If you live in India, you’ve probably practised yoga at some point in life–maybe it was during your PE period in school, or maybe at an office retreat. After all, yoga is an ancient Indian practice and plays an important role in the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the people of our country. If you are bored of the gym, or simply want to mix up your exercise and wellness routine, yoga asanas are the perfect solution for you. But before you decide to turn into a full-blown yogi, spend some time learning about the history and benefits of yoga.
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A Brief History Of Yoga
Did you know that the beginnings of the discipline of yoga can be traced back to the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago? However, some researchers argue that the practice might actually be 10,000 years old. Talk about ancient! The first mention of yoga in writing appeared in the sacred text of Rig Veda. Over the years, yoga was slowly refined and developed by the brahmans, who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads. The most renowned of the yogic scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gita, which was composed around 500 B.C.E.
It is important to note that yoga was never developed as a form of ‘physical activity’, which is how the western world views it today. The original context of yoga was spiritual development—to train the body and mind to observe themselves and become aware of their own nature. The purposes of yoga asanas were to cultivate discernment, awareness, self-regulation and higher consciousness in the individual.
Benefits Of Yoga
Learn about the benefits of yoga on your mind, body and soul.
An important focus of yoga is to concentrate on regulating your breathing, which makes one feel calm. This can ease stress and increase relaxation of the mind and the body. This has been demonstrated by several studies, which prove that yoga can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. If you suffer from anxiety, yoga can be a powerful way of managing the illness when used alone or along with other methods of stress management, such as meditation.
Helps Manage Anxiety
Like we previously mentioned, several psychologists often advise their patients to join a yoga class and practice laughter yoga, along with other forms of the discipline, to manage their anxiety. This is because a plethora of medical research correlates the practice of yoga with decreased anxiety levels. While researchers aren’t sure of the exact reason why yoga is so helpful when it comes to reducing anxiety, they believe it is because it emphasizes the importance of being present in the moment and finding a sense of peace.
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Improves Heart Health
Several studies have shown that yoga improves heart health and reduces several risk factors for heart diseases. One of the major factors that leads to heart problems is high blood pressure. Patients are advised to lower their blood pressure to help reduce the risk of a stroke or a heart attack. One study found that participants over 40 years of age who practised yoga for five years had lower blood pressure and pulse rate than those who didn’t. Research also suggests that incorporating yoga into a healthy lifestyle could help slow the progression of heart diseases. The connection between heart diseases and Yoga is fairly simple–stress is a major contributing factor to heart diseases (it increases blood pressure), and yoga helps reduce stress.
Improves Flexibility And Balance
This one’s a no-brainer. Research has found that doing yoga significantly increases several measures of flexibility and balance. A 2013 study also found that practising yoga could help improve balance and mobility in older adults. According to experts, practising just 15–30 minutes of yoga daily could make a massive difference for those looking to increase flexibility and balance in their bodies.
You thought only lifting weights in the gym can make you stronger? Think again! Besides improving flexibility, yoga is a great addition to an exercise routine for its strength-building benefits. There are specific asanas in yoga that are designed to increase strength and build muscle in the human body. A study, in which 79 adults performed 24 cycles of Surya Namaskar six days a week, experienced a significant increase in upper body strength, endurance and weight loss. Women experienced a decrease in body fat percentage as well.
Helps Reduce Chronic Pain
A large population of the world suffers from chronic pain owing to a wide range of health problems, be it arthritis or endometriosis. While being on medication is a sure-shot way of managing your pain, several people seek alternative remedies to alleviate their pain. A growing body of research has demonstrated that practising yoga reduces many types of chronic pain. Although more research is needed, incorporating yoga into your daily routine may be beneficial for those who suffer from chronic pain.
Improves Quality Of Life
Yoga isn’t just a form of physical exercise—it is a holistic practice that affects your body, mind and soul. From reducing stress to increasing strength, the benefits of yoga can encompass what people call a balanced lifestyle. Thus, practicing yoga on a daily basis can improve your overall quality of life.
Also, there are plenty of yoga apps that can make your journey much easier and can guide you through every movement.
Yoga Asanas You Should Try
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned follower of the discipline, here are some yoga asanas or poses that everyone should try!
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
This is a basic yoga pose and teaches you how to be tall and majestic like a mountain. The name of the asana is derived from the word ‘Tada’, which means mountain. The asana helps improve focus and concentration. Start by standing with your heels slightly apart and hang your arms beside your torso. Lift and spread your toes and the balls of your feet, then lay them softly down on the floor. Then, elongate your torso as you inhale and release your shoulder blades away from your head as you exhale.
Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
This is a great yoga asana if you want to strengthen your joints and improve flexibility. It also strengthens your spine, opens the chest, and improves your spinal flexibility. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Extend your arms along the floor, palms flat. Exhale as you lift your hips toward the ceiling. Draw your tailbone toward your pubic bone, holding your buttocks off the floor. Inhale as you slowly bring your hips back down to the floor.
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
This is a relaxing yoga asana that people do in between strenuous asanas as a way to cool down. To try it, kneel on the floor and sit on your heels. Then, separate your knees about as wide as your hips. Exhale and lay your torso down between your thighs. Lay your hands on the floor alongside your torso, and release the fronts of your shoulders towards the floor. Repeat this pose for 1-2 minutes, and get back on your knees.
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Adho Mukho Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
This yoga asana is included in the Surya Namaskar, as is great for increasing energy. It stretches your hamstrings, chest and lengthens the spine, providing additional blood flow to the head. Sit back on your heels, stretch your arms forward on the mat and lower your head. Then, slowly raise your hips to form a table-like position by stretching your legs. Press your heels down and let your head hang freely. Hold this pose for 30 seconds to a minute, and get back on your knees.
Naukasana (Boat Pose)
This yoga pose requires you to be stable as a boat, which involves keeping a straight back, chin looking forward, while your knees and arms are locked. It is a great asana for abdominal and core strength. Lie back on the floor with your feet together and hands by your side. Take a deep breath and while exhaling, lift your chest and feet off the ground. Stretch your hands in the direction of your feet. Hold this pose until you feel pressure on your abdominal muscles. As you exhale, lie back down on the floor and relax.
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
This is a very popular yoga asana that helps in spine flexibility and strength, tightens core muscles and strengthens the arms. Lie on your stomach with your feet together and toes flat. Place your hands below your shoulders on the floor, and as you inhale, lift your waist and raise your head. With the support of your hands, pull your torso back. Tilt your head back and make sure your shoulders are away from your ears. Hold the pose for 30 seconds and exhale as you lie back down.
Sukhasna (Meditation Pose)
Yoga, meditation and mindfulness are all intertwined. If you want to practice meditation, which helps increase your focus and reduces stress levels in the body, this is the ideal yoga asana. Sit comfortably on the mat with crossed legs. Tuck your left foot inside the right thigh and vice versa. Elongate your spine and keep your arms on your knees. Relax your body and take deep breaths.
Vrikshasana (Tree Pose)
This yoga pose may look easy, but you need a great sense of balance to perfect this pose! In fact, this is a great asana to practice if you want to improve your balance. It is called Vrikshasana because ‘vrish’ means ‘tree’ and the asana replicates the steady stance of a tree. Place your right foot high up on your left thigh. The sole of the foot should be flat and placed firmly. Keep your left leg straight and try to balance yourself on one foot. Then, inhale as you raise your arms over your head and bring your palms together. Make sure that your spine is straight and take a few deep breaths. Exhale, as you bring your hands down and release your right leg. Repeat the same pose with the other leg.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Learn Yoga On My Own?
Yes, in the age of the internet, there is virtually nothing that you CAN’T teach yourself at home. If you want to start learning the basics of yoga, mobile apps and Youtube are your best friend. However, if you are serious about the practice, we suggest you take lessons for a few months, just so an instructor can guide you as to whether your asanas are right or wrong. Once you know you’re on the right path, you can practice by yourself.
Which Yoga Asanas Are Best For Beginners?
The longer you practice Yoga, the harder the asanas you can try! However, if you are just starting out, we suggest you try the basic ones, and gradually increase the difficulty level. The best asanas for beginners include Tadasana, Vrikshasana, Adho Mukho Svanasana and Trikonasana, among others.
Can You Lose Weight By Doing Yoga?
Yoga, like any other form of physical activity, burns calories, which aids weight loss. However, weight loss isn’t the focus advantage of yoga and if that’s your aim, we suggest you club yoga with other physically intensive exercises.
Now that you know everything you needed to about yoga, what are you waiting for? Grab your yoga mat and get stretching!
Featured Image: Unsplash
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