The Science of Yoga

Young man practicing Upward Facing Dog Pose

Stress has become a way of life. Whether the days are full of multiple goals and endless obligations, traffic jams and transit delays, complex systems of bureaucracy and finance, or an overwhelming array of in-person and virtual relationships, the pace of current human existence is bursting at the seams.

For centuries, sages have relied on yoga to transcend earthly limitations. Each meditative pose is an effort to identify pockets of pain that accumulate inside the body. Each inhale confronts suffering. Each exhale is an attempt to transcend it. Through this process, worry is replaced with loving-kindness.

Now, bodies of research are proving that yoga is more than a niche spiritual force for enlightened beings.

Yoga has the power to heal the world, one human at a time.

The Rise of Yoga

A system of poses, breathing exercises, and meditations that originated in ancient India to inspire physical, mental, and spiritual well-being first started to spread around the world as a form of exercise in the twentieth century.

For decades, in the US, yoga seemed to capture the interests of quirky, white city dwellers and affluent suburbanite moms, but over the last decade, it has expanded from the studio and can currently be found in public parks, hospitals, outpatient clinics, workspaces, elementary schools, military bases, rehab centers, and even airports.

In fact, the 2016 Yoga in America Study commissioned, by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, estimated that more than 36 million people were practicing yoga in the US by 2015, compared to 20.4 million in 2012. A staggering 80 million people are likely to try yoga in 2016.

The Origins of Yoga

Yoga is first mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient collection of Sanskrit poetry that is sacred to the Hindu religion, dating as far back as the second century BCE. Verse 48 of Chapter Two essentially describes yoga as a state of equilibrium.

In the series Introduction to Yoga Sutras, Nicolai Bachman references the authoritative text on yoga to explore what it means to live a yogi life. He teaches that yoga is a path to positive transformation. Through a dedicated yoga practice, one can root out negativity and plant loving kindness. Citing Sutra 1.2, “yoga-citta-vritti-nirodhah,” Bachman describes yoga as a powerful tool for calming the noise.

While the validity of ancient texts may invite skepticism, the first professional-level medical textbook on yoga was released in the US in 2016. In Chapter One, “Introduction to Yoga in Health Care,” licensed medical practitioners recognize the importance of developing habits that balance emotions and modify unhealthy thought-patterns and acknowledge that yoga can play an integral role in preventing disease.

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To Celebrate Endings and Beginnings, Do a Yoga Mala

From the yoga studio to a night on the town, people are donning mala bead necklaces around the globe. However, this trend is steeped in meaningful tradition and symbolism. Each mala necklace has 108 beads, and each bead evokes an energetic frequency based on its material, whether stone or seed.

How to Practice a Yoga Mala

A yoga mala is the ultimate moving meditation. It has a repetitive, steady rhythm that helps transcend the purely physical form and move us closer to the unified Self. One body, one mind, one breath. Each forward bend serves as a pranam or devoted prayer to the source. Each vibrant backbend is an emergence of radiant light. The body is the mala, the breath is the mantra.

What is a Mala?

A mala, meaning garland in Sanskrit, evokes a circular, continuous form. In practice, a mala is the devoted offering of repeated cycles (typically in divisors of 108) of mantra or asana. Within a mala, there is always a sense of beginning, continuing and completion. Both inside each individual cycle and in the practice as a whole.

What is the Significance of 108?

The number 108 is seen as significant across a range of cultures and disciplines. It informs the architecture of sacred texts that are central to yoga and eastern philosophy: there are 108 chapters of the Rig Veda, 108 Upanishads and 108 primary Tantras. In in the field of Ayurveda, there are 108 sacred places in the body, identifying intersections of matter and consciousness. Through the lens of astronomy, the diameter of the sun is approximately 108 times that of earth and the distance from our planet to its solar star is, on average, 108 times the diameter of the sun.

When to Use a Yoga Mala?

Use a yoga mala to mark an end, celebrate a beginning, or as the basis of a devotional prayer. Here are some moments that may call for a yoga mala:

  • A birth in the family
  • Spring Equinox
  • Your Birthday
  • When a friend or family member is ill
  • For Mother Earth
  • The end of a relationship
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