The modern lifestyle, which is driven by hectic and business, makes it more and more difficult to respect the needs of your body and to find peace of mind. The focus is on work, social obligations, and balancing it all.
If you crave for calmness and relaxation, you should start with yoga. It will not only help you to relax, but also to do something good for your body.
Yoga is a useful exercise for more mindfulness, which has a positive effect not only on your body but also on your mind. It makes you more balanced, relaxed, and happy.
However, there are many misconceptions and myths about yoga. If you’re thinking about complicated stretches, you’re wrong: Yoga is a lifestyle and doesn’t necessarily have to be physically demanding. You don’t have to be athletic, slim, or religious to enjoy the many benefits of yoga.
In this article, we will give you an overview of yoga, its history, and the different styles. We’ll also show you some yoga exercises for beginners and provide you with everything you need to know to start your journey as a “Yogi”.
Jump ahead to any of the sections below:
- What Is Yoga?
- What Are the Different Types of Yoga?
- Benefits of Yoga
- Science and Yoga
- How to Start Doing Yoga?
- 3 Simple Yoga Exercises for Beginners
What Is Yoga?
Yoga is a philosophy of life, based on thousands of years of tradition. Its goal is to bring body, mind, and breathing into harmony.
The word “Yoga” comes from the ancient Indian language Sanskrit. It has various meanings, such as “unity”, “union” or “integration”.
Especially interesting here is the aspect of union: With a regular yoga practice, you can unite your body and mind.
The different yoga postures and poses are called “Asanas”. Each Asana stands for a physical exercise.
In most yoga styles, you carry the Asanas out for several minutes. You don’t have to do the poses flawlessly. It’s rather about calming your mind and concentrating entirely on the exercise.
Yoga masters and practitioners are called Yogi. You can distinguish between the male form (Yogin) and the female form (Yogini).
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
All exercises, limbs, and styles of yoga have a common goal: to harmonize body, mind, and breathing.
It’s the state in which the mind comes to rest.
The path to reach this state is divided into eight sections, also called “limbs”. Each limb contains exercises or rules of conduct that a yogi should integrate into his or her life.
When combined, the eight limbs make up the yoga philosophy, but they can also serve on their own.
The eight limbs of yoga are:
- Limb 1 – Yama: Rules of conduct for interacting with others and nature
- Limb 2 – Niyama: Rules for treating yourself
- Limb 3 – Asana: Physical exercises, mostly known as poses
- Limb 4 – Pranayama: Breathing exercises, which are used together with the Asanas
- Limb 5 – Pratyahara: Symbolic for “looking on the inside”
- Limb 6 – Dharana: Concentration and sharpening your mind
- Limb 7 – Dhyana: Meditation
- Limb 8 – Samadhi: The ultimate goal of the yoga philosophy and gaining complete knowledge over one’s life
If you follow these steps carefully, you will live life more mindful and learn how to expose and change your unwanted behavior patterns.
History and Origin of Yoga
Although yoga exists for hundreds of years, it appeared in Western culture during the past 50 years. Today there are countless studios, courses, and yoga teachers all over the world.
Yoga already had its first boom in the second half of the 20th century. At that time, more and more people opened up to spirituality, making yoga and meditation more and more popular.
Initially, the goal of yoga was to help you find spiritual enlightenment. In the further course of time, purely meditative practices were supplemented with physical exercises. These physical exercises should prepare the body for hours of meditation.
As time went by, further physical movements and poses developed to the Asanas we know today.
What Are the Different Types of Yoga?
There are many different forms and styles of yoga. Finding the right one for you depends on several factors:
- Preferences in temperature
- Fitness goals
- Personality and temperament
Some yoga styles are faster, others are slower. Some are meditative and help you to find peace. Others help you to strengthen your body and mind.
Within the generic term “Yoga”, there are over 130 different styles. The best-known ones are:
Hatha Yoga: This is a holistic form of yoga that includes postures, breathing, and relaxation exercises. The focus is on slow movements that are carried out for a long time.
Hatha Yoga forms the basis of all other types of yoga.
Yin Yoga: A slow style in which Asanas are held for up to ten minutes to let yourself fall into the figure and relax.
Kundalini Yoga: “Kundalini” is, if you believe in spirituality, energy that lies in your spine and is supposed to make you happier. This form of yoga aims to activate this energy through specific breathing and body movements.
Ashtanga Yoga: This form consists of eight progressive movements that are always the same. It’s one of the more intense types of yoga.
Vinyasa Yoga: The focus here is on harmonizing breathing and body movements. At the end of a Vinyasa class, the body is stretched intensively.
Jivamukti Yoga: A new form of Ashtanga Yoga developed in New York and performed through a combination of meditation, chanting, spiritual elements, music, and physically demanding Asanas.
Bikram Yoga: This form of yoga is performed at 40° Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and high humidity.
Power Yoga (or Yogilates): Modern “sporty” version that is based on Ashtanga, and combines movements from Yoga and Pilates.
Aerial Yoga: The Asanas are performed with a sling, which hangs from the ceiling. This kind of yoga strengthens the balance and your body center.
Stand Up Paddle Yoga (or SUP Yoga): SUP yoga is practiced on a surfboard in the water and is about balance and body tension.
It’s best if you experiment with different styles. You will be surprised how different yoga can be. Keep testing out different styles until you find the right one for you.
If you want to read more about the different types of yoga, check out our detailed article.
Benefits of Yoga
Yoga helps to cope with long-term stress by focusing on body and mind.
Especially in hectic times, it calms you and helps you to clear your head. Mindful breathing releases happiness hormones and improves your mood.
In an experiment conducted by Northumbria University and the Yorkshire Yoga & Therapy Centre, Knaresborough, the university measured the many benefits of a yoga practice on the body and mind.
After the experiment, the participants felt more balanced, calmer, more relaxed, and physically fit. (Source)
By doing yoga you come in touch with your body in a completely new way. The Asanas are often carried out for several minutes, which can push beginners to their limits. However, it appeals to different muscles of your body and strengthens it in the long run.
A regular yoga practice has many benefits for your body and mind. Here are some of them:
- Calms the Mind and Improves the Emotional State
- Increases Concentration
- Reduces Anxiety and Depression
- Strengthens the Immune System
- Improves Sleep
Yoga Benefit 1: Calms the Mind and Improves the Emotional State
The combination of breathing and physical exercise allows you to calm your thoughts. The physical movements are also helpful because they give your mind something to do, and you have less time and opportunity to lose yourself in your thoughts.
This will enable you to master the concept of mindfulness and give you the ability to change your emotional state actively.
Yoga Benefit 2: Increases Concentration
In yoga, you consciously direct your concentration to your breath and the execution of the Asanas. You focus entirely on the respective exercise and block out everything around you, like sounds and thoughts.
Many exercises of yoga strengthen the memory (hippocampus) and the prefrontal cortex, a part of the frontal lobe of the brain. Both areas are activated during yoga and ensure that you’re more aware and concentrated in the long term. (Source)
Yoga Benefit 3: Reduces Anxiety and Depression
A Harvard study in 2018 found out that yoga has a positive effect on anxiety and depression. Heartbeat and respiration calm down, and the blood pressure drops.
The reason for this is the improved ability to concentrate: if the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex are activated, they inhibit the amygdala. The amygdala is the part of our brain that controls the processing of emotions.
An inhibited amygdala ensures that you experience intense emotions such as exuberant joy or destructive (self-)hatred less often or only to a lesser extent. Negative feelings and thoughts – the cause of depression and anxiety – are thus better controlled and feel less intense.
Yoga also has a positive effect on patients with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). In an experiment, 64 women who experienced trauma in the past went to a yoga class once a week, especially for trauma patients. After ten weeks, their PTSD symptoms had decreased – 52% were no longer classified as PTSD. (Source)
Remember, a yoga teacher can’t replace a psychotherapist.
Yoga Benefit 4: Strengthens the Immune System
When you practice yoga, you stretch and remain in the same body posture for a relatively long time. This promotes the body’s defense against pathogens.
The majority of your immune cells are located in the gut and spleen. As long as both are healthy, immune cells reproduce. Yoga can support your body in this process.
There are special abdominal exercises that stimulate digestion and strengthen the spleen. They promote the production of immune cells and, thus, improves your immune system. (Source)
It also lowers the blood levels, which indicate inflammation in the body, the so-called inflammation markers.
Yoga Benefit 5: Improves Sleep
A healthy lifestyle includes good sleep.
While we sleep, our body releases the hormones melatonin and prolactin, without which we are unable to form new immune cells.
Yoga can improve your sleep and prevent any sleeping problems.
Through its holistic combination of movement, concentration, breathing exercises, and meditation, yoga reduces stress – the main trigger for sleep problems.
Asanas in which you bend your head and upper body forward towards your legs are best suited for sleep problems. You bow to gravity, loosen your body, and release tension. Your body immediately feels more relaxed and can fall asleep more easily. Exercises like the standing forward bend (Uttanasana) are also ideal for beginners.
Science and Yoga
The benefits of yoga are proven by science.
In a study from 2010, it was tested whether yoga has a pain-relieving effect on patients and people with chronic pain. In an experiment, 1,007 participants, aged between 14 and 70 years, were selected. Some of them suffered from chronic back pain, rheumatism, arthritis, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, or carpal tunnel syndrome.
The first half of the participants took painkillers, while the other half began to practice yoga. The result: After only four weeks, the participants who practiced yoga showed less pain and a better mood.
Another study from 2013 obtained the same result when testing the effects of yoga on depression. In three groups, the “Hamilton Depression Rating Scale,” a classification of the severity of depression, was observed for three months.
One group began to practice yoga, while the second group practiced yoga and took additional antidepressants. The third group was only supposed to take antidepressants. Both yoga groups showed an improvement on the Hamilton scale.
Further scientific tests showed even more positive effects of yoga on your health:
- In 2014, yoga was found to reduce the risk of inflammation in breast cancer patients
- One year of yoga reduces the risk of heart disease by 47 % and lowers cholesterol by 23
- Athletes stated that after ten weeks of yoga, they felt much more flexible and stretchy After one year of yoga, their mobility increased fourfold
- The risk of high blood pressure in yogis over 40 was lower than in people who did not practice yoga
Would you like to start with yoga yourself now and experience the benefits? The great thing about yoga is that you can start right away.
How to Start Doing Yoga?
Yoga knows no age, sex, weight, and no athletic ranking. There is mother-child yoga, yoga for small children, yoga for teenagers, for athletes, and seniors. You don’t have to be spiritual or religious either to practice yoga successfully.
Find a calm environment and some space to exercise and you can practice yoga anywhere. You don’t necessarily need any yoga accessories (we will introduce a few of them later in the article) to be able to do yoga successfully.
Yoga is not about body shapes, flexibility, or perfection. It’s more about having a holistic connection with yourself. Depending on your physical health, you are free to go as far as you can.
As always, with sports, flexibility and progress come naturally with yoga. You just have to stick with it.
In case you experience back and spinal problems, we recommend to consult a doctor and talk to your yoga teacher beforehand. In a survey of 350 yogis, 21% said that incorrect poses aggravated already existing complaints.
Hatha Yoga is particularly suitable for beginners, as the focus is on the exercises (Asanas) and breathing (Pranayama). It’s therefore ideal for beginners of all ages.
If you want to get to know the spiritual side of yoga in addition to the physical practice, start with Yin Yoga or Kundalini Yoga.
For athletes, Vinyasa Yoga is a good start. When doing Vinyasa Yoga, you’ll stretch your body extensively and increase your flexibility.
If you already have yoga experience and want to practice from home, you can find countless free videos, instructions, and yoga challenges online. Just search for the yoga style you prefer the most.
You can include yoga in the morning as part of a mindful morning routine or practice it in the evening before bedtime. Even at the office, you can do some Asanas in between to relax.
In your yoga practice, the most important thing is that you feel good about it. Everything else is secondary. Hence if certain poses are too strenuous or physically demanding for you, go as far as you can without hurting yourself.
3 Simple Yoga Exercises for Beginners
Since yoga with its variety of different exercises can be very overwhelming at the beginning, we at Mindmonia put together three simple exercises for beginners. You can do these without any accessories, and they are suitable for all ages.
Tadasana – Mountain Pose
Tadasana is a firming, relaxing exercise if you don’t have much time. You improve your entire musculature (mainly back, torso and torso) and your posture.
Here’s how it works
- Stand upright and press your legs very close together so that your limbs and knees touch. Alternatively, you can place your legs as wide as your hips. Imagine in your mind’s eye that your feet are firmly anchored to the ground like a mountain. This way, you will distribute your weight evenly.
- Meanwhile, let your arms hang loosely at your sides.
- Stand for one or two breaths to find your balance and stay in position.
- Lift your toes, spread them apart, and put them back on the floor. Repeat this twice.
- Keep your body straight, and with each exhalation stretch a bit more. Breathe in and out relaxed.
- Release the posture after 10 – 12 breaths and shake yourself out.
Uttanasana – Standing Forward Bend
This exercise has a calming effect on you and your body. It also strengthens your legs and has a healing effect on the stomach and helps with menstrual problems.
Here’s how it works
- Stand up straight with your legs close together (or hip-wide apart).
- Take a deep breath and raise your arms above your head.
- Exhale and let your arms, head, and upper body sink slowly forward.
- Depending on how flexible you are, you can support yourself with your hands on the ground, cross your arms loosely, or just let them dangle.
- Stay in this position for a few breaths or straighten up again and repeat the exercise.
You can also do the exercise from within the Tadasana (the first exercise).
Vrksasana – Tree Pose
This pose is one of the most famous yoga poses. It’s very suitable for beginners as it’s not very physically demanding. It also helps beginners to get a better feeling for their balance.
Here’s how it works
- Stand up straight and lift your toes
- Let your upper body hang relaxed and shake out a little. Keep your arms relaxed
- Squeeze the palms of your hands together at chest height
- Now, shift your weight to your left foot and use it as a supporting leg to keep your balance
- Raise your right leg and keep your knee bent
- Turn your thigh to the side and place the sole of your foot on the other thigh (your supporting leg)
- Keep your palms pressed together and hold them in this position for about 10-20 seconds
- Now change your foot
You’ll find many more yoga beginners exercises here.
In the last chapter of our guide, we have compiled and answered a list of the most frequently asked questions and misunderstandings. If you have any specific questions but can’t find the answers in the FAQs, feel free to leave a comment. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
Which Yoga Style Is the Right One for Me?
As with so many things, there is no such thing as the one style of yoga that suits everyone.
It’s best to follow your personal preferences.
If you want to practice mindfulness and find inner peace and serenity, then you should try Hatha or Yin yoga.
In case you’d like to try something more unusual, you should give SUP or Aerial yoga a try.
What Yoga Accessories Do I Need?
You don’t need any yoga accessories to enjoy the many benefits of it. However, if you do many poses in a lying position, you can get a yoga or pilates mat. It will make lying down for a long time much more comfortable.
What Yoga Clothes Do I Need?
Your yoga clothes should be comfortable, light, and stretchy. Multiple layers are ideal because they offer flexibility and protection and can be taken off and put on quickly, depending on the temperature.
Does Yoga Work for Weight Loss?
Yoga is a sport!
You move your body, strengthen, and stretch it.
Sweaty yoga styles like Power Yoga or Bikram Yoga can help you lose weight.
In most yoga styles, however, losing weight is a positive side effect, rather than its primary purpose.
Yoga for Children
Yoga for children is becoming more and more popular. Yoga trains the ability to concentrate and the sense of balance from an early age. Children who have ADHD become calmer, and their overall potential for aggression decreases.
There are special children’s yoga classes, where fun is the main focus, and the Asanas are not held for too long. Yoga can also be used in class to relax.
Yoga is not only a trend sport of the modern age, but also a millennia-old philosophy of life that everyone can live. Its positive effects on body and mind got scientifically proven.
Yoga is also a great way to establish mindfulness in your everyday life.
As with other mindfulness practices such as Meditation or Qigong, you need two things above all for yoga: an open mind and patience. Not all types of Yoga suit you, and not every pose will satisfy or please you right away.
Everyone starts at a different level, but there is the right course, the right teacher, or the right videos for everyone. If you are not enthusiastic about spirituality, you can still practice yoga.
It’s excellent as a sport and for more flexibility, and it keeps us young, robust, and healthy.
Yoga is an integral part of mindfulness. If you want to read more about mindfulness, subscribe to our free newsletter below. Thank you for reading!