A Guide to the Basics of Yoga

By: Emily Basili



Understanding Yoga can be complex to a person who has never participated in it before. It can be complex even to those who have participated. In this short article I will explain the very basics of Yoga, including: history, meaning, the branches of yoga, westernized culture, additional terminology, and additional resources that you may find useful. This article is, hopefully, just the beginning of your path to understanding yoga.



Yoga is ancient Sanskrit meaning unity. It has been interpreted as unity between breath and movement; mind and body; and the self with the higher Self. There are records of the Yoga teachings dating back to 5,000 years ago and some historians suggest up to 10,000 years ago.



I already discussed the literal translation of Yoga, but to understand the true meaning of Yoga let’s pose a question. Why practice yoga? There is no wrong answer to this question. Some may practice Yoga for their BODY. Asana in Sanskrit refers to posture or body position. Asanas are the postures one does in a traditional American Yoga class.

Some may do yoga for their MIND. When going through the Asanas there is a level of concentration used. A person uses body awareness to follow directions so the body may complete the pose. Once in a pose or even progressing through poses a student must use their mind for concentration. The challenging part can be relaxing thought, but keeping the body engaged. This mental practice is what strengthens a student’s focus. Many students, if not all, will see concentration and focus strengthened in their every day life.

Lastly, a yoga student may choose to practice yoga for the SPIRIT. When one enriches the mind and the body something else begins to awaken. Some may refer to this as spirit or some may call it soul. I often refer to it as a person’s power of will. A yoga student practices control of the mind and control of the body. Making the choice and taking the action to do something strengthens will power. This increased power of will allows a person to achieve anything that they set their mind to.


The Branches of Yoga:

Although, in our Western culture it is common to think of the physical postures that one does in a yoga class as Yoga, the term yoga is much more broad and umbrellas 5 different philosophies. When someone refers to yoga it is always a good idea to understand if they are talking about the physical aspect, Hatha Yoga, or one of the other aspects I will mention here. A person can use multiple yoga philosophies at a time. The goal of all styles of yoga is to obtain yoga. Remember, Yoga means Unity.

Hatha Yoga- Physical poses referred to as asanas (postures)

Bhakti Yoga (Devotional yoga)- the practice of tolerance and acceptance that allows one to see the divinity in everyone and everything. This is practiced through prayer or devotional chanting.

Karma Yoga (Action Yoga)- a practice of performing selfless deeds and using positive thoughts. This is practiced through chores or doing things selflessly and without complaint for other people.

Gyanna Yoga (Wisdom Yoga)- the practice of gaining knowledge and applying wisdom with the world around you in an open, rational and curious way. This is practiced through continually learning new things and helping others with that knowledge.

Raja Yoga (Royal Yoga)- Umbrella term encompassing the practice of Bhakti, Karma, and Gyanna Yoga.


Westernized Culture

Since the practice of yoga was brought to our Western world in 1893 it has blossomed. Since then the different yoga classes one can take are endless. I will mention a few popular one’s here. Keep in mind that yoga is not just the physical aspect.


Types of Yoga:

  • Hatha Yoga- This is actually an umbrella to most popular yoga styles. Specifically, it refers to the practice of movement through asanas with the breath. Styles under this umbrella: Ashtanga, Ananda, Bikram, Kundalini, Iyengar, and many others.
  • Acro Yoga- This style of yoga involves partners and partnered acrobatics.
  • Ashtanga Yoga- Ashtanga is known for synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of poses. This style of yoga will make you sweat.
  • Iyengar Yoga- This style focuses on the precision and detail of the asanas along with breath control. This will make you sweat and sore the next day.
  • Vinyasa Yoga- This style is known for the flow from one pose to the next.
  • Kundalini Yoga- This is a spiritual based practice combining asanas, breathing, meditation, energy flow, and chanting.
  • Ananda Yoga- Ananda Yoga is the style I teach and my preferred style to practice. This traditional Yogic practice combines asanas, pranayama (breathing) techniques, meditation, ancient teachings and one’s personal spirituality.


If asked, many westerners may refer to yoga as physical exercise or even just stretching, but every good yoga instructor knows that may be a reason they showed up to their first class but what will keep them coming back is every other benefit of yoga. That includes increased concentration, focus, and an increased zest for life. Physical benefits that increase are range of motion, circulation, and flexibility. Yoga students also are known to report having a better mood, alertness and increased energy throughout the day.




  • Namaste- Sanskrit for Hello, but used at the end of a yoga practice to symbolize respect for another. “I bow to the divine in you.”
  • Belly Breathing- This refers to breathing with the diaphragm, which is located under the lungs. Using the diaphragm to breathe has been tied to reduced stress, lower blood pressure, released serotonin (reduces carb hunger), eliminates free radicals, increases the secretion of growth hormones, improves sleep quality, and assists in weight loss.
  • Mudra- Usually, this refers to a hand gesture included with a yoga posture to increase or stabilize energy flow.
  • Pranayama- Translates to life force control, but more commonly referenced as breathing techniques
  • Yogi- A person who participates in Yoga.
  • AsanaSanskrit for posture but also know as yoga poses.


Additional Resources:

Autobiography of a Yogi Paramahansa Yogananda

The Science of Raja Yoga by Swami Kriyananda

Men’s Health: The Most Important Exercise Missing From Your Workout

 Yoga Journal Magazine

Om Yoga Cyndi Lee

Pick Your Yoga Practice Meagan McCrary



The best way to truly understand Yoga is to give it a try! I would be honored to do a class with you! Check out the rest of this website ( to see class times in the Mason City area. I also offer private sessions and workplace sessions throughout the state of Iowa. Additionally, I offer content via em_enlightens.

May the Peace be with you!