International yoga day is coming up on the 21st of June, and with that we wanted to celebrate the ancient form of exercise.
The benefits are endless, and can be started by people of any age or fitness. Plus it needs minimal equipment, some breathable clothing and a yoga mat for comfort.
So we’ve put together a brief guide to all things yoga, from the history, to the benefits and of course some beginner poses.
History of Yoga
Yoga is an ancient art form, with early practises only recorded orally. Some historians estimate it could be up to 10,000 years old.
However, the recorded beginnings of yoga can be traced back to 5,000 years ago in Northern India. It was first recorded in Sanskrit, in the four ancient Indian texts of – the Vedas.
Yoga existed in this age as a ceremony or ritual practise to broaden the mind to surpass its limitation – with a focus on practising in nature and seclusion.
Pre-Classical Era Yoga
In this era, yoga can be linked to the texts of Upanishads. These texts are integral to the religious concepts of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainsim. This era developed the philosophical part of yoga, over the physical side we know today.
At this time The Bhagavad Gita was written – a 700-verse text which is known as the oldest yoga scripture, and incredibly important to the Hindu religion.
Classical Era Yoga
However, it wasn’t until 2000 years ago in the classical era that an Indian sage called Patanjali wrote a comprehensive Sanskrit text on yoga.
It was called the Yoga Sutras, which was essentially a handbook for people to follow. This was the foundation of classic yoga.
Post-Classical Era Yoga
It was in the 19th century that the teachings of yoga were brought from the East and were steadily Westernised. Teachers and gurus such as Swami Sivananda and Tirumalai Krishnamacharya came to the West.
Texts and books were written on their practises, and these gurus are often dubbed the fathers of modern yoga.
Modern yoga has elements of the practises taught 5,000 years ago, and is still considered just as complex.
Benefits Of Yoga
The benefits of yoga truly are endless, for mind and body. As a form of exercise, it’s not one to get your heart racing. It is however one to build core strength, breathing techniques and meditation.
Here are some of the benefits to expect, just to name a few!
- Aids with strength, balance and flexibility
- Helps to manage stress, reduce anxiety and promote mindfulness
- Improves heart and lung health
- Can ease back and other chronic pain – including arthritis
- Promotes better sleep quality
- Gives you a better relationship with your mind and body
Top 5 Yoga Poses For Beginners
Are you sold on the idea of Yoga, but don’t know where to start? Like we said before, yoga isn’t something that has to be left to the experts or athletes among us. There are poses that are gentle and easy enough to start with at any age or ability.
This is a particularly good yoga pose for beginners, to understand the breathing techniques while developing balance.
- Start with your feet together, and place your right foot on your inner left upper thigh. While doing this, press your two hands in front of you in prayer.
- Hold and breathe for 10 breaths and then change sides, ensuring you don’t lean into the standing leg and keep your core engaged and shoulders relaxed.
- If you find balancing difficult, try to lean your back gently against a wall while in the pose.
This is another gentle yoga pose, one that stretches the hips, legs and is perfect for calming the mind.
- Kneel on the floor, with your toes touching and sit on your heels and separate your knees as wide as your hips.
- Exhale as you lay your abdomen on your thighs, with your forehead touching the mat.
- Place your arms by your sides, with your palms facing upwards.
- Stay in this pose for 5-10 breaths, and when releasing gently exhale while stretching your body and sitting upwards.
This pose is perfect for opening up your lungs and stretching muscles at the start of a day or session.
- Stand with your feet wide apart as you stretch your right foot out by 90 degrees. The other leg stays closer to your torso.
- With your feet pressed on the ground, balance your weight across both as you inhale.
- Exhale and rest your right hand on your shin, ankle or floor by your right foot and stretch your left arm to the ceiling.
- Turn your head to look at your top hand and stay in this position for 5 breaths. Inhale to move from this position, and repeat on the other side.
This is a good pose for building strength, and stretching core muscles like the thighs and hips to improve flexibility.
- Stand straight on your mat, and raise your arms perpendicular to the floor and parallel to each other.
- Turn your left foot 45 degrees to the right and your right foot out by 90 degrees. Align your heels, exhale and turn your torso to the right.
- With your left heel on the floor, exhale and bend your right knee over your right ankle so your shin is perpendicular with the floor.
- To come up, inhale and press the back heel firmly to the floor and reach up through your arms while straightening your right knee.
Downward Facing Dog
This pose is perfect for stretching the entire body and as a transitional pose.
- Come onto the floor on your hands and knees. With your hands slightly above your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
- Exhale and lift your knees away from the floor, while lifting your buttocks towards the ceiling. Straighten your legs as much as possible and press your heels into the floor.
- Your head should be between your arms and facing your knees, and your back should be straight.
- Hold this pose for 10 breaths.
If you’re anything like us, then you’ve probably fully bought into the yoga hype! Why not celebrate international yoga day and give it a go?
You can shop our yoga mats here for an easy introduction to the ancient exercise!