Yoga has been around for thousands of years and has gained popularity in Canada during the past 100 years. With about 21% of Canadians partaking in the practice, yoga continues to be one of the go-to activities for those seeking physical and mental balance.
Whether you're new to yoga or have been practicing for years, there is always so much more to learn about it. From countless types of yoga to an endless amount of poses, there's something for everyone when it comes to this ancient practice.
This guide will go over the history of yoga, the main branches of the practice, and how you can benefit from implementing it into your daily routine.
What Is Yoga?
An ancient practice, yoga fuses breathing techniques, physical postures, and meditation. Those components work together to promote a person's physical and mental well-being.
At its core, yoga is a spiritual discipline based on a very subtle science. It's focused on bringing harmony to a person's body and mind. Yoga works to teach people the science and art of living healthily.
The word 'yoga' comes from a Sanskrit word. "Yuj" means to unite or to join. Practicing yoga joins together a person's consciousness with the universal consciousness. As we talked about, this results in the perfect harmony between the body and mind.
Regularly practicing yoga can provide a person with the following benefits:
- Increased well-being
History of Yoga
The origins of yoga can be traced back over 5,000 years to northern India. In Rig Veda, one of India's sacred texts, you'll find the first mention of the word "yoga." There are four ancient texts that are written in Sanskrit called The Vedas.
One of the earliest of the Vedas, the Rig Veda, is an extensive collection of countless mantras and hymns broken up into 10 chapters. These chapters are called mandalas. Vedic age priests implemented the hymns and mantras.
Yogas was developed and refined by Rishis, or mystic seers. They documented their beliefs and practices in the Upanishads. That sacred text contains more than 200 scriptures.
Hinduism includes six different schools of philosophy, and yoga is one of them. Yoga is also a significant component of Buddhism and the religion's meditation practices.
The Bhagavad-Gita is the most renowned and sacred Yogic scripture. It was written around 500 BCE. In that text, the concept of Veda's ritual sacrifice was pivoted into teaching a person how to sacrifice their ego through action, wisdom, and self-knowledge.
During this stage of yoga, also known as "pre-classical," the practice was a mixture of different techniques, ideas, and beliefs. Often these different concepts contradicted each other.
During the "classical" stage, yoga sought to work out some of the kinks that had developed in the prior one. A significant component of classical yoga is Pantanjali's Yoga-Sutras. This is the first systematic presentation of yoga.
The text was written during the second century. It describes the path of raja yoga, which is usually called classical yoga. Yoga was organized into an eight-limbed path that included the stages and steps to achieve enlightenment.
Pantanjali is typically thought of as the father of yoga. His yoga-sutras are still prevalent today and influence modern yoga.
A few hundred years after the classical period, yoga masters created different practices that helped rejuvenate a person's body. They went against the ancient Vedas' teaching. Instead, they viewed the physical body as the way to obtain enlightenment.
During this time, they developed Tantra Yoga, which we'll go into more detail about later. Their practices influenced Hatha Yoga, which is how we primarily view yoga in western culture.
Yoga became popular in western culture in the late 19th to early 20th century. Yoga masters from India began to travel to the United States and Canada, attracting followers and attention.
Swami Vivekananda gained a lot of attention in 1893 when he spoke about yoga in Chicago. Vivekananda didn't speak highly of Hatha Yoga, referring to it as "gymnastics," but it's thought he still taught some of the postures to his students in New York.
While Vivekananda didn't popularize yoga just by himself, he was vital in setting the stage for modern yoga in North America.
The yoga we know today gained popularity in the 1920s-30s by immigrants who came from India. The former ideas people had of yoga being "magical" started to dim as people became more familiar with the physical exercise aspect.
The advent of exercise DVDs and VHS tapes and the popularity of the fitness industry resulted in yoga being a part of many people's exercise routines. Now, the yoga industry is estimated to be worth around $14.03 billion in Canada.
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The Different Types of Yoga
There is more than one way to practice yoga. This ensures that every aspiring yogi out there will find something to captivate their interest. Let's discuss some of the most popular types of yoga.
Paulie Zink established Yin yoga in the 1970s. It's a restorative form of yoga that incorporates slow stretches and postures. These movements help to lengthen your connective tissues and muscles.
If you're new to Yin yoga, you'll typically begin by holding the poses for a few minutes. Those who are experts at the practice can hold them for more than 10 minutes.
The goal of Yin yoga is to slow your body down. As it slows down, your parasympathetic nervous system is activated. This enables your body to relax, relating tension and stress.
The term Hatha yoga refers to the "discipline of the force." Any form of yoga that teaches you different physical postures is thought of to be Hatha yoga. However, sometimes Hatha yoga classes teach you a slower, gentler style that's great for beginners.
Hatha yoga uses the mastery of your body to help you achieve spiritual perfection. It includes combinations of the following:
You're guaranteed to get a physical workout when you partake in Hatha yoga.
Vinyasa yoga strings together different postures. You'll move seamlessly from one pose to another while incorporating breathwork. Vinyasa yoga is also known as flow yoga.
Every Vinyasa yoga class is different and works to make your body more balanced. It also helps prevent your body from encountering a repetitive motion injury that can sometimes happen from doing the same movements each day.
Kundalini yoga combines sound, movement, and breath. Kundalini comes from the Sanskrit word "kundal," which means coiled energy.
The idea behind the practice is that each person has an energy that's gathered at the base of the spine. Through Kundalini, we can transfer that energy up the length of our spine through our chakras. The energy then is transferred out of the top of our head.
A more challenging and athletic style of yoga, Ashtanga follows a specific sequence of moves. It incorporates six series of asanas that flow directly into each other. It's also accompanied by breathwork.
Ashtanga yoga is physically demanding but helps improve your body's flexibility and endurance. You need to be present during the entire practice, which helps provide you with mindfulness benefits.
In the 1970s in India, BKS Iyengar founded this yoga practice. It's focused on the alignment and precision of each posture. It typically incorporates the following types of props:
It's a slower style of yoga but it takes major concentration. This is because you want to get the right alignment for each posture you do. Additionally, you have to hold each posture for a long time.
The term "power yoga" is often used in lieu of "Vinyasa" yoga. It has roots in Ashtanga yoga but isn't an official form of yoga.
Power yoga is specifically designed for cardiovascular endurance and to improve muscle strength. It moves at a quicker pace than other forms of yoga. It's also focused on flowing through each pose.
Bikram Choudhury founded Bikram yoga in the 1970s. It's sometimes referred to as "hot yoga" as classes take place in a room that's around 40°.
Each class includes the same set of poses and postures. The heat, coupled with the movements, provide the following benefits:
- Improved circulation
- Muscles lengthening
- Toxin release
Restorative yoga is a meditative and restorative form of yoga. In this type of class, you'll hold a pose for five or more minutes. Each class features only a few poses because of this.
This type of yoga teaches people how to heal passively. Your body is able to rest and restore balance as it heals through the practice.
Swami Vishnudevenanada established Sivananda yoga in the 1950s. It works to increase the flexibility of a person's tendons, joints, and muscles. The practice also stimulates circulation.
Prenatal yoga doesn't modify traditional yoga poses to suit pregnant individuals. The poses and postures used in a prenatal class address concerns that plague pregnant women. Classes are focused on gentle stretching and breathing techniques.
Acro yoga combines both acrobatics and yoga. The practice helps you build up your core strength while building muscles.
Acro yoga often incorporates movements that require two people. You can work as a team with another person as you work to achieve your goals.
Aerial yoga uses a lot of the postures and poses that are done on the mat. However, you do them in a silk hammock that's attached to the ceiling.
The hammock works to build strength and improve your flexibility. Additionally, you can do more challenging poses without putting more pressure on your head, spine, or shoulders.
Goals of Yoga
People practice yoga for a variety of reasons. You might simply want to incorporate more mindfulness into your daily life. Perhaps you want to look for another way to exercise each day.
If you don't have any goals set yet, below are some goal examples you can add to your yoga practice:
- Physical health
- Mental health
- Spiritual health
- Social health
What Are the Benefits of Yoga?
Practicing yoga brings you both mental and physical benefits. Incorporating regular yoga into your daily life will help you enjoy all the benefits yoga has to offer over a long period of time. You'll begin to build awareness, harmony, and strength in both your body and mind.
Some of the benefits of yoga include, but aren't limited to:
- Increased flexibility
- Improved cardio and circulatory health
- Increased muscle strength
- Weight loss
- Improved respiration, vitality, and energy
- Improved athletic performance
- Protection from injury
- Maintaining a balanced metabolism
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How to Prepare for Your First Yoga Class
Congratulations! You made the decision to attend your first yoga class. Whether in-person or virtual, you'll learn so much about yourself as you begin on your yoga journey.
Prepare Your Body and Warm-Up
Before your class begins, you'll need to get ready. Figuring out what to eat before your yoga class is up to your personal preference.
It's recommended to eat a healthy meal a few hours before your class. This helps you build energy and guarantees your stomach won't be too full. If you don't have a lot of time between your meal and class, try to allow around 30 minutes so your food can digest.
For your first yoga class, look for a beginner-level class. Each class should have a description to tell you what to expect. Read everything carefully to ensure you choose a class that's within your skill level.
You'll also want to do some light stretching beforehand to warm up your muscles.
Prepare Your Materials
Yoga is a basic practice to start in regards to what materials and gear you need. As you're just getting started, we recommend the following items:
- Yoga bag
- Yoga mat
- Comfortable workout clothes
- Yoga block
- Water bottle
- Yoga strap
If you're attending a class in person, pack your bag the night before. You don't want to risk forgetting anything the day of.
Embrace Being a Beginner
We all have to start somewhere. Don't be hard on yourself if you see someone doing an advanced version of a pose that you're struggling with. As you continue to practice yoga, you'll get more comfortable in the poses.
Yoga is all about having an open mind and heart. Show yourself the same courtesy that you show others in their practice. You'll be achieving all your goals in no time at all.
This may seem like an obvious tip, but don't forget to breathe! Breathing is essential to many different types of yoga. Your breath is tied to the movement and flow.
Holding your breath is counterintuitive to the practice. If you find yourself struggling in a pose, take a deep breath as you sink deeper into it.
There are a few things you need to ensure you're doing after every yoga class. One of them is savouring your Savasana.
Savasana is the final pose where you allow your body to rest. You can use this time to absorb what you learned in class while you cool down.
Make sure you also do the following after your class:
- Clean your mat
- Take a shower
- Refuel your body with water and protein-rich snacks
Risks of Yoga
As a new yogi, you need to be mindful of the risks that come along with the practice of yoga. Yoga is generally low-impact and gentle, but there are some potentially negative side effects.
Traumatic yoga-related injuries are rare, but some common ones include:
Be mindful during your practice. If you feel your body resisting a pose, come out of it so you don't injure yourself.
Creating a More Mindful Lifestyle with Yoga
While all of us at Insurdinary are huge proponents of yoga, you should always consult a medical doctor when starting a new form of exercise. Improving your mind, body, and soul are essential components to becoming a happy human being. Practicing the art of yoga will help you achieve that.
Check out our blog for more lifestyle and exercise articles.