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Yoga: Was ist das?

by Josephine Andrews
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Yoga has been trending for years. For some yoga is a sport, for others a philosophical lesson. But does yoga even need the philosophical and spiritual superstructure to increase well-being? Read here what yoga is, how yoga works, what styles there are and for whom yoga is suitable.

What is yoga?

When asked “What is yoga?” there are many answers: for some, yoga is a sport, for others a form of esotericism, others again enjoy the shared experience among like-minded people or the relaxation and balance to everyday stress.

Originally, yoga is a philosophical teaching from India that unites body and mind and lets people become one with a higher energy. The entire knowledge of yoga is also called “Yoga Vidya”. To achieve this, traditional yoga styles combine:

  • Meditation
  • physical exercises
  • breathing exercises
  • self-control techniques

According to the teachings, the physical condition reflects the condition of the soul – and vice versa. Therefore, the mental exercises should positively influence physical symptoms and restore mental balance with the help of physical exercises.

The physical exercises in yoga – the asanas – are based on elements from nature and are named after them. They are called, for example, cobra (Bhujangasana), tree (Vrksasana), mountain (Tadasana), crane (Bakasana) or grasshopper (Shalabhasana).

For many practitioners today, yoga is a sport. She is less interested in the philosophical-spiritual definition of yoga. If yoga can promote muscle building, health and fitness in this way, there is nothing wrong with it. However, people who are more fitness-oriented should also and above all make sure that they are guided by an experienced teacher in order to avoid overloading and injuries caused by incorrect exercise execution.

Yoga: Effects

Yoga has different effects – on body and mind. Especially stressed people find strength for their everyday life. Some of the positive side effects of yoga include:

  • increases endurance, strength and flexibility
  • strengthens vitality and energy
  • improves your body image
  • reduces tension and pain
  • delays the aging process
  • alleviates the problems of old age
  • leads to inner peace and balance
  • helps to increase resistance to stress
  • increases quality of life and mental fitness
  • promotes courage, perseverance and concentration
  • strengthens one’s own centeredness and mental clarity
  • brings body, mind and soul into harmony
  • opens up new perspectives and approaches
  • helps to recognize trust patterns and habits and to overcome them
  • leads to more self-confidence and self-esteem

Who is yoga suitable for?

In principle, anyone can practice yoga. Regardless of age, gender, previous knowledge and mobility. Because the exercises can be individually adapted. If you have health problems, it is better to talk to a doctor or physiotherapist before you start and get their approval.

Yoga helps particularly well with the following clinical pictures:

Yoga for back problems and pain

The various physical exercises strengthen the muscles, the stretching exercises relax tense muscles.

Yoga for depression and yoga for stress

Through meditation in yoga, relaxation and breathing exercises, you will learn to cope better with mental stress. Studies registered “significant effects on the dimensions of anxiety, anger and depression”.

Yoga for sleep problems

By consciously pausing and concentrating on your breath, you will come to rest.

Yoga for menopausal symptoms

The combination of physical activity, relaxation and conscious breathing reduces stress hormones. With hormone yoga, there is even a style specially tailored to women going through the menopause . However, its effectiveness has not yet been scientifically proven.

Yoga for asthma

The effect of yoga on asthma patients is small, but it is there. According to one study, asthmatics who regularly practiced yoga subjectively rated their quality of life as higher than before.

Yoga for high blood pressure

Relaxation techniques can help lower blood pressure.

Yoga in breast cancer and prostate cancer therapy

In women with breast cancer, yoga lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can worsen the prognosis for breast cancer. Yoga can counteract potency problems and incontinence in prostate cancer patients. It also reduces the chronic fatigue that is typical in cancer therapy and improves well-being.

Yoga for seniors

Yoga is also very suitable for seniors: The asanas can be adapted to their specific needs, so that regular yoga is easily feasible for seniors. Yoga practice gently strengthens the body, keeps the mind alert and the psyche in balance. Yoga improves body awareness and balance in the elderly and strengthens muscles and joints. This reduces the risk of falling.

Individual elements in yoga

The term hatha yoga has become the generic term for all physically oriented yoga styles. In classic hatha yoga, the focus is on how energy can flow through the body. The whole body plays a role in this, as well as nutrition and all the emotions and injuries that are stored in the body and cause tension and energy blockages.

In hatha yoga, the energetic body is mentioned again and again. It consists of the prana (life energy), the nadis through which the life energy flows, the chakras (energy centers) and the koshas, ​​the five layers of the body.

The Five Koshas in Hatha Yoga

The five layers are not separated from each other, but go from the rough to the fine or from the outside to the inside. Specifically, the five envelopes are as follows:

  • Annamaya Kosha: the physical body: This shell is the only tangible layer composed of the five elements of earth, water , fire, air and space.
  • Pranamaya Kosha: The Energy Body: This vital level of the body provides energy to both the physical and mental bodies. It includes the bloodstream, the respiratory system and the metabolic circuit. In addition, all the energy channels that transport the prana in the body are gathered there. This shell creates the connection between body and mind.
  • Manomaya Kosha: the information body: In this layer the information about the sensory impressions as well as all desires and needs are collected.
  • Vijnanamya Kosha: the Body of Wisdom : This level analyzes all the information that Manomaya Kosha provides. Ideally, decisions that lead to conscious action are made in this layer.
  • Anamdamaya Kosha: the bliss body

At the center of all sheaths is bliss. If you are at peace with yourself and the world, you can get through to it.

The Energy Channels: the Nadis

In order to avoid blockages in the body, the prana has to flow through the nadis, the energy channels. According to tradition, man has 72,000 nadis. The three main nadis are Sushumna, Ida and Pingala.

  • Sushumna: This energy channel starts at the tailbone and runs to the middle of the back of the head. It is normally inactive and has a low energy flow.
  • Ida and Pingala: These two energy channels start at the base of the spine, meander around it and cross six times all the way to the nostrils. Ida ends on the left and is related to the feminine energy. Pingala, on the other hand, is on the right and is related to the masculine energy.

When sushumna is inactive, the energy flows alternately through the other two nadis. As a result, the flow of energy is never even. Hatha Yoga allows energy to flow through Sushumna again.

The seven chakras in the body

There are a total of seven energy centers (chakras) in the body, which are lined up along the spine up to the crown of the head. Each chakra has different properties that are more or less open depending on the phase and situation in life. You can imagine a chakra like a wheel that transports energy from a lower to the next higher level of development.

A yogi can only feel balanced when all the chakras are open and the energy flows from the bottom up. The various techniques in Hatha Yoga lead to the release of blockages. If there are no blockages, the energy shoots up to the last chakra in the crown of the head. There the individual can connect with the universal consciousness.

In addition to breathing techniques, meditation and asanas, the following techniques are also important in hatha yoga in order to achieve samadhi, inner freedom:

Balanced nutrition

A balanced diet is important for feeling good about your body. The principles of fresh, easily digestible, moderate and varied apply in Hatha Yoga. Eating fish and meat, while not specifically forbidden, is discouraged on ethical grounds.

Kriya: the six purification rituals in hatha yoga

In order to cleanse the physical body and energy channels, six rituals are necessary. They affect the stomach, large and small intestine, nose, eyes and lungs. It is important to learn the cleaning techniques from an expert and to ask a doctor beforehand – otherwise, if used incorrectly, damage to health can occur.

Bandhas: closures of the body

Translated, Bandhas means as much as closures of the body to keep and control the energy in the body. The aim is to optimize the flow of energy. The yogi can do this by contracting certain muscles. The three main bandhas in yoga include:

  • Mula Bandha: The energy is controlled by contracting the anus sphincters.
  • Uddiyana Bandha: The abdomen is pulled up to allow energy to flow.
  • Jalandhara Bandha: Behind this are the chin and throat locks to prevent the energy from flowing upwards.

Mudras: seals of the body

Mudras refer to the postures of the hands to direct focus on the flow of energy. They help the yogi to feel the energy in the body. A well-known example is Anjali Mudra, in which both palms are pressed together in front of the upper body. The hand gesture is associated with the word “Namaste”.

Chanting: Listening to the inner sound

The chanting of OM is possible in different variants. Usually it is intoned three times in a row to collect yourself. The continuous chanting of OM is also widespread. The yogi first becomes quiet, then louder, then quieter again, until he becomes completely calm. So he can now concentrate on the inner sound with which the energy channels are cleaned and blockages are released. The goal is to hear Anahata Nadam, the sound of silence.

Yoga: The Best Exercises

It doesn’t matter whether it’s easy beginner exercises, you do the sport alone or in pairs: Find out which yoga exercises you can do something good for your body and mind.

You can find numerous suggestions for exercises in the article Yoga exercises .

Equipment: This is what you need for yoga

To practice yoga, all you need is comfortable clothing. It should either be made of breathable materials or natural fabrics such as cotton so that moisture does not build up underneath when you sweat.

In addition, they should be flexible enough not to restrict movement. However, loose clothing can ride up during certain exercises, which not everyone likes. Close-fitting, body-hugging clothing is ideal for yoga. This has the advantage that the teacher can see and correct the posture better. Usually practiced barefoot. If that’s too cold for you, you can put on knobbed socks.

Basically, you can do yoga on any floor, e.g. B. on the living room carpet or outside on the lawn. In studios, however, rental mats are usually offered, as they make training more comfortable as a soft surface and their non-slip surface offers some support.

Blocks or bands are also used for certain exercises, but these are also usually provided by the yoga studio.

Yoga & Calorie Burn

Depending on which yoga style you practice, the calorie consumption varies greatly. Calm hatha yoga burns around 200 calories per session, which is usually 90 minutes, while Bikram yoga performed in a hot room burns up to 1,000 calories per session.

Yoga can also help you lose weight. At the very least, yoga can help you lose weight because it strengthens the muscles, which in turn increase the body’s basal energy metabolism, even at rest. In addition, the practitioners with regular practice often pay more attention to their diet.

yoga during pregnancy

Yoga for pregnant women can have many positive effects. For example, yoga can help against common back pain. A conscious perception of physical processes and changes is also important for pregnant women, which is sharpened by yoga. Special yoga courses for pregnant women can help to experience pregnancy more consciously.

The breathing exercises are good preparation for the demands of childbirth. However, pregnant women should not do certain exercises. Talk to your doctor and yoga teacher about it.

Even after the birth, yoga with a baby can have a positive effect on the health and well-being of the young mother. Certain asanas strengthen the pelvic floor, which can effectively prevent bladder weakness after childbirth. In addition, the relaxation exercises are balm for tense mother’s nerves. In a special yoga course for pregnant women, these special needs are specifically addressed.

Yoga mistakes to avoid

Getting started without a teacher or with a poorly trained teacher: incorrectly performed asanas quickly overstrain tendons and ligaments. Yoga requires careful guidance, especially when you are already in physical pain. A good teacher adjusts the exercises accordingly.

Wanting Too Much : Yoga is not a competition. However, the fitness-oriented variants in particular tempt you to approach the asanas with too much ambition. The spine, shoulder and knee joints as well as the hips are then particularly at risk.

Compare yourself: Every body is different. Some find overhead exercises easy, others can bend their backs smoothly. Concentrating on yourself, your strengths and your body and feeling yourself is elementary in yoga. It is not important to be able to do all exercises perfectly, but to carry out the exercises consciously. Yoga classes are not a competition.

Forget breathing: Deep, conscious breathing is part of the yoga technique and ensures, among other things, the relaxing effect. Pay attention to your breathing: If it is shallow, short or slow, then stop and consciously concentrate on your breathing technique again.

Different yoga styles

There are several classic types of yoga as well as a growing number of modern forms. For example, are widespread

hatha yoga

This classic form of yoga from the 15th century is based on very precisely executed asanas and requires a certain amount of stamina. Learn more about Hatha Yoga here .

Kundalini Yoga

This yoga style has a very spiritual orientation and includes meditations with formulaic word sequences (mantras). The sometimes fast and intensive exercises are intended to awaken the Kundalini energy, which is located at the lower end of the spine.

Learn more about Kundalini Yoga here .

Bikram Yoga or Hot Yoga

In Bikram Yoga , 26 demanding asanas and two breathing exercises (pranayama) are practiced at a room temperature of 35 to 40 degrees. The heat is said to make the muscles and tendons more supple and therefore the training more gentle, but some experts doubt this.

Learn more about Bikram Yoga here .

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga is a physically very demanding form of Hatha Yoga with precisely defined, dynamic asana sequences that are performed synchronously with breathing.

Learn more about Ashtanga Yoga here .

Iyengar Yoga

This style of yoga is based on Hatha Yoga. Aids such as ropes and blocks are used. Beneficial for less supple people.

Learn more about Iyengar Yoga here .

Power Yoga

Modern and very dynamic variant of Ashtanga yoga, which is often offered as a workout in fitness studios.

Learn more about Power Yoga here .

Sivananda Yoga

A very calm, traditional and spiritual form of yoga. It should have an effect using the principles of relaxation, breathing, positive thinking, meditation and prayer, vegetarian nutrition and the practice of twelve basic asanas.

Learn more about Sivananda Yoga here .

Fascia Yoga

This yoga style mainly includes asanas that specifically train the so-called fascia. Fascia encloses muscle strands and joints and can stick together. This often leads to muscle tension. In fascial yoga, the focus is on these structures and it ensures healthy and strong connective tissue .

Yin Yoga

In this meditative type of yoga, the focus is on your inner life and your own anatomy. You surrender to your emotions and learn a lot about yourself. The asanas often take place while sitting or lying down and are held for a long time.

Learn more about Yin Yoga here .

Aerial Yoga

A variant in which the yogis use a cloth that hangs from the ceiling for their exercises. Some of the asanas take place in the air and convey a feeling of lightness and weightlessness.

Learn more about Aerial Yoga here .

Yoga for beginners: how to get started

Yoga newcomers often have respect for the demanding exercises. There is a widespread belief that one must perform difficult contortions and difficult balancing acts. But that’s not the case. Yoga is great for beginners. There are lots of yoga exercises that are easy to learn and also provide a quick sense of achievement.

A good yoga beginner exercise is for example the tree. You balance on one leg while the sole of the other leg rests on the inner thigh of the supporting leg. Stretch your arms up and enjoy the body tension.

The chair is also suitable for beginners. It is uncomplicated, but effective: Here you squat down with your feet hip-width apart and stretch your arms forward as an extension of your upper body, which is held straight and leaning slightly forward. Hold this position for a few breaths and then feel the relaxation.

Yoga: History and Philosophy

Yoga has been known in India for more than 3,500 years. According to tradition, around 1,500 BC, nomads from Central Asia continued to advance into the Indian subcontinent, bringing with them a teaching they called yoga. The teaching included methods that helped people to control their senses and thereby master the body. Over time, three major yoga traditions emerged:

Religious yoga

The religious yoga is based on the so-called Upanishads. Behind it is a collection of texts from around 800 BC. It summarizes discussions about the knowledge of the ancient Indian scriptures (Vedas) on the topics of religion and philosophy. The Bhagavad-Gita, a central scripture in Hinduism, also brings together different schools of thought in India around 500 BC and had a formative effect on yoga.

Classical philosophical yoga

This tradition lineage is based on the 195 Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, an Indian scholar. His work is often referred to as the foundational text of yoga. The Yoga Sutra revolves around the workings of the mind and shows a way to overcome mental disorders and to come to true knowledge.

hatha yoga

The basis for the Hatha Yoga line of tradition is the so-called Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which arose between 800 and 1200 AD. It serves as a practical guide to Patanjali’s Theoretical Yoga Sutra, describing practices that show how the body can serve as a tool for attaining knowledge.

Patanjalis Yoga-Sutras

Patanjali’s 195 Sutras, which consist of short, concise and meaningful sentences, are still elementary for today’s yoga. They describe how the mind works and show what problems can arise. In order to achieve positive change, the Yoga Sutras recommend the eightfold path Ashtanga Marga.

Ashtanga Marga: the Eightfold Path

In the eightfold path of Ashtanga Marga, the order does not matter. The yogi is free to choose which limb to start with. However, it is important to consider all individual steps equally and to practice them persistently. The eight limbs of the Ashtanga Marga are composed as follows:

Yamas: dealing with the environment

The Yamas represent an ethical code of conduct. There are a total of five rules of conduct that people should pay attention to when dealing with their environment. Those who take them into account can more easily achieve harmony with themselves and their environment. The principle applies here: If you have a positive charisma , you will also get something positive in return. The five rules of conduct include

  • Ahimsa: non-violence

This commandment includes non-violence on a physical and mental level. Yogis should also avoid destructive words and thoughts. Ahimsa emphasizes the conscious interaction with the environment, with one’s fellow human beings and with oneself.

  • Satya: Truthfulness

This aspect includes authentic behavior. It’s about not pretending anything that isn’t true, even out of false consideration. When communicating, it is important not only to pay attention to the content, but also to how you say something.

  • Asteya: Not stealing

The property of others must always be respected – on a material and immaterial level.

  • Brahmacharya: moderation

This code of conduct is about concentrating on what is relevant. It is not necessary to give up completely, but to take the right measure and try not to surrender to your passions.

  • Aparigraha: non-hoarding

This concept has parallels to Asteya, to non-stealing. However, it focuses more on a lowbrow than an inner attitude. It is important that the yogi reflects on what he actually needs to live. The first step is to free yourself from expectations and to recognize your own path.

Niyamas: dealing with yourself

The Niyamas are the second limb of the path. They name five behaviors that the yogi should practice towards himself:

  • Shaucha: Purity

Purity plays a role on a physical level – daily hygiene is important, a conscious diet and a continuous asana practice. The immediate surroundings, such as the choice of clothing and the condition of the apartment are also decisive. On a mental level, Shaucha means keeping your thoughts pure and being considerate of your surroundings.

  • Santosha: Contentment

This aspect is about being content with what life gives you – on a physical, intellectual and material level. The prerequisite for this is accepting yourself and your personal circumstances. This does not mean, however, that no personal development can take place.

  • Tapas: self-discipline

Tapas derives from the word “tapah” which can be translated as heat or desire. The approach is: self-discipline can only arise from a burning desire. Because that is the only reason why there is the fuel to make the necessary efforts with perseverance in order to progress on the path to self-knowledge.

  • Svadhyaya: Self-study, self-reflection

This behavior is about reading the scriptures to access yourself. The aim is to observe, analyze and reflect on their behavior. That means: asking yourself again and again which moments influence your own behavior and which stimulus-reaction scheme is present.

  • Ishvara Pranidhana: Faith in a higher power

Where are your own limits? This is the issue of Ishvara Pranidhana. The focus is on accepting that many things are not within the sphere of influence of one’s own power. Letting go can then be a consequence, a kind of basic trust or belief in a kind of higher power.

According to this path, yoga practice must have three qualities: discipline, self-study and acceptance of one’s own limits.

Asana: dealing with the body

The physical exercises, the asanas, are the focus of practical yoga practice. They combine stability and lightness. The body is firmly aligned and grounded in the asana, providing stability. At the same time, an energetic lightness is created as the yogi goes to the limits of his own ability – but by no means beyond. So he can stay in the posture with joy.

Pranayama: dealing with the breath

Pranayama means a conscious control of energy through certain breathing techniques. The yogi learns to regulate and expand the breath. Body and mind are calmed, blockages can be released and energy can flow again.

Pratyahara: dealing with the senses

This aspect involves the withdrawal of the senses. This should reduce the risk of sensory overload and the distraction from the actual tasks. With pratyahara the yogi learns to close the doors of the senses. He still perceives his senses, but he no longer reacts to them. Limbs 6 to 8 Samayama: dealing with the mind

The last three links of the path deal exclusively with the mind. If the first five limbs have the task of calming the mind and preparing it for the path to inner liberation, this section is about self-knowledge.

Dharana: Concentration

Dharana is the ability to focus one’s attention completely on an object, question, or consideration and to remain there. This enables the yogi to understand the principle of concentration itself.

Dhyana: Meditation

In mediation, the yogi can leave behind his knowledge, his feelings, his expectations and his thought pattern. He can intuitively see things as they are. This makes him a neutral observer for himself.

Samadhi: The highest – the inner peace

At the end of the Ashtanga Marga, the goal awaits: the state of inner freedom. The Yoga Sutras describe it as complete merging with the object of meditation. The sense of one’s own identity dissolves. Alternatively, the paraphrases “merging with the world as a whole” or “inner bliss” still exist for samadhi.

This ultimate goal is desirable because, according to Patanjali, the mind tends to jump back and forth. He is restless. In order to be able to act consciously and to be able to focus on a single object, it is important that the mind is clear. However, the spirit itself keeps throwing obstacles in its way: the Kleshas. Five of them are the main contributors to unrest:

  • Avidya: wrong knowledge
  • Asmita: exaggerated selfishness
  • Raga: excessive adherence to preferences
  • Dvesha: excessive dislike
  • Abhinivesha: diffuse fear (fear of death)

These Kleshas are not always immediately active. Sometimes they are very pronounced, sometimes they work in secret and are hardly noticed. With vigilance, however, you can track down your own Kleshas. It is important to pause and break through the automatic stimulus-response scheme. According to Patanjali, the kleshas can never be completely overcome, but the eightfold path shows methods how the yogi can reduce the influence on perception and one’s own actions.

The so-called universal consciousness appeared as early as the Upanishads. It encompasses the seer, the seen and the act of seeing in equal measure. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras speak of a dualistic worldview. After that, the world divides into universal consciousness (purusha) and individual consciousness (prakriti).

Purusha is the divine entity capable of true seeing and possessing a cosmic consciousness of immortality. Purusha is permanent, timeless and real. Prakriti, on the other hand, is changeable and the outer shell, which consists of everything that can be seen and perceived. It consists of three different forms, the Gunas:

  • Sattva is characterized by purity, balance and serenity.
  • Rajas are characterized by restlessness, impulsiveness and passion .
  • Tamas is associated with darkness, ignorance and clumsiness.

The goal in yoga is to become as sattvic as possible.

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