What Is Yoga?

It might seem like a modern trend, but yoga actually began more than 3,000 years ago in India. The word yoga is Sanskrit (one of the ancient languages of the East). It means to "yoke," or unite, the mind, body, and spirit.

Yoga includes physical exercise, but it's also about life balance. Training your mind, body, and breath — as well as connecting with your spirituality — are the main goals of the yoga lifestyle.

The physical part of the yoga lifestyle is called hatha yoga. Hatha yoga focuses on asanas, or poses. A person who practices yoga goes through a series of specific poses while controlling his or her breathing. Some types of yoga also involve meditation and chanting.

There are many different types of hatha yoga, including:


Yoga has tons of benefits. It can improve flexibility, strength, balance, and stamina. In addition, many people who practice yoga say that it reduces anxiety and stress, improves mental clarity, and even helps them sleep better.

Getting Started

Many gyms, community centers, and YMCAs offer yoga classes. Your neighborhood may also have a specialized yoga studio. Some yoga instructors offer private or semi-private classes for students who want more personalized training.

Before taking a class, check whether the instructor is registered with the Yoga Alliance, a certification that requires at least 200 hours of training in yoga techniques and teaching. You may also want to sit in and observe the class that interests you.

You could also try using a yoga DVD. Websites, DVDs, and books can't compare to learning yoga poses from a teacher, but they can help you find out more. They can be especially helpful if you have already taken yoga classes and want to practice at home. And also can try one of the many yoga apps available for smartphones and other devices.

Dress comfortably for your first yoga session in clothing that allows you to move your body fully. Stretchy shorts or pants and a T-shirt or tank top are best. Yoga is practiced barefoot, so you don't have to worry about special shoes.

If you're doing your yoga workout on a carpeted floor, you probably don't need any equipment, although many people like to use a yoga mat or "sticky" mat. This special type of mat provides cushioning and grip while you do your poses. Yoga mats are sold in sporting goods stores, major retailers, and, possibly, at your yoga class location.

What can you expect at a yoga class or when you watch a yoga video? To begin the class, the instructor may lead you through a series of poses like Sun Salutations to warm up your arms, legs, and spine. After that, you'll concentrate on specific poses that work different areas of your body. Most yoga sessions end with some type of relaxation exercise.

Before you begin any type of exercise program, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor, especially if you have a health problem. Be sure to let your instructor know about any orthopedic problems or special needs you may have before the class begins. A good instructor will be able to provide modified poses for students who are just beginning or who have special needs.

Staying on Track

Your schedule's already packed — so how are you supposed to fit in time for yoga? Here are a few tips:

The great thing about yoga is it can be as vigorous or as gentle as you want it to be. That makes it a good choice for anybody.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: August 2015

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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