Yoga studios have become almost ubiquitous in American life, and just about every neighborhood now has access to classes. However, many who practice yoga aren’t aware of its rich and complex history.

Here are 10 fascinating facts about yoga that just might surprise you:

1. Many Schools, One Unified Goal

There are over 100 different schools of yoga. Some of the most popular include Hatha yoga, Bikram yoga, Raja yoga, Vinyasa yoga, Jnana yoga, Bhakti yoga and Karma yoga. Each has a different focus and technique ranging from cultivating balance to improving fitness to promoting healing. However, all of the schools have a unified goal: connecting with the bliss of Oneness and aligning with the universe.

2. Hatha Yoga is the Most Widely Practiced

Of all the schools and forms of yoga, Hatha yoga is the most popular, especially in the West. This is likely because it is a gentle, easy form with a focus on quieting the mind. It has all the ideal building blocks for a yoga practice and is an excellent way to get started. The word “hatha” combines the words “hameans” (sun) and “tha” (moon). The polarities of the sun and moon represent the goal of finding a balance with the forces of nature in our bodies as well as in our environment.

3. Yoga’s Essence Can Be Distilled to One Key Component: Breathe!

While yoga schools can differ widely, offering a range of approaches, one key idea runs through each type of practice: a focus on deep, mindful breathing. The breath is foundational to life and represents the flow of qi (“chi”), or universal life force energy throughout the cells and systems. Without the breath and without qi, there is no life. As you practice and perfect your yoga form and asanas, cultivate the habit of deep, rhythmic breathing in sync with the postures and transitions.

4. It Can Help Cure a Hangover

If you overindulged the night before, yoga can help you to get on the mend faster. Certain asanas including the shoulder stand, fish pose and plow pose all help to stimulate the thyroid gland, which can promote a faster recovery time. Yoga also improves circulation, which can help to move toxins out of the organs, cells and systems faster than they would be otherwise.

5. The Yoga Sound and Symbol Has Deep Roots

The yoga sound of “OM” and its corresponding symbol represents the infinite field of consciousness. It precedes all forms and even energy itself, connecting the inner world with the outer. Intoning this sound serves to help align us with this energy of our true selves – just as the practice of yoga can. OM represents the pulse of the universe, the source of all life, and yoga helps us tap into this as well.

However, while OM is the yoga symbol, it has deeper roots in Tibetan and Hindu philosophies. It seems to have first appeared in The Upanishads, a collection of sacred Vedic texts composed around 600 B.C. OM represents the primordial sound of the universe and is connected with the “third eye” chakra of higher consciousness.

6. It Can Improve Your Sex Life

Yoga can also help to improve sexual performance and the overall experience of sex. Research has shown that a yoga practice can assist in treating and preventing sexual dysfunction due to an increase and improvement in one’s overall health and well being. It also intensifies the experience of orgasm due to better energy flow throughout the chakras.

Yoga also helps to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, called the asmoola bandha in yogic traditions. Certain yoga poses and movements have the same effect as doing Kegel exercises, which are known to work and strengthen the muscles in the pelvic floor to enhance the entire sexual experience. Yoga also has connections with Tantra, which regards sexuality as sacred.

7. Yoga Boosts Immunity at a Genetic Level

You know that you feel better after doing yoga, but did you know that yoga is actually influencing and changing your genes for the better? A study done in Norway and published in 2013 showed that participating in a regular yoga practice actually makes positive immune system changes at the DNA level. Those who do yoga tend to have a stronger immunity response, are more resistant to disease, and heal and recover faster from injuries and illness.

8. Regular Practice Supports Ideal Weight By Reducing Appetite

Those who do yoga tend to have fewer cravings between meals and eat less overall, according to a University of Washington study. This seems to be because yoga promotes mindfulness and body awareness. Because of this, yoga practitioners are more likely to eat only when they are truly hungry. They also tend to favor healthier food choices.

9. You’ll Sleep Better

Doing yoga regularly also assists individuals with insomnia in sleeping longer and more soundly through the night. Numerous studies have shown that both the physical component and the movement of energy throughout the body and chakra system promotes deeper overall relaxation. This in turn translates into better sleep patterns.

10. Improved Fertility

There have been numerous reports of yoga being linked to improved fertility for couples looking to become pregnant. This is because yoga helps to stimulate the endocrine system as well as the testes in men and the ovaries in women.

11. (Bonus Tip) There’s Even Yoga for Dogs! (And Their Owners)

If you’ve been looking for a way to bond with your canine friend, consider trying “Doga.” Founded in New York City in 2002, Doga promotes a positive pet and owner relationship. In this form, the dogs are involved by being incorporated as props or assisted in doing some gentle moves and stretches themselves.

The benefits of a yoga practice to health and well being are well known. However, there is much more that we can learn about its rich history. Have fun sharing these interesting yoga facts with your fellow yogis and yoginis.

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