Yoga is a 5000-year-old Indian philosophy that incorporates many mind and body practices for a holistic betterment of health. In recent times, it has really skyrocketed in popularity after the western countries of the world embraced the physical exercise aspect of it.
Many people have become aware of the immense benefits of practicing yoga, which is evident from the fact that it has become a part of the daily routine of a considerable number of people.
Even though the physical aspect of yoga is just one among many, it is heartening to see it act as a gateway to a much larger world. There is so much to yoga than meets the eye, and each component has the potential to truly enhance the life experience of anyone willing to give it a chance.
Learning and understanding these varied concepts is quite a task, though. Fortunately, the following will serve as your beginner’s guide to the world of yoga.
Philosophies of Yoga
There are many philosophies of yoga which can be understood as paths rather than commandments. As a yogi (one who practices yoga), you are free to choose any of these paths and set yourself on a personal journey.
That is the beauty of yoga. It is not a step-by-step guide, but rather a map for you to use. The following are some of the philosophies of yoga.
1. Karma Yoga
‘Karma’ means action. So, this path is totally focused on your deeds. Yogis who choose this path dedicate their lives to the service of others. They give up their own dreams and desires and tirelessly work to enhance other people’s lives.
However, it is also possible to follow this path in addition to the pursuit of your dreams.
2. Bhakti Yoga
‘Bhakti’ means devotion. Only those who have unshakable faith in God, a higher being, universal energy, or anything that is above our own existence, can follow this path.
This shouldn’t be misunderstood as a path that leads you to delusion. Rather, it should be viewed as something that gives you strength while tackling the many challenges of life.
3. Hatha Yoga
This is the yoga that most people are familiar with and refer to in day-to-day conversation. Hatha yoga is a system of physical exercises (known as asanas or postures) that enhance your physical and mental health.
As you can see, this physical exercise aspect of yoga is just one among many that will lead you to a higher level of conscious living.
4. Jnana Yoga
‘Jnana’ means knowledge. Therefore, this path is one of attaining wisdom and knowledge of the true nature of reality. This is done through deep meditation, contemplation and a journey of self-discovery.
In fact, it is human nature to want to know and understand the reality we live in. Curiosity is deeply engrained in all of us. As a result, this philosophy of yoga comes naturally to many.
5. Raja Yoga
‘Raja’ means king and so, this path leads to the same self-discipline of emotions and mind that a king is supposed to have. The ultimate goal of raja yoga is to unite the yogi with their higher self.
6. Tantra Yoga
Tantra Yoga is the mastery of spiritual energy. It is a spiritual practice that is a combination of asanas (postures), mantras, chakra (energy centres in the body), to achieve eternal bliss in life. It is this bliss (as well as liberation) that many yogis seek when they start their yogic journey.
Which Philosophy To Adopt?
The beauty of yoga is that you are not ‘obligated’ to do anything. You are free to do whatever you want. It is all about the individual, their needs and what suits them best. Therefore, you can choose whatever philosophy that ‘speaks to you’ and set off on your own personal journey.
Also, you can choose more than one path as they are pretty easy to incorporate in your daily life.
The only thing that you need to make sure is to stick to the path you choose. It is quite common for people to want instant results these days. We live in an age of instant gratification and it is natural to expect the same in case of yoga.
However, some things in life take their sweet time to unfold. The benefits of yoga or the changes it brings forth certainly take some time. There is a lot of cleanup and reorganizing that needs to happen before you can start noticing changes.
What are the Benefits of Yoga?
There are countless benefits of yoga. Literally. Even though we already know about many of these benefits, new ones are discovered (through studies) all the time. It is such an amazing thing that what ancient texts had said for so long is being proven by different studies.
This will result in more people looking at yoga as a realistic habit to incorporate in their lives. The following are just a few important benefits of yoga.
There are so many health benefits of yoga that it can be its own separate topic. The physical, mental and emotional benefits are truly remarkable.
Practising Hatha yoga, for instance, increases strength and flexibility, prevents joint & cartilage breakdown, improves your posture, improves bone health, helps you sleep better, increases blood circulation throughout the body, boosts immunity and a lot more.
It also has a lot of positive emotional impacts. You feel happier and lighter. You feel more energetic and confident about yourself and your life. You also feel a lot more relaxed, which wards off stress and anxiety. So, in a way, it has a double benefit.
It keeps the negative emotions at bay, preventing all their adverse impacts on the body and at the same time, instils positive emotions that lead to positive impacts.
2. Stronger & Happier Relationships
This is sort of a byproduct of other benefits of yoga. A person who is at peace and filled with love will naturally have stronger and happier relationships with the people around them.
Usually, anger, frustration, jealousy and other negative emotions end up ruining relationships. But, if you are centered and at peace with your inner self, these negative emotions simply won’t take root. You will be more open and be able to better understand other people and their needs.
3. Greater Degree of Success
There is a reason why many successful entrepreneurs and executives at some of the largest corporations on the planet practice yoga. Since it keeps you at the top of your game, physically and emotionally, you can be much more productive and take decisions that are more thought out and practical.
If you do this consistently, it creates greater success for you than anything else. People usually forget that it is their actions that decide whether or not they succeed. Yoga opens them up to take fruitful actions.
4. Path To Enlightenment
This is something that most misunderstand. Enlightenment is not something that makes you a god. It is something that makes you realize the true nature of reality. And that is one of the most beautiful things you will ever experience. The thing is, no matter what you achieve in your life, you will always have that ‘something more’ you want to grab on to.
This is the inner desire to know your place in reality. There are many yogic practices, that if done correctly, will put you right in front of all the answers you seek. Many ancient yogis from Tibet and India have done exactly this, and their experiences are well chronicled for anyone who wants to dive deeper.
How To Practice Yoga
There are a ton of resources, both online and offline, that explain how to practice yoga. For example, a great channel you could try is
Yoga With Adriene, with videos starting from beginners to the more advanced.
There are also many classes that you can join to learn yoga from professional instructors. It is always advisable to learn about something in a comprehensive manner before diving headfirst into it.
Yoga is a deeply personal journey that is based on your own beliefs, situation, thoughts, emotions and more. Therefore, it is ever more important to learn about it first. The following goes into detail about the different yogic practices that you can adopt individually or in conjunction.
Meditation is a really powerful practice. It is said that to know the outer world, you must first know the inner world. And that can only happen through meditation. To do this, you need to turn your eyes inwards into the very core of your being. Though it might not sound much, and kind of like something taken out of a movie, it is actually true and powerful.
There are different types of meditation, which are done for different purposes. There are mindful meditation, spiritual meditation, focused meditation, mantra meditation and so on. Despite there being these completely different types of meditation, the way you practice them is quite similar.
You don’t need any additional stuff or expensive equipment to meditate.
The following are some simple tips to begin your meditation:
- Find a quiet place to meditate. Indoors or your rooftops are better suited.
- Sit on a comfortable surface. Usually, a soft mat will do the job. However, make sure it is not too comfortable or you might start feeling sleepy.
- Just sit in silence for 2 minutes without doing anything. This can be considered as a warm-up before the actual meditation.
- When you feel calmer, take a deep breath and close your eyes.
- Try to let go of everything and just find something to focus on. Focusing on your breath will do just fine.
- Don’t worry about any thoughts that you might get while meditating. If your awareness goes away from your breath, simply bring it back with no judgement whatsoever.
- Do this for as long as you can. With time, you will be able to meditate for longer.
Breathing practices are a very important component of yoga. It is called ‘Pranayama’. It is said that the way you breathe can determine how you will think and feel, similar to how you feel and think determine the way you breathe.
You might have noticed that when you are angry, you breathe more heavily and when you are scared, you take shorter breaths.
You can reverse this cycle as well. By changing the duration and volume of your breath, you can initiate some really positive changes in your system. If done consistently, it will have a lasting impact on your mind and body.
There are many breathing techniques and you can practice any and all of them as per your needs.
The following are some simple tips to get started with breathing exercises.
- Find a quiet and comfortable place. Make sure it is properly ventilated.
- Sit down on a comfortable mat and just breathe normally for a minute.
- Take a few deep breaths before starting the exercise.
- Start with the breathing exercise that you had chosen beforehand.
- When you are just starting out, do the exercise for just half a minute to a minute maximum.
- As you do it regularly, you will be able to do it for longer periods of time.
- After the exercise is done, take a few deep breaths and you will be done.
This is what most of the world does already. But it is also one of the most confusing for the average person. There are so many ‘routines’, postures, exercises that it can get overwhelming.
Fortunately, there is no concept of ‘being wrong’ in yoga. As long as you do the actual postures correctly, you will be fine. Choosing one over the other is just a matter of personal preference and needs.
Similar to meditation, there are many different physical exercises, each meant for something specific. There are also some all-in-one exercises for those who don’t have the time or the energy to choose specifically.
There are basically 10 major types of yoga that are based around physical activity. They are explained in brief below.
1. Hatha Yoga
As explained above, Hatha yoga pertains to physical exercise. In fact, it is used as an umbrella term for any kind of yogic physical exercises or postures. Those who are new to the world of yoga can begin easily with Hatha yoga, as it serves as an easy introduction to the different poses and postures.
2. Kundalini Yoga
This is a mixture of physical and spiritual practices. ‘Kundalini’ means being coiled like a snake. It refers to the pent up energy that you have that always goes away unused. Kundalini yoga is done to release all of this energy so that you feel much more energetic than usual.
3. Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga is an ancient practice. It includes physical movements that are directly linked to your breath. Since this is a very physically demanding exercise, it is not advisable for beginners. However, once you get the hang of yoga, you can definitely give it a try.
4. Iyenger Yoga
This yoga is geared towards precision and alignment. It requires you to do every posture in as much perfection as you can. Therefore, each posture is done for a longer period of time as you need to minutely adjust it until you reach the required level of alignment. This yoga also needs props like blocks, straps, blankets, etc to help in the alignment process.
5. Bikram Yoga
This is also known as hot yoga because it is done in a room where the temperature has been artificially raised to above 40 degrees Celsius and the humidity has been set at 40%. It includes a series of 26 poses that are performed twice to form a single sequence.
6. Prenatal Yoga
As the name suggests, this type of yoga is geared towards pregnant women. It is carefully designed by practitioners to support women’s health during and even after pregnancy. After pregnancy, women also find it useful to get back in shape.
7. Yin Yoga
This is a more relaxed form of yoga and therefore, quite apt for beginners. It is also called a meditative type of yoga that can help you find inner peace. Postures in this type are held for longer periods of time and rely on gravity to do most of the work.
8. Restorative Yoga
Restorative yoga consists of four or five poses that are done for the sole purpose of relaxation. The poses are done using props like bolsters and blankets. This yoga is best done after a long day at work. It clears your mind of stress and anxiety.
9. Sivananda Yoga
This kind of yoga goes beyond just postures and poses. It requires you to be mindful of diet, thoughts, breathing, physical exercise, relaxation, which all come together to create the perfect yogi.
10. Power Yoga
This is a very popular type of yoga in many parts of the world. That is because it is a highly athletic type of yoga that makes you go through an intense workout session.
Those looking to burn some calories or do some cardio can incorporate power yoga in their daily routine. Power yoga is actually based on the traditional ashtanga yoga (mentioned above) and was developed in the late 1980s.
No matter what type of yoga you choose, there are some simple tips you can follow to prepare and get started. These will ensure that you practice any type of yoga properly.
- Choose a quiet place that has enough sunlight and airflow. This will set the mood for a great exercising session.
- Prepare your yoga mat or other props that you may need like straps, bands and such.
- Have a set routine beforehand. You can follow this every day or every week before changing it or making adjustments to it. You can also use different mobile apps that have a variety of options to choose from. The exercise you want to do may depend on your needs, mood, strength level, and so on.
- While exercising, try to listen to your body. Feel one with yourself and make any adjustments you feel are necessary. Try to be completely present and conscious during the duration of the exercise.
- Feeling playful goes a long way in making the whole thing a lot more fun.
- You can also listen to some calming music while exercising.
What Are Chakras?
You might have heard the word “chakra” being used often when someone talks about yoga. It is also a favorite word of moviemakers whenever they want to portray something mystical.
But what exactly are chakras? And what significance do they have in your yogic journey? Well, they hold the key for tremendous mental, physical and spiritual growth.
‘Chakra’ literally means a spinning wheel. But when it comes to yoga, they are defined as energy centers of the body. They are responsible for how you think, feel, behave and also determine your confidence level, your desires, emotional responses and so on.
Yoga is done to free up these chakras and create a balance within them. There are seven major chakras in our body, and each one is responsible for a specific dimension of living.
1. Muladhara (Root Chakra)
This is the lowest chakra in our bodies. It is also known as the root chakra as it is situated at the base of the spine. This chakra determines our primal urges that are necessary for survival. Desires relating to food, sleep, sex and security are all dictated by the state and energy level of this chakra.
It is said that if we gain mastery over this chakra, we can control our urges quite easily.
2. Svadhishthana (Sacral Chakra)
This chakra governs your sexuality and creativity. It also determines how empathetic you are and your level of well-being. It is located in the lower abdomen (two inches above the navel).
3. Manipura (Solar Plexus Chakra)
This chakra is located in the upper abdomen. It governs thing such as your confidence, self-worth and self-esteem. When the Manipura is open, you feel in control and powerful. When it is blocked, you start doubting yourself and may even develop feelings of shame.
The reason why you “get butterflies in your stomach” is because of this chakra.
4. Anahata (Heart Chakra)
As the name suggests, this chakra is located at the center of the chest. It is associated with emotions and feelings and can, therefore, be a little difficult to understand or open. If your heart chakra is open, you will experience deep compassion and empathy for others. If it is blocked, you will have difficulty opening up to others.
The heart chakra also serves a very important function. It links the lower three chakras to the upper three chakras.
5. Vishuddha (Throat Chakra)
Located in the throat, this chakra is responsible for your communication and ability to express how you feel. If you have an open throat chakra, it is easy to express your true feelings and desires. If it is blocked, you will not find the words easily.
This chakra naturally opens up the older you get.
6. Ajna (Third Eye Chakra)
This is one of the most known chakras. The ‘third eye’ has been associated with many Hindu gods. The third eye chakra is really important and has some mystical element to it.
If you practice opening up this chakra, you will develop a high level of intuition, the ability to connect dots and see the larger picture. Some practitioners say that it is the eye of the soul.
Therefore, its perception abilities are beyond our understanding.
7. Sahasrara (Crown Chakra)
To understand this chakra, you might have to put aside logic for a moment. It dwells completely into the mystical realm. The chakra is located at the crown of your head, and it is believed to be the gateway to higher consciousness. A level that, if attained, gives the practitioner eternal bliss.
It is very rare for someone to be able to open up this chakra.
Yoga can be considered as a treasure map. The treasure, in this case, is a life of happiness, bliss, pleasure, fulfilment, spirituality, etc. It has everything you need to achieve whatever you want to achieve, just like there are different tools to do different types of work.
You control your own actions and you decide the kind of life you want to live. You can choose the best type and branch of yoga that will help you in your journey. Yoga will launch you into a spiritual journey, and you will be better for it. It will showcase a side of life and reality that few venture into or even understand.
You can rest assured that something that has survived for over 5000 years has survived only because it works. There are countless accounts of people who have transformed their lives by incorporating yoga into their lives. You can do the same and start living life on an entirely new level.