From a working mom with 5 children to a pro athlete, from a teenager to a seventy-year old, Yoga has so many benefits for both physical and mental health — yet many folks are still reluctant to give it a try — that we decided to post a series of yoga articles for beginners.

What is yoga?

For some people Yoga is primarily seen as a form of exercise that stretches and strengthens the body through various poses known as ASANAS. For other people yoga is an inner path that brings you to the realization of inner self satisfaction and spiritual enlightenment. For some it might be seen as a religion that they must believe in and follow.

All of these statements make it hard to fully realize what yoga really is. So what is yoga?

Well let’s start with mentioning that it is impossible to fully understand what yoga is without practicing it. There is no way words can describe and make you understand what yoga is. But information is a starting point to help you decide if it’s something you want to learn more about so that you can start to “experience yoga” by practicing it.

Yoga goes far beyond just mere exercises full of what might seem like awkward routines for someone new to yoga. When you practice yoga, you can do it to become more flexible, and pro athletes often use yoga routines for very specific physical benefits. However the real essence of practicing yoga is the union of mind, spirit and body.

At it’s origins, yoga comes from the Hindu philosophy used to attain spiritual insight and harmony. And the physical exercises you’ll practice in yoga are part of a system of exercises that will not only help you get more flexibility, health and physical strength, but will also help you calm your mind and eventually bring you to a state of higher consciousness and inner peace.

The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit “yeung”, which means to join. A yoke as used on oxen is closely related, but also the same root gives us “join”, “junction”, “junta”, “adjust”, “joust”, and “juxapose” to name a few.

There are many institutions of yoga. Schools and paths have been established with many different variations, all of which have their own unique practices and beliefs. But below we list the five most common yoga practices.

HATHA Yoga:

HATHA Yoga is the most popular variety of yoga and one that has been commonly taught for years. The focus of HATHA Yoga is on perfecting the mind by way of perfecting the body. With HATHA Yoga many asanas or postures, breathing techniques and meditations are used.

ASHTANGA Yoga:

ASHTANGA Yoga is another popular form of yoga. One that might be perceived as a faster way to make progress than the other schools. (Which in yoga might sound like a contradiction to peacefulness and bliss.) However, since in ASHTANGA Yoga they instill smooth transitions between poses, rather than focusing on one asana or pose at a time, ASHTANGA Yoga can be considered as a type of aerobic yoga.

It’s probably also the reason why it’s so popular in the Western countries, because it probably is a better fit for most people with a busy life that need to transition from their “rat race” to “inner peace”. As single asanas can be boring, transitioning between a set of asanas might be more appealing to a certain audience. Especially those that like to go to a gym and follow routines with an instructor rather than focusing on one asana and learn to master it completely.

This is good to know when you start as a beginner with yoga. Because the most important element is that you enjoy it. Once you get the hang of it, and start to get more strong, healthy and flexible, you might want to focus more on single asanas rather than routines, as they will bring you to a higher level of spiritual realization. Which is the essence at the origin of practicing an asana.

KUNDALINI Yoga:

This yoga practice is focused on awakening and focusing what is known as kundalini energy. Kundalini energy is most easily compared to life energy that lies dormant in our bodies. It is commonly represented by a coiled snake. KUNDALINI Yoga is probably the most powerful form of yoga as it is often called the mother of all the styles of yoga. Kundalini yoga awakens the base of your spine which is known as the Muladhara Chakra. In anatomy, the kundalini is found in the perineum region of our body. For males, it is found between the testicles and the rectum. For females, it is found between the clitoris and the vagina. Kundalini yoga is also knows as the symbol of equality and power for both genders. But we will address more about Kundalini yoga in a separate post.

MANTRA Yoga:

MANTRA Yoga is a type of yoga that is focused on calming the mind and body through the usage of words and sounds. The well known ‘om’ chant is commonly heard in this school of yoga. Apart of sitting in the Lotus pose, there are no physical exercises like special asanas and poses that stretch your body. However, chanting the mantras exercise your breathing and all the minuscule small muscles in your chest, your throat and your abdominal area. The sound and the vibrational effect of these minuscule muscles also changes your overall vibrational frequency of your brain, your chakra’s and your complete aura field.

At a first glance, and for those that did not yet practice it, it might seem like it’s not an exercise, but this is the real beauty of yoga, ego has no place in this practice, and often the benefits are hidden at a level of depth that’s incomprehensible for those that do not practice it.

TANTRA Yoga:

This type of yoga schooling is well known by way of its focus on sexual spirituality. In Tantra yoga they also focus on kundalini energy, although their intent for awakening it is much different from the Kundalini practice. In Western religious norms, sexual pleasures and desires are not inclined or associated with spirituality. However, in Eastern philosophy, they celebrate and rejoice the splendor and glory of creation. In India, it is an ancient tradition that sexuality is an important and significant phase to be able to achieve a certain degree of enlightenment.

As you can probably already understand from the five above mentioned yoga practices, yoga is a very diverse practice, no matter which school you choose. People young and old can gain many benefits from regular yoga practices, and asanas can be adjusted to fit physical limitations and other complications.

If you want a break from treadmills, weight rooms, or the pool, take a look at yoga. Not only are you striving towards physical well being, you are striving towards spiritual well being as well.

Traditionally, yoga consists of eight fundamental paths: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Purna Yoga, Tantra Yoga, Maha Yoga and Ashtanga or Raja Yoga. In the western world, the term yoga often refers to Hatha yoga and its postures, movements, and breathing techniques.

The ultimate goal of yoga is the attainment of liberation from worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and death. Yoga entails mastery over the body, mind, spirit and emotional self, and transcendence of desire. It is said to lead gradually to knowledge of the true nature of reality.