When the term yoga is used, most people certainly think of graceful postures such as the sun salutation, the tree or the lotus position. That is true. However, it would be wrong to reduce this thousands of years old Indian teaching to these positions. But then what is yoga? And what is there to know about the Far Eastern teachings? We have the answers.
What is Yoga?
The term “yoga” goes back to Indian Sanskrit and means “harmony” or “unity”. Yoga is a teaching that aims to unite body and mind to create clarity, peace, balance and physical strength. This union becomes particularly clear through the literal meaning – “anjochen”. A yoke is nothing more than an agricultural pulling harness, which serves to harness two oxen, so that they can farm a field as an inseparable community with higher performance.
Applied to modern yoga, one could say that the mental and physical exercises serve to weld your body and mind together so that you can approach your life with full energy. Some interpretations also integrate the oneness of man with nature. So it is no wonder that many people now practice yoga in forests and parks as well as on meadows and streams in order to create as close a bond as possible with Mother Nature.
In order to achieve this goal, yoga provides a series of physical and mental exercises. While countless yoga styles are still practiced in India today, including asceticism for example, Western yoga of the 21st century focuses primarily on asanas (physical exercises), pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation.
Advantages of Yoga
The list of positive influences of yoga on body and mind is long. On the physical side, regular yoga naturally improves mobility and strengthens muscles. The complex asanas allow you to train even the deeper muscle strands, which are hardly mentioned in many other sports. This in turn gives your body more stability and strength in everyday life.
Often these muscles are weakly developed and responsible for pain, tension and bad posture. With yoga you can also counteract the widespread disease of back pain. In addition, regular yoga strengthens the bones and, as a result of scientific studies, can also lower blood pressure. Since yoga helps you to influence your psyche both consciously and unconsciously, it is an effective way to calm the nervous system and thus combat stress.
Studies on this level also show that yoga increases mental performance. Yoga will make you feel more active, awake, concentrated and productive. In addition to a more restful sleep and an improved lung capacity through breathing exercises, there is also an increased release of the happiness hormone endorphin. After a yoga session you will therefore be much happier throughout the day.
CAN ANYONE DO YOGA OR IS IT JUST FOR THE MOBILE?
It may be hard to believe, but yoga is by far not just for people who are particularly mobile – even if advertising posters in fitness studios and pictures in brochures suggest this. In fact, the gain in flexibility is just a by-product. Yoga is all about finding relaxation through the unity of body and mind.
As the most different Yoga styles prove, Yoga is a very variable kind of sport, which can come along both very gently and very demandingly. Accordingly, anyone can start with yoga. Neither age nor physical fitness play a role. Even people with severe back pain can turn to a qualified yoga teacher to help alleviate their symptoms.
CAN YOGA ALSO BE HARMFUL?
Even though yoga is a relatively low-risk sport, you can of course injure yourself during yoga. However, this usually only happens if you overdo it. For example, if you absolutely want to perform complicated asanas to perfection in order to impress your yogi or course colleagues. If your ligaments and tendons are not flexible enough and you force yourself into the appropriate posture, injuries are inevitable. So always pay attention to your personal limits and stop as soon as you feel pain. After all, the highest forms of yoga are reason and personal responsibility.
HOW DOES A TYPICAL YOGA CLASS WORK?
Every yoga style has its peculiarities, because in some cases the focus is on physical asanas and in other cases on pranayamas and meditation exercises. Nevertheless, the structure of a yoga class is basically similar and consists of the following five elements:
Meditation: The meditation or initial relaxation is at the beginning of each yoga class and aims to calm the mind and prepare for the following steps.
Breathing exercises: The pranayamas also help to calm the mind and open it up for a more intensive perception. This experience is particularly impressive when you hold your yoga sessions in the great outdoors, where you gain completely new impressions through focusing.
Warm up: Since most asanas are very complex, a physical warm-up phase is also necessary in yoga. With the help of light asanas you can warm up your ligaments, tendons and muscles, so that even complex asanas can be performed fluidly and without injury.
Asanas: After the warm-up you are ready for the different Asanas, the choice of which varies according to the chosen Yoga style.
Deep relaxation: Deep relaxation is also an elementary part of every yoga class, although its length also depends on the yoga style. During this relaxation phase you typically lie on your back and systematically relax all body parts and your mind.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I PRACTICE YOGA?
When you book a yoga course, it usually takes place once a week and lasts between 60 and 90 minutes. This is enough to achieve amazing results in the field of physical and mental development in the long run. Whether this is enough for you, however, is up to you. But there is nothing wrong with a second or third yoga session at home. After all, you can practise asanas and breathing techniques in peace and quiet.
WHAT DO I NEED FOR YOGA?
The beauty of yoga is that you don’t need a lot of equipment and can train almost anywhere. No matter if you take part in a yoga class, train in your living room or are looking for harmony with nature on an idyllic meadow – you train where you feel most comfortable.
All you need is comfortable clothing and a high-quality yoga mat. With our ecological cork yoga mats you have the right partner for every training environment at your side.
From the roots of the original yoga teachings, which emerged from the millennia-old Vendic scriptures, far more than 100 different yoga styles have developed to this day. At this point, however, we would like to restrict ourselves to the ten yoga styles that are most common in the western world of the 21st century. Each type of yoga has its own characteristics and combines asanas and pranayamas together with meditation exercises to a unique program for body and mind.
Anusara Yoga, which translates as “flowing with grace”, is a combination of precise alignment principles and gentle flow. The aim is to strengthen the body with the help of precise alignment techniques using individual bioenergetics and biomechanics. This makes Anusara Yoga the ideal style for office people who suffer from lack of exercise, tension and poor posture from desk work.
The variant often also called “Power Yoga” is much more physical than the classical Hatha Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga is characterized by a choreographic sequence of movement elements that activate and stretch different body parts and muscle groups one after the other. In combination with the right breathing technique, Ashtanga Yoga really makes you sweat.
This relatively gentle and relaxed form of yoga has been practiced in the West for over 50 years. Hatha Yoga is considered to be the ancestor of modern yoga, especially since most of the following “schools” have emerged from Hatha Yoga. Typical here is the balanced combination of meditation, breathing exercises and rather relaxed asanas, which are held comparatively long. This makes Hatha Yoga ideal for beginners as well as for people who are physically less fit.
Kundalini Yoga emerged in the late 1960s in the USA and combines dynamic physical asanas with a strong spiritual component. Spirituality is mainly generated by the so-called mantra meditation. This means that the participants of a Kundalini Yoga course sing together with the Guru Mantras several times per lesson.
Iyengar Yoga is a very specific type of yoga, which is about eliminating wrong postures in a targeted way and thus making the energy flow freely again. Aids like blankets, belts, chairs and blocks will help you to release tensions and to train off bad postures. Since the Asanas of Iyengar Yoga are very complex and require a high degree of precision, this style is more suitable for advanced practitioners.
The variant also known as “Hot Yoga” differs in one aspect from all other types of yoga. Bikram Yoga takes place at a room temperature of 35-40 degrees Celsius and a good 40 percent humidity. This has the advantage that the body is detoxified by sweating and muscles and tendons can move smoothly.
Sivanandra Yoga focuses on meditation and spirituality. Typically, the twelve Asanas of the Rishikesh series are used, which are performed several times in a row in the same order. These particularly demanding exercises are supplemented by mantras and prayers as well as by concentration on conscious breathing.
While other forms of yoga manage without additional stimulating influences, the dynamic sequences of exercises in Jivamukti Yoga are usually accompanied by music. It is a very powerful and sudorific form of yoga, but it also has strong spiritual elements. During the sessions the Guru often quotes ancient Indian scriptures and actively corrects the posture of the participants.
Luna Yoga has been specially designed for women and the female body. For example, asanas are used to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and influence hormone levels and the menstrual cycle. The activation of special reflex zones and the concluding meditation also influence the sexual organs.
The name does not come by chance, because the exercises are carried out in trapeze cloths hanging from the ceiling. Aerial Yoga combines elements from Pilates, gymnastics and ballet to create a kind of aerial acrobatics that trains the deep muscles, stimulates the metabolism and also relieves the joints.
Which Yoga style is right for me?
With so many different yoga styles to choose from, you are right to ask yourself which style is right for you. Basically, trying yoga is about studying. It usually takes a few yoga sessions until you know if you like a certain style. In addition to your intuitive taste, your temperament can also help you make the right decision. If you start with Hatha Yoga, you will certainly not do anything wrong.
What are Asanas?
Asanas are much more than just physical exercises, with which you strengthen your muscles or improve your body control. To get to the bottom of the original meaning, let’s look at the literal translation from Sanskrit. Asana means “the seat”. Especially against the spiritual background of Yoga the seat is of special importance.
After all, meditation is traditionally done sitting down. And for this to function painlessly for as long as possible, a high degree of body control is required. In yoga, the term asana is extended to numerous predominantly resting positions. The perfect mastery of these positions leads to a connection between body and mind, similar to the classical meditation seat.
However, perfect does not mean that you have to do 100 percent of the asanas according to the textbook. Rather, the teaching of yoga says that a posture is perfect when it feels good and pleasant inwardly. If a position feels uncomfortable despite external perfection, you cannot establish a connection to your inner world.
What types of asanas are there in yoga?
Depending on the number of yoga styles counted and considered, asanas range from the traditional 26 to 108 to several million. The number depends on whether different combinations, partial combinations and variations of posture are counted as single asanas. Basically, the asanas are divided into nine main groups:
epics of equilibrium
Already in the old traditions it is said that Asanas must be practiced consciously and not simply be reeled off. So every position should be built up, taken and held in combination with the right breath. Frequently, individual asanas are also strung together to form flowing combinations. However, this depends on the respective Yoga style.
Examples of well-known Asanas
Vrikshasana (Tree keeping)
Ardha Matsyendrasana (swivel seat)
Virabhadrasana (heroic attitude)
Adhomukha Shvanasana (Dog)
What does pranayama mean?
In yoga, pranayama is a combination of breathing exercises which, like asanas, serve to bring body and mind together. These breathing exercises aim at making you aware of your usually unconscious breathing patterns through consistent practice and consciously controlling them with the help of special techniques. Pranayamas usually consist of four phases:
break after inhalation (“Abhyantara Kumbhaka”)
break after breathing out (“Bahya Kumbhaka”)
If you have already slowed down your breath consciously and inhaled deeply and exhaled deeply after a violent argument or a jogging round, you know what power the breath has over the body and the psyche. With the help of the Pranayamas you will learn how to use your breath to build a bridge over the body to your mind and thus influence cognitive and physiological processes. Modern yoga knows over 50 such breathing techniques, which, for example, improve the oxygen supply and can thus dispel fatigue.
Examples of well-known Pranayamas
Bhramari Pranayama (“Buzz of the bees”) – Buzz at exhalation
Bhastrika Pranayama (“breathing by fire”) – Breathing is like a bellows
Shitali Pranayama (“Cooling Breathing”) – Breathing with rolled tongue
Sama Vritti Pranayama (“Even Breathing”) – All Breathing Phases are Equally Long
Nadi Shodhana (“alternating breathing”) – alternating breathing through the nostrils