Few things in modern times have been culturally appropriated as quickly and completely as yoga. What was once a relatively obscure Hindu spiritual practice in east Asia has become a mainstream form of exercise for overworked city dwellers everywhere.
It’s easy to scoff at the widespread popularity of yoga in the western world, but the truth is that millions of people are drawn to yoga because it offers them something that is missing from their daily lives: inner calmness, total body awareness and the ability to exist in the present moment. In other words, yoga can restore to your life what a chronically over-scheduled, cell phone-addicted existence has been destroying for years.
If you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed or exhausted with the pace of your life, yoga can slow you down. You might be astounded at the difference that intentional mindfulness can make in the quality of your daily routines, even if they stay just as hectic.
What is yoga?
Yoga is an extensive collection of Hindu spiritual practices that are focused on melding together the mind, body and spirit into feelings of connection with the rest of the universe. The word yoga means ‘union‘ and is used to describe the melding together of the consciousness of the individual with the consciousness of the universe. Western yoga typically draws inspiration from Hatha Yoga, a yoga path that emphasizes physicality.
Despite the physical element of mainstream yoga, it’s wrong to think of the practice as an exercise; rather, it is a philosophy focused on returning our bodies to a state of balance and health. Though the mind can be deceptive and trick you into believing lies about itself, your body can only present itself to you exactly as it is. For this reason, fundamental yoga begins by fostering a deeper connection with the body.
A brief history of yoga
The philosophy of yoga began over 15,000 years ago and the modern interpretations have been credited to the Indian sage Patanjali who lived two thousand years ago and created the philosophical guidebook ‘Yoga Sutra‘ from a collection of 196 yogic poses and chants. This guidebook is the foundation for most of yoga that is practiced today.
Today, yogic scriptures contain over 84,000 poses and variations, making the field of yoga so large that even experts always have something new to try.
The health benefits of yoga
In recent years, studies have found that the benefits of yoga go farther than simply connecting you with yourself. Yoga is a fantastic way to improve your strength, flexibility, balance and aerobic fitness, all without using anything more than your body and a mat.
There are plenty of physical benefits of yoga that make it a smart way for you to exercise your body.
Yoga allows you to live fully in the moment, which can provide enormous relief if you are stressed about things that are beyond your control. Intensely focusing on your breathing can help you to detach yourself from concerns that aren’t grounded in reality and instead allow you to live in the present.
Strength and stamina
It’s wrong to think that yoga practitioners don’t get a strength workout, they just lift their bodies instead of weights! Yoga poses rely on leveraging your own body weight around, meaning that your core and shoulder muscles will be activated and get a great workout. For many people, yoga can be just as effective for gaining muscle mass as traditional strength training.
The essence of the physical side of yoga is stretching your body into different poses that are always just beyond what is comfortable. Over time, this improves flexibility and strengthens your muscular-skeletal system.
Better body alignment
Practicing yoga regularly can lead to improvements for anyone suffering from insomnia, back problems, digestive problems, or wanting to lose weight.
Getting started at home: What you need to know
One of the best little-known secrets about yoga is that you don’t need to live close to fancy studios to get involved. A home yoga practice gives you plenty of health benefits, and cultivating your own routines allows you to fit your yoga into your schedule, rather than changing your life to comply with a pre-set class time. Even if you can only spare ten minutes in your day, that’s enough time to start a meaningful yoga practice from home that will make you feel more empowered and centered.
Remember, anything that’s worth doing takes practice, patience and a strong level of commitment. Practicing yoga by yourself means that you don’t have the accountability of a class to keep you motivated, so your resolve to get on the mat everyday will need to come from within yourself instead.
The tools you need
You don’t need much equipment besides your body and your breath to practice yoga, but a few key supplies can make your practice easier.
- Yoga mat: mats are an essential tool for yoga, and a proper mat will give you good grip while also defining the space for your practice.
- Straps: Especially helpful for beginners, straps can help you reach the parts of your body you aren’t flexible enough to access otherwise.
- Blankets and blocks: these props help with flexibility when you can’t properly complete a pose. They can be used for elevating the hips or creating the space to do extensions when your hands can’t reach the floor.
- Yoga balls: Though not often used, some yoga practices require balls to help with stability, balance and strength.
Online resources for cultivating your practice
The beauty of the internet age is that you are no longer limited by where you live. There are some incredible resources online for practicing yoga, and many of the best ones are completely free on YouTube. Each instructor will have a slightly different style, so it’s a smart idea to try several different websites until you find a practice style that resonates with you.
Below are some of the top online yoga programs to get you started.
- Do Yoga With Me: This massive website relies on donations to provide high quality yoga content that ranges from full beginner classes to power and prenatal yoga and even meditation. This is a comprehensive site with a little bit of anything which should keep your practice interesting.
- Be More Yogic: Premium access to this site will cost you, but you’ll be able to benefit from hundreds of yoga videos that are filmed in beautiful locations around the world. This site relies on only a few instructors, so you’ll get to know your favorites really well.
- Yoga with Adriene: Adriene’s yoga channel has over a million subscribers, which isn’t surprising because her teaching style is clear and engaging, which makes you feel like she’s right in the room with you. For the beginning Yogi, Adriene’s 30 Days of Yoga challenge is not to be missed.
- Yome: This comprehensive search site has indexed hundreds of quality yoga videos that are all sorted by level, style, and even the part of the body they target. You could try a new routine everyday for a year and still not go through them all.
- Interval Yoga: If you’ve been comfortable with yoga for a while and are looking for a strength workout to go with your practice, Interval Yoga might be your style. These powerful yoga sequences are designed to get you buff, and a new video is posted every week to keep you motivated.
- Yoga House: If you are more interested in exercising your body than exploring its connection with the universe, yoga house is a great channel to find workouts that challenge you physically.
Best tips for success
The best online yoga program won’t do you any good if you can’t get yourself to stick with the program. Getting into a long-lasting yoga habit can be hard, but if you follow these steps you are likely to succeed.
- Figure out the timing that works for you: Both our bodies and our minds need to commit to a routine to make it stick, so try to maintain a specific yoga practice time everyday. After you’ve gotten in the habit of a daily practice, both your mind and body will crave your practice at this time.
- Make your practice space sacred: Have a spot in your house that is perfectly set up for yoga. It can be a corner of your bedroom or an empty hallway, but make it feel like YOUR space so that you stay eager to return to it.
- Start in silence: Even if you don’t intend to meditate, take some time before the start of your routine to commit an intention for what you want to accomplish. This both helps to center you on your primary feelings and gets you prepared to have a high quality practice.
- Practice on an empty stomach: Yoga involves lots of stretching, which can be uncomfortable when you’ve just eaten a big meal. To keep things feeling good, make sure your last time you ate was at least two hours before your practice.
Yoga is a powerful practice to incorporate into your daily life, and you don’t have to go to a fancy studio to start experiencing the benefits. By cultivating a home yoga practice through online instruction, you can teach both your body and mind to be more present and to live a more joyful, engaged life.
If you’ve got an internet connection and a few feet of floor space, you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by committing to your own personal yoga routine.