Yoga Basics: Background and Benefits of Yoga
Everyone seems to be doing yoga these days, from Russell Brand to Madonna. Many of us Runtastics started doing easy yoga for beginners at Runtastic’s free weekly yoga sessions. It was an “ah-ha!” moment for a lot of us. After we personally felt the benefits of yoga, we decided to make yoga a central part of the adidas Training workouts.
Here, we share some of the fun facts that we’ve learned about yoga. We’ll also explain four scientifically-backed benefits of yoga. There’s more! Stay tuned to this blog for more information on why we love yoga and think you will, too.
Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes flow.
And that’s what the new Discover Yoga Series on the adidas Training app is all about: bringing you to your flow state. Perfection doesn’t matter: whether you’re new to the practice or a seasoned yogi, our 8-week series puts you on the path to grace, mobility, and bliss. From pranayama to vinyasa, OM to namaste, our professional yoga instructor leads you through every pose. All you need is a mat, a sense of curiosity, and a desire to get stronger, from the inside out. Get your flow on!
What Is Yoga?
Yoga, as it’s commonly regarded and practiced today, refers to a series of postures that the practitioner completes in a certain order. The poses are intended to stimulate the physical and emotional body. Some of the goals of yoga are to prime the self for seated meditation, increase overall vitality, and create a sense of connectedness between yogis and their world.
Yoga was founded upon the language of Sanskrit. You will hear many Sanksrit words used in a yoga class. Using Sanskrit names is a way of respecting yoga’s ancient origins. It’s also a way of creating a community across languages and borders. The language of yoga is unique, and once you know it, you can practice yoga anywhere in the world.
The poses and postures that we do in a yoga class are collectively referred to as asana. Yoga asana refers to what happens in a typical yoga class; it refers to the physical movements of yoga.
What Does Yoga Mean?
Etymologically, the word yoga comes from the term “to yoke.” This “yoking” is interpreted in different ways. Some practitioners think of it as connecting body and mind; others, as connection breath with movement; others, as connecting the individual with all things (the microcosm with the macrocosm). No matter how the yogi interprets it, yoga means a sense of connection and oneness.
Types of Yoga
Over the years, yoga has spread from Asia to the rest of the world. Originally a Buddhist practice, it was eventually picked up by Hinduism (hence the many yoga poses named after Hindu Gods), parlayed back into Buddhism, and then distributed amongst many other faiths and communities. Today, there are a few very popular and recognized styles of yoga, plus many offshoots. The best style of yoga is the one that makes you happiest!
- Hatha yoga: the oldest form of yoga. Traditionally, an equal amount of time is spent on the ground and standing. Poses are held for 5-10 breaths each. Hatha poses are generally considered easy yoga poses. The aim of Hatha is to promote stillness.
- Power yoga: a more modern version of Hatha. In Power Yoga, intense poses are held for at least 10 breaths.
- Vinyasa yoga: a modern take on the idea of “breath with movement.” Poses are linked in a flowing way: one breath, one movement. Classes can be vigorous and are aimed at improving circulation.
- Ashtanga yoga: a challenging style of yoga, Ashtanga is all about developing strength. There are six levels of the Ashtanga series, each with increasing intensity. Most Ashtanga classes have no instructor. Rather, students memorize the poses and help each other.
- Yin yoga: another more modern style, Yin Yoga involves holding relaxed yoga poses for up to 10 minutes. Many props will be used to support the body and create comfort. The room is often kept very cool. Yin is regarded as the most low-intensity style of yoga, aimed at pain alleviation.
- Bikram yoga: considered by some to be a literal interpretation of yoga practiced in the warmest regions of India. The room is heated to around 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40% humidity. The exact same yoga poses are completed in sequence every session.
Is Yoga a Religion?
No, yoga is not a religion. Yoga is literally a movement practice. Versions of yoga were formed around the same time period in different locations and within different religious communities. Like many other social constructs, yoga was co-opted by religions as a way to get more people interested in joining. However, yoga is traditionally a personal practice to promote health and aid meditation, regardless of religious beliefs.
What Happens In A Yoga Practice?
A traditional yoga session can be divided into subcategories. Usually, the practice starts with pranayama (breathing exercises). Next, posture-holding exercises (asanas). Finally, meditation (Saha). In most yoga classes today, the meditation part is shorted to savasana. “Corpse Pose,” as it’s commonly known, is actually an asana that requires lying still on the ground for at least two minutes.(1)
Is Yoga Exercise?
The short answer: it depends on how vigorous your practice is and how fit you are. Some styles of yoga, like Power, can be considered strength-training exercises because they involve isometric holds in challenging poses. Some styles, like Vinyasa, can be used as a cardiovascular workout if the yogi moves quickly between poses. A study comparing yoga and other physical exercise found that yoga was more beneficial to overall health because of the mindfulness, breathwork, and emphasis on correct posturing.(2)
A regular yoga practice will most likely increase one’s flexibility. Most scientists believe that flexibility is a deterrent to injury, although this tends to be sport-specific.(3) Still, there are enough athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and everyday people who swear that yoga makes their bodies feel better. We think so, too!
Benefits of Yoga
While scientific analysis is still trying to determine what exactly happens psychologically during a yoga practice, societies around the world have put a stamp of approval on yoga. Here’s why.
1. Mental Health
We know that exercise has a positive impact on mental health. Yoga carries its own unique benefits. The first comes from the mindfulness of the practice. Mindfulness refers to momentary and complete focus on a single activity. Such thoughtfulness is actually extremely cleansing for the brain; yogis report feeling more grounded and alert after a class.
One study suggests that this mindfulness was a result of the breathing, meditation, and technical posturing of yoga. This combination of activities increases brain wave activity. Such brain wave activity increases gray matter and activates the amygdala and frontal cortex of the brain. The clinical trial proved that such frontal lobe activation was present after a yoga session. How awesome is that?!(4)
Interestingly enough, a higher-intensity style of yoga has a greater positive impact on depression.(7)
2. Chronic Back Pain
One of the most oft-cited benefits of yoga is its assistance with chronic back pain. Doctors and clinicians are advised to recommend yoga to their patients before more invasive chronic back pain treatments.(8)
Even yoga that’s practiced during the day has been shown to improve sleep. One study found that after just four weeks of yoga, chronically stressed nurses were able to sleep better.(9) Another study showed improved sleep after six weeks of higher-intensity yoga.(10) Yet another study showed that women, in particular, experienced more satiating sleep when they practice yoga regularly.(11) Many individuals use Yin Yoga as a way of preparing the body physically for rest. Or, they do Vinyasa in the morning routines to help wake up. Creating a yoga practice reflective of your sleep schedule is a great way to tune up your circadian rhythm!
Mobility is the body’s ability to move with ease and grace by employing multiple body parts at a time. It’s basically flexibility and movement combined. Mobile people are often less prone to injury because they’re able to activate certain muscles or muscle families while allowing others to rest (or simply stay out of the way). Yoga practices inspire mobility by helping us feel how different parts of the body move in relation to each other (also called kinesthetic awareness). And, it challenges us to find more depth, strength, and fluidity in movement. Even simple chair yoga movements can contribute greatly to the overall mobility of key joints, like hips and ankles.
Start a Yoga Journey
Now that you know the what and the why, it’s time to learn HOW! We’re always adding more great content to the adidas Training app. Check out our new guided workout with American yoga instructor, Adriene Mishler. Gift yourself 23 minutes for this relaxing Vinyasa flow. And stay tuned! There are more incredible yoga workouts on the way.
All you need is the adidas Training app, a yoga mat or soft ground, and a sense of commitment. If you lose motivation, we’re here to support you! We’ll be posting more articles about the intricate details of yoga, from journaling to breathwork.
About the Author
Emily Stewart is a freelance writer at Runtastic. She’s a 200-Hour and nearly 500-Hour certified Vinyasa Yoga Instructor. She is also a certified Trauma-Informed Yoga Instructor. She’s taught in the USA, England, Malta, and Austria. She’s attended and hosted yoga retreats around the world. She spent 6 months studying abroad in India, where she attended an inner-city Sivananda Vedanta Yoga ashram at least twice weekly. She also spent three days at their forest ashram in Tamil Nadu, India. She has served as a Mentor and Teacher Trainee with The Kaivalya Yoga Method Teacher Training.