Yoga – from the Sanskrit word meaning “union” – is a mind-body system that includes physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. Yoga originated in India more than 5,000 years ago, with the first known written records documenting yoga as a health practice appearing in The Vedas, sacred texts from India that are more than 3,000 years old. Yoga first came to the U.S. in the 1890s through the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, although it did not become well known until the 1960s. Although in its traditional form yoga is a complete lifestyle that includes physical, mental, and spiritual components, most Westerners today focus just on the physical aspect, using yoga workouts as a form of exercise.
Yoga workouts are great for developing overall strength, flexibility, and balance. In addition, yoga poses, or asanas, each have specific physical benefits, such as improving circulation, aiding digestion, massaging internal organs, or assisting hormone function. Breathwork, or pranayama, and meditation are also often incorporated into yoga workouts for a complete mind-body experience.
Although most people learn yoga from an experienced instructor, either in a class setting or one-on-one, this may not always be possible for a number of reasons. Fortunately, there are lots of DVDs available aimed at the beginning yoga practitioner that will allow you to learn at your own pace. Even if you do end up working with an instructor, he or she will most likely encourage you to continue your practice at home.