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yoga is mainly regarded as a Far Eastern relaxation method in the Western world. The body should be strengthened and the mind calmed down with the help of flowing movements, which are carried out in rhythm with the inhalation and exhalation.
However, the original teaching of yoga encompasses much more than that. It is a more than 5,000-year-old, holistic philosophy that is supposed to bring body, mind and soul into harmony, and includes body and breathing exercises as well as meditations and prayers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends yoga as a great way to incorporate daily exercise into your daily routine. This is intended to prevent chronic, potentially fatal health risks such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and diabetes. In order to make the positive effects of yoga even better known, the WHO has been calling the “International Day of Yoga” every year on June 21, 2015.
What does “yoga” mean?
The word yoga comes from the ancient Indian language Sanskrit and means something like "yoke". Body and mind are seen as two oxen: both must be tightened together in the yoke in order to work together harmoniously. Exactly this harmony of body and mind should be achieved through yoga.
Yoga has developed over thousands of years in India and is one of the six darshanas. These are the classic schools of Indian philosophy. Some of the first representations of yoga postures are around 5,000 years old. This could make yoga the oldest exercise system in the world that is still used today.
The first writings on yoga appeared between 800 BC and 200 AD: Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutra. Yoga was originally located in religiosity. This was called religious yoga around 500 BC.
Later, between 200 before and 400 AD, classic-philosophical yoga developed. This was devoid of certain principles of belief and rather served everyday life and general spirituality that was not related to a particular religion.
After that, body-oriented yoga emerged, around the 12th century AD. Yoga was seen here primarily as a means of self-development.
At the end of the 19th and in the course of the 20th century, yoga became more and more popular in Germany. The modern types of yoga that are offered in this country usually differ quite strongly from the traditional Indian forms. In Germany and in general in the western world, body and breathing exercises are mostly associated with yoga, sometimes supplemented by meditations. Religious aspects, guidance for self-knowledge and certain forms of nutrition are largely missing.
Different types of yoga
From the beginnings of yoga, various currents have developed in the past millennia. Today there are various types of yoga, each with its own philosophy and implementation. There are types of yoga that are more responsive to the mind and should influence mental concentration; others are more concerned with the body and breathing. With all types of yoga, however, the holistic approach, the harmonization of body and mind, is the focus.
One of the best known and most popular yoga types in Germany Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga.
Hatha yoga is probably the best known yoga type in Germany. Hatha yoga is intended to balance opposites in the body by connecting the sun breath (Ha) with the moon breath (Tha). Breathing exercises, so-called pranayama, therefore play an essential role. They strengthen the lungs, support breathing and provide more life energy. In addition, physical exercises are the focus of hatha yoga. They are called asanas and have a positive influence on muscle activity, increase the flexibility of the body and contribute to good body awareness. With their help, fears and stress can be reduced. Hatha yoga also includes deep relaxation exercises that have a positive effect on general relaxation, reduce stress hormones and can thus have a strengthening effect on the immune system. In India, the more physical Hatha yoga is only a preparation for other types of yoga that focus more on mental work.
Kundalini yoga is primarily concerned with energy: the energy that surrounds the body and flows through the body is the focus of this type of yoga. Kundalini means "snake power" and refers to the idea that in the area of the sacrum everyone can find energy in the form of a coiled, sleeping snake.
With the help of Kundalini Yoga, the snake should be awakened and its energy should flow through certain pathways in the body from the lower spine to the crown. The pathways mean the chakras (energy centers) and nadis (energy channels). Kundalini yoga includes exercises to clean the energy pathways to bring the body back into its natural balance and also to harmonize the different chakras (energy centers). The exercises are dynamic and are usually perceived as physically demanding.
At the Vinyasa yoga the body exercises are carried out fluently in connection with breathing. In the best case, the result is a kind of "flow", which is supposed to harmonize body and mind. The movements are dynamic and the different positions are lined up in rapid alternation.
Effect and areas of application for yoga
Yoga is a complex system that regards people as a whole of body, soul and spirit. In the Western world, yoga is used primarily for relaxation, gentle muscle strengthening and stretching. It tries to bring the mind to rest with the help of certain exercises, which can ultimately have a beneficial effect on the whole body. The positive effects of yoga have now been scientifically recognized. Blood circulation - especially of the internal organs - should be promoted and the circulation stimulated, the pulse rate should slow down, breathing should become calmer and deeper. As a result, the level of stress hormones in the blood usually decreases. In addition, yoga is said to have a beneficial influence on blood pressure.
Yoga is often used for back pain. There are special exercises that strengthen the back and muscles, but also relax at the same time. Other areas of application are headaches and neck tension. People who suffer from sleep disorders benefit from targeted exercises that calm their minds and thus promote inner serenity. Yoga could also have a positive effect on mental illnesses such as anxiety (anxiety disorder) or depression. There are already initial studies on this. More information can be found in the corresponding link at the end of this text.
Yoga ensures vitality, can strengthen the immune system and improve concentration. In addition, yoga exercises could also have a positive effect on diseases such as acute joint inflammation, rheumatism, the prevention of heart attacks or the accompanying treatment of cancer; In these cases, however, yoga belongs in the hands of an experienced therapist.
If you want to use yoga against specific complaints, always have them clarified beforehand by a doctor and discuss whether yoga is suitable for you alone or as accompanying treatment. You should also inform your yoga teacher about your symptoms before the course begins; This way, he or she can ensure that all exercises are suitable for you and, if necessary, offer alternative exercises.
Learn yoga techniques
Everyone can choose the individually suitable one from the variety of yoga types, for example to do more for the body and / or the own mind. It is advisable to try out different courses. Most yoga studios offer inexpensive "trial courses".
Yoga can be done alone or in a group. In order to first learn the most important exercises, their precise execution and their areas of application, it is advisable to attend a yoga class. Associations, adult education centers, but also private educational institutions or private teachers offer yoga classes. Once you have learned the basics, you can also practice at home, for example with DVDs or videos. It is important to be careful with your own body when exercising the asanas and not to overload it. Your own limits should be accepted and never exceeded. With a lot of patience and regular practice, the body becomes stronger and more stretchable over time. Relaxation and meditation exercises usually take a certain amount of time to get used to before you can master them and benefit from them. Give yourself time to learn this new practice and try to put performance ideas away if possible, as experience has shown that they stand in the way of relaxation.
Since classic yoga and its health-promoting effects are scientifically recognized, some health insurance companies are now even covering the costs of yoga classes. Ask your health insurance provider whether and if so which yoga classes are funded.
When shouldn't yoga be practiced?
Yoga should be avoided during an acute febrile cold or even flu. There are special yoga exercises for pregnant women, but these should definitely be carried out under professional guidance. If you have any complaints, ask your doctor if you are allowed to practice yoga. (sw, kh)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Susanne Waschke, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
- Carolin Lockstein, Susanne Faust: Relax! The quick way to new energy. Grafe and Unzer Verlag GmbH, Munich, 2001
- N Hartfiel, G Clarke, J Havenhand, u.a .: Cost-effectiveness of yoga for managing musculoskeletal conditions in the workplace, Occupational Medicine, Volume 67, Issue 9, December 2017, academic.oup.com
- Klatte, Rachel; Pabst, Simon; Beelmann, Andreas; u.a .: Efficacy of body-oriented yoga for mental disorders, Dtsch Arztebl Int 2016, aerzteblatt.de
- Koch, Joachim: Yoga: The positive power of yoga, Deutsches Ärzteblatt PP 1/2014, aerzteblatt.de
- Mayo Clinic: Yoga: Fight stress and find serenity (accessed: 10.10.2019), mayoclinic.org