What is Yoga?

Published by Shauna Burchett, OTR/L on

silhouette of person doing yoga at sunset
shauna hand stand

Shauna Burchett OTR/L demonstrates a sweet yoga pose!

Yoga is everywhere – in studios, gyms, television and even for your video game console! Simply put, yoga is a set of specific body postures with the goal of improving flexibility and overall wellbeing. While that is decent working definition, why be content with the basics? There is so much more to what yoga is and the benefits it can provide!

A Brief History

Yoga started over 2000 years ago in India and has was progressively refined until during the Middle Ages when Hatha yoga emerged as the dominate style. Hatha yoga combined full body poses with breath work to attain balance and unify the body. This style of  yoga remains the most popular discipline and is what most people think of when discussing yoga. Western exposure began as early as the 1800s and boomed in the 1960s and again in the 1980s. Since the 1980s, yoga has gained popularity as an exercise, unconnected with the spiritual and philosophical traditions, and has gained recognition as being an excellent way to improve overall wellbeing, especially when combined with a rehabilitation program.

Yoga Basics

As mentioned before, yoga is made up of specific positions called asanas. The word asana originally came from the Sanskrit word for sitting still, over the years it has been adopted to mean any body position, most commonly applied to yoga positions. These asanas are grouped in the categories of standing, sitting, twisting, arm balances, back bends and forward bends. (See the pictures below for examples) Generally yoga is performed on a foam mat to protect your body from the hard floor, but yoga can be practiced anywhere- even in your chair! Each position targets a specific muscle or group of muscles either strengthening or lengthening, thus improving flexibility and overall fitness. Yoga also uses breath work to help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing your body to relax and begin the healing process. Like other physical activities such as Pilates, Feldenkrais® and dance, yoga teaches your body to move in new ways, improving your self awareness and forging a strong mind-body connection.



Arm Balances

Arm Balances





Back Bend

Back Bends

Forward Bend

Forward Bends

The Benefits of Yoga

Just like other forms of exercise, yoga is great for the body. As Reese Witherspoon once said: “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy, happy people don’t kill their __________ (Insert current irritating person here. EX: husband, mother-in-law, boss, you get the picture!)” . As if that wasn’t enough, the benefits of yoga also include:

  • Increased flexibility and range of motion
  • Increased strength
  • Reduced fight-or-flight (stress)
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Reduced neck pain and back pain and headaches
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Increased relaxation and contentment
  • Improved concentration and focus
  • Reduced depression
  • And much more!
  • Further Reading : 9 Benefits of Yoga | Johns Hopkins

Shauna Burchett, OTR/L

Shauna Burchett, OTR/L is a skilled occupational therapist and the owner of Synergy Healthcare. She graduated from the University of Alberta in 1993 with a degree in Occupational Therapy. Shauna began her career as an occupational therapist specializing in traumatic head injuries. She has also worked in skilled nursing facilities specializing in long and short term geriatric rehabilitation. Shauna has been in private practice since 1998.