Yoga is so popular that it’s almost impossible to remember a time when it wasn’t part of our vocabulary. There are people who make their careers teaching yoga classes, countless others who have benefited from yoga stretches. But as ingrained as yoga feels in our lives in western culture, yoga has been around for centuries. Its history is one that stretches far outside our generation and has transcended the geographic boundary of its origins.
Yoga has transformed a lot on its path to becoming one of the most recognizable forms of fitness. Most people can likely mimic at least one or two yoga poses. But there’s a lot to know about this routine that has become a way of life for so many.
What is yoga?
Yoga is a practice that involves combining physical activity through a series of poses with mental and spiritual rituals that date back over 5,000 years. The word yoga actually translates into a union, which is symbolic of bringing together the spiritual and physical to create an immersive and transformative experience.
Where does yoga come from?
Couple of things you need to know right off the bat. First, the concept of yoga is old. Really old. Most scholars take it back at least 5,000 years, with others saying it possibly goes back even further than that. The first mention of yoga occurred in texts from Northern India. The text was called the Rig Veda, which was basically a collection of songs and rituals that were used by Vedic priests (Brahmans).
The second thing to keep in mind is that these rituals were not physical. It wasn’t until about the second century that a man named Patanjali created a system from these rituals and transformed them into what more closely resembles present-day yoga. Still, it took another couple hundred years for the physical and spiritual connection we now recognize as yoga to emerge, and that method was spread when yoga masters started coming west in the late 1800s.
The word yoga most closely translates to “union.” That makes sense in expressing the connection between the physical and spiritual as a means to enlightenment.
Types of yoga
There are a number of yoga disciplines that have been introduced to western culture. Below are some of the most common. For an in-depth explanation on each type, read our previous article discussing the most popular styles of yoga to bring into practice.
- Kundalini Yoga – best for those who enjoy chants
- Vinyasa Yoga – best for those who prefer movement over stillness
- Hatha Yoga – best for those who prefer a more gentle yoga routine
- Ashtanga Yoga – best for those who enjoy a more physically and spiritually active yoga
- Yin Yoga – best for those who need to stretch after a tough workout
- Iyengar Yoga – best for seniors and those who prefer detailed instruction
- Bikram Yoga – best for anyone who wants to sweat to a routine
- Power Yoga – best for those who want to work up a sweat without the spiritual aspects
- Sivananda Yoga – best for those looking for a more spiritual experience
- Restorative Yoga – best for those dealing with pain or who have a hard time relaxing
Popular yoga poses
The different yoga positions are what most people imagine when thinking about yoga. The truth is, there are dozens of yoga poses. Some of them are easier and more geared to beginners, while others are a bit more complicated and require a bit more experience. Below, we list out five popular yoga poses for beginners to intermediate yogis.
1. Downward Facing Dog
Even if you’ve never done yoga a day in your life, you’ve probably heard of this position. Start on all fours, then slowly remove your knees from the ground. Your body should be in an upside-down V position with your back and your legs straight.
2. Lotus Pose
The Lotus Pose isn’t so much of a pose as it is a way for you to transition in and out of poses. It also acts as a way for you to breathe, stay still and focus for a short amount of time. All you need to do is sit up straight and cross your legs. Your arms can be folded in front of you, in a prayer position, or simply by your side.
3. Head to Knee Forward Bend
This is a common yoga pose that is possible for both beginners and intermediate yogis. You sit on the floor with one leg folded and the other stretched in front of you. Your goal in this pose is to get your head as close to your outstretched knee as possible. Take your time on this and breathe in before you bend forward.
4. The Cobra Pose
The Cobra Pose is great for nearly all parts of your body, particularly your back, spine, abs and shoulders. Start face-down on the mat with your legs outstretched and your arms close beside you. Take your time and lift the upper part of your body. Hold the pose and feel how your chest and lungs expand.
5. The Crane Pose (Baksana)
This is definitely not a pose you try on your first day. The crane pose requires strength and, more importantly, the proper technique. To execute the Crane Pose, start in a crouching position. Put your hands on the ground in between your legs. Lean forward and lift yourself using both arms. Your arms should be straight, and your body should be in the air.
It’s really important you take your time through all of these positions, even the easy yoga poses. The intermediate and advanced poses should only be done when you feel absolutely comfortable executing the beginner poses. There’s no rush, and you should always listen to your body.
Yoga routine for beginners
Everyone is different. Your level of strength and flexibility is only partly determined by your age. But regardless of your physical abilities, a lot of yoga is about technique. Even if you’re confident in your physical abilities, you should start with simple poses and routines if you’re just starting out with yoga.
Here is one beginner yoga routine you can try right now:
- Start off on your back in the knees to chest position – one minute, 8-10 breaths.
- Drop both knees to the right for 4-5 breaths, then back to the left – 2 minutes.
- Turn over to all fours. Breathe in and arch your spine, breath out and round your spine. Do this 4-5 times – 1 minute.
- Inhale to extend your right arm forward and your left leg straight back on all fours. Exhale and bring them back in alignment – 2 minutes, 16-20 breaths.
- Now bring your feet together, so both feet are touching, spread your knees a bit further apart and rest your bum on your heels with your arms extended straight out – 2 minutes.
The top 3 health benefits of yoga
There are so many health benefits of yoga, many of which extend past the physical. Harvard Health Publishing lists these as the top benefits of yoga:
1. Strength of mind and body
One of the main goals of yoga is to keep you focused on the present. This helps eliminate the distractions that inevitably surround you throughout your day. If you can build the inner strength and awareness it takes to complete a yoga session, that focus helps strengthen your mind as you leave that session and enter the real world.
2. You become a more mindful eater
Awareness is certainly one of the core tenets of yoga. It’s a personal journey that forces you to look within yourself. That said, participating in yoga has been shown to make people more aware of what they eat. Yoga practices make people more aware of how their body feels and what it needs and prevent habits like overeating.
3. Increased levels of fitness
As you can tell by some of the poses, yoga can be challenging. The flexibility and strength it takes to do even simple yoga exercises take a lot of effort. Harvard Health Publishing says that consistently practicing yoga (at least twice a week) can increase your strength, endurance and cardiorespiratory fitness.
While there have been numerous studies that show the benefits of yoga, including this one from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), you should always consult with your doctor before starting any kind of exercise.
What equipment do you need for yoga?
Yoga is interesting in that you can start without needing much at all. Technically, all you really need is yourself and some comfortable clothes, but some equipment will make your experience more enjoyable and productive.
Even if you have a carpeted area in your home, it’s much better for your body and limbs to get a yoga mat. A yoga mat needs to be sticky, so you don’t slide around while doing your poses. Yoga mats are also thicker than other mats. Again, this is to offer more cushion for your body.
This seems odd, but if you have long hair, doing yoga poses can become annoying. Your hair becomes bothersome when doing downward-facing dog or some other pose that puts your body in non-traditional positions. Get a hair tie to keep that length in place.
Any tights or comfortable sweats will do, but once you get into it, it won’t hurt to invest in some actual yoga pants. They’re made to withstand even the toughest yoga routine and gives you the flexibility you’ll need to keep up with your instructor.
This is pretty much a must for yoga. It’s tough to get into all those poses without feeling uncomfortable if you’re not wearing a sports bra. We’re sure you have one or two in your closet somewhere. Pull them out and get ready to start moving.
How to start yoga at home with Boomerang
The most important thing about starting yoga at home is finding a dedicated space. You’ll be stretching and moving in all different directions, so it’s important to give yourself enough room to maneuver around. You should also think about what you want out of yoga. Are you more interested in the spiritual elements, or do you want to work up a sweat? There are other things to consider, and Boomerang breaks down all the steps to starting yoga at home.
Online classes can be a great way to start yoga from the comfort of your home. Boomerang offers various workshops to keep your mind and body busy while navigating the restrictions brought on by COVID-19.
Interested in joining an online yoga class for older adults?
As you can see, yoga has a long history of helping people both physically and spiritually. Joining an online class is a simple way to start a yoga routine at home and build the right habits that keep you accountable.