once in 7 days for 1,5 hour.
- Is it possible to do yoga at home?
Undoubtedly yes. Unfortunately, in your own four corners there are many temptations that you should watch out for. Training at home should be free from the Internet, children running around or dinner cooking behind the wall.
Yoga at home – where to start?
Finally, a few words about practicing yoga at home. Although it seems that practice under the supervision of a teacher is better, there is nothing that prevents you from learning yoga on your own. This solution is perfect for people who already have some basics and want to deepen them. What should you keep in mind when preparing for an activity at home?
First of all: the place. Not everyone has their own exercise room at home. Many people cannot afford to set aside a separate room for yoga. Sometimes finding a small corner is quite difficult. Yoga has the advantage that it can be practiced practically anywhere. All you need is a mat size surface on the floor. Note: place the mat directly on the floor, never on a carpet or rug.
Second: the equipment. You don’t need any expensive clothes or accessories to start practicing yoga at home. At first, loose, comfortable clothes and a simple, non-slip PVC mat will suffice. Attention: non-slip socks are only a marketing trick – yoga is practiced barefoot!
Third: instructional videos. You can find them for example on YouTube. For beginners simple pictures will also work.
Fourth: control. With yoga, control is crucial. You practice for yourself, not to impress others. Working through a maximum range of motion without the supervision of a trainer can be risky, so it’s a good idea to keep a well-being journal, including any discomfort the day after your workout.
Fifth: Posture. Yoga at home, especially for beginners, carries the risk of some mistakes. Lack of practice can lead to the deepening of improper movement patterns, and as a result – injuries. To avoid such problems, it is advisable to practice in front of a mirror or regularly contact a master to analyze the progress so far.
Sixth, regularity is very important in yoga. Although practicing at home you can choose yourself the time and place of training, it is worth to determine specific times or days of the week. In this way you will develop a certain routine, which will help in subsequent stages.
Seven: Savasana. Relaxation is as important as any other phase of yoga practice. Savasana is a pose in which the body absorbs the energy created during previous practice.