What is yoga?

Yoga is a physical and spiritual practice that originated over 5,000 years ago in India. In Sanskrit, the term “yoga” comes from the root “yuj,” which means “to join” or “to unite” the body with the mind through purposeful, mindful movement.

Despite its ancient roots, yoga has become extremely popular in the Western world. Now, there seems to be a yoga studio in nearly every town, and yoga classes at every gym! Over the past decade, it’s become one of the most popular forms of exercise in the United States, particularly among young and middle-aged women.

Benefits of yoga

It’s easy to understand why yoga is so popular, given its many benefits:

  • Physical strength. Yoga’s postures can be physically challenging and, if practiced regularly, build muscle tone and balance over time.
  • Flexibility. Yoga can help build the core abdominal muscles and add to overall flexibility.
  • Connection with the breath. One of the cornerstones of yoga is breathing. With each movement there is a breath, which helps inspire introspection and mindfulness.
  • Rejuvenation, calm, and mental focus. Through introspection, a focus on breathing, and moving mindfully, one can not only feel rejuvenation, but also a sense of mental clarity and relaxation.
  • Decreased stress and anxiety. Yoga is well known to help calm the mind and decrease stress levels, which may also help battle problems with mood.

Types of Yoga

Because there are many different forms of yoga, there is one for just about every body! Yoga has varying levels of physical form and function. For the more contemplative and meditative, there is chair yoga, gentle yoga, and yin yoga. There is also the more intense Bikram (hot) yoga or vinyasa (movement with breath for a more moderate, flowing style). There's even a seated version

Before you take your first yoga class, be aware of the temperature of the room where the class will be held so you can prepare accordingly. Most classes are held at a normal, comfortable room temperature. However, Bikram (hot) yoga is held in a steamy 90- to 95-degree room. Pregnant women or patients with heart conditions are cautioned against Bikram yoga.

Different forms of yoga are considered appropriate for a variety of medical conditions:

Gentle yoga can help:

  • Low back pain.
  • Sciatica.
  • Piriformis syndrome.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Insomnia.
  • Headaches and migraines.

Vinyasa yoga can help:

  • Chronic pain syndrome.
  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Stress management.

Find out why so many have adopted this ancient practice to feel great in body, mind, and spirit by trying a yoga class that is right for you.

Mariah H. Stump, MD

Mariah H. Stump, MD, MPH, FACP, DipABLM, ABOIM

Dr. Mariah Stump is an attending physician in Women’s Primary Care at the Women's Medicine Collaborative. She is board certified in internal medicine, integrative medicine, and lifestyle medicine.