With more than 36 million practitioners in America and an estimated 300 million worldwide, yoga is one of the most popular activities for health and wellness. As more people are realizing the wide variety of benefits it offers and the many unique ways to practice it, it’s no wonder that the amount of people doing yoga increased 50% between 2012 and 2016 and has continued to increase each year since. While it was difficult to find a yoga studio just a couple of decades ago, now there are around 6,000 such studios in the United States alone.1
What is yoga?
Yoga as we know and practice it today stems from ancient Hindu philosophy and teachings. The word “yoga” derives from the Sanskrit word for yoke. During these times, yokes were used for calming down war horses so they could focus and perform in battle.2
Over time, yoga took on a more internal meaning and became a practice used for calming the mind through mental, physical, and spiritual practices.
The primary goal of yoga is to attain liberation by controlling the body and the mind. In modern practice, this is accomplished through a combination of postures, breathing techniques, and meditation. Together, these exercises are designed to calm the mind, expand consciousness, and lead to enlightenment, among other things.
Yoga history and development
The origins of yoga date back more than 5,000 years, and its history and development can be separated into 5 distinct periods:
Vedic Yoga (1700-500 BCE) – The first mention of yoga appeared in the sacred Hindu text known as Rig Veda during the Vedic period. The Vedas were a collection of religious texts that contained mantras, rituals, and hymns used by the Brahmans. The Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers) of this era refined and developed the concepts and philosophies of yoga during this period.
Pre-Classical Yoga (500-200 BCE) – Yoga concepts emerged in early Buddhist texts during the Pre-Classical period. Yogic and meditative practices were described in these texts, some of which came from the earlier Sramana movement. Descriptions of early forms and teachings of yoga were also described in the Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita texts.
Classical Yoga (200 BCE – 500 CE) – The first systematic presentation of yoga appeared in the Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali, which was written during the Classical period. The text condensed the ancient traditions of both action yoga and steps and stages to enlightenment referred to as 8-limbed yoga. Yoga continued to be influenced at this time by Buddhism and Jainism.
Post-Classical Yoga (500 – 1500 CE) – The Post-Classical period of yoga spanned the Middle Ages. Many different variations of yoga originated during this time, including Hindu Tantra, Zen Buddhism, and Hatha Yoga. Founded around the 11th century, Hatha Yoga combines the Yoga Sutras with the posture and breathing techniques used in yoga practice today.
Modern Yoga (1800 CE – Today) – Yoga was introduced to the Western world in the 1800s along with other concepts of Indian philosophy. Yoga teachers began traveling to Europe and the United States in the late 1800s as well. In the 1900s, several standing poses used in gymnastics were infused into what is now modern-day yoga.
Popular types of yoga
Many schools of yoga developed from the Hatha tradition in the 20th century. Yoga forms established during this period that are still widely practiced today include:
- Ashtanga yoga – An advanced form of yoga that includes a series of standing and floor postures
- Vinyasa yoga – Consists of fluid poses linking breath and movement, often accompanied by music
- Restorative yoga – A relaxing form of yoga that involves passive poses with little effort exerted
- Bikram yoga – Includes 26 poses that are performed in a room heated to about 105 degrees F
- Hot yoga – Yoga that is performed in a hot room, but with different poses than Bikram yoga
- Iyengar yoga – Focuses on precise movements and alignment with poses that are held for long periods of time
- Power yoga – Vigorous form of Ashtanga yoga that develops strength and vitality
Today, many basic forms of yoga are practiced in fun and interesting ways. Goat yoga and dog yoga, for example, are becoming increasingly popular. There are also styles such as tantrum (screaming) yoga, paddleboard yoga, and naked yoga.
Yoga tips for beginners
Whether you want to become a serious yogi or just want to practice yoga more casually, there are a few helpful tips that will help you get started and get the most out of your sessions.
First, make sure to have the necessary equipment and clothing. A sticky mat is essential for some yoga poses and helps you be more balanced while reducing the chance of muscle sprains and cramps. Also make sure to wear comfortable clothing that you can move around easily in. Yoga pants are made specifically for this purpose.
Additionally, yoga isn’t only about the poses. Breathing and meditation are also important components. Yogic breathing, or pranayama, consists of slow, long breaths that fill up the abdominal, chest, shoulder, and neck areas. Breath is then released from the stomach first, followed by the chest, then the shoulder and neck.3 Specific types of pranayama include 3-Part Breath, Ocean Breath, and Alternate-Nostril Breathing.
When it comes to breathing during yoga poses, these general guidelines apply:
- Be aware of your breath
- Inhale when you open the front of your body
- Exhale when you compress the front of your body
Mindfulness and meditation should also be integrated into any yoga routine. Mantra yoga is often used to help with focus. A mantra can be a phrase, sound, or affirmation that is repeated. Visualizing a chosen deity or a natural object such as a flower or the ocean can also help you relax and focus inward. And again, simply focusing on your breath, your body, and your surroundings helps you to reach a meditative state.
Yoga poses for beginners
There are hundreds of yoga poses, but some are much easier to perform than others. If you are just starting out, it’s recommended that you master the simple poses before venturing into more advanced territory. Following are some easy yoga poses that are great for practice or a beginner routine. You can learn more about how to perform any of these poses on YouTube, or simply search for a beginner yoga routine.
- Mountain pose
- Downward facing dog
- Bridge pose
- Child’s pose
A major reason why more and more people are practicing yoga is because of the many health benefits it offers. Studies have shown that yoga is at least as effective as exercise at improving a wide range of health-related outcomes.4 And one particular study found that participants who practiced either basic Hatha yoga or Ashtanga yoga for 6 weeks had improved strength, endurance, and flexibility.5
In addition to these physical benefits, other studies have shown that yoga improves mental health as well. One such study found that participants who completed a 2-month yoga program had significantly less cortisol, as well as lower levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue, and depression compared to a control group that didn’t practice yoga.6
Other benefits of yoga according to the American Osteopathic Organization include:
- Improved respiration
- Improved energy and vitality
- Weight reduction
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Protection from injury
- Increased body awareness
- Enhanced mental clarity7
Yoga balancer Virtual Item
Yoga is available to scan as a wellness service in the ZYTO Balance, Select, and Elite software. This digital signature that represents yoga in the software is defined as “the physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines that aim to transform body and mind.” It encompasses a variety of practices and goals developed from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, including the mainstream practice of Hatha yoga.
When added to your Service inventory, the Yoga balancer Virtual Item is scanned automatically in the Balance biosurvey. If it is one of the top 5 services the body responded to most strongly, it will appear in the Services section of the Balance Wellness Report. You may also see how the body responded to this item in the Services Report regardless of whether it was one of the top 5 strongest responses.
About Dr. Vaughn Cook
Dr. Vaughn R Cook is the Founder & CEO of ZYTO. An Oriental Medical Doctor (OMD) and licensed acupuncturist, he has worked in the complementary and alternative medical field for more than 30 years, specializing in applications that integrate Western and Eastern medicine.
1. “Yoga Statistics.” The Good Body. Thegoodbody.com.
2. Saal, Kate. “The Meaning of Yoga.” One Flow Yoga, Inc.
3. Saxina, Sparshita. “How to Breathe Correctly During Yoga: A Step-by-Step Guide.” NDTV Convergence. Food.ndtv.com.
4. Ross, A., & S. Thomas. “The Health Benefits of Yoga and Exercise: A Review of Comparison Studies.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 16, no. 1. (2010).
5. Cowen, V.S., & T.B. Adams. “Physical and perceptual benefits of yoga asana practice: results of a pilot study.” Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 9, no. 3 (2005): 211-219.
6. Javnbakht, M., R. Hejazi Kenari, et al. “Effects of yoga on depression and anxiety of women.” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 15, no. 2 (2009): 102-104.
7. “The Benefits of Yoga.” American Osteopathic Association. Osteopathic.org.