Yoga has certainly become one of the more popular exercises over the past decade, with people of all ages, genders and lifestyles choosing to enjoy the innovative and personal sport.

Where did yoga begin?

It is thought that yoga was born in India almost 26,000 years ago, during the period of Sat Yuga - the golden age - where people became far more enlightened about topics of the body and the mind.

Indeed, yoga is famously a joining of both body and soul, with the word yoga actually derived from the Sanskrit word 'Yuj' which essentially means to join or unite.

As well as joining mind and body, it is thought that the exercise allows the self to unite with the universal spirit, or greater things in the world.

It has been reported that yoga was fairly scarcely documented from this original period until the early 1920s, where archeologists discovered the so-called Indus civilization - a culture that we now know extended over an area of roughly 300,000 square miles.

It is then that yoga was brought back into the minds of civilization.

Yoga as a preparation for birth

Although many expectant mothers can be nervous about doing certain types of exercise, because yoga is a gentle sport, it is thought to be perfectly fine for pregnant women to practice.

Not only does it allow these women to keep in shape during pregnancy, meaning that the baby is more healthy and the woman finds it easier to get back to her pre-pregnancy shape, it is also thought to have mental benefits.

According to yoga teacher Lisa Sanfilippo, yoga can allow pregnant women to feel more connected to their changing body.

"Yoga helps pregnant ladies to be more sensitive to the ever-changing state of their bodies and to care for themselves holistically- listening to the body's needs and tending to any aches and pains that arise, making space for the baby through intelligent stretching and breath work," she said.

"The breathing exercises, stretching and strengthening keep circulation going, and help women to have a healthy relationship with their bodies- including weight. A healthy inside makes for a more luminous and in-shape outside."

In addition, the breathing techniques help pregnant women to relax and feel calm at a time when hormones and stress levels can be particularly volatile.

Yoga as a stress relief

Emma Catto, a yoga expert from advice service, has claimed that yoga is one of the most effective methods of relaxation.

"Yoga postures and breathing encourage us to observe the constant chatter of the mind and to learn to detach from it.

"The postures give us stability and strength allowing us to be 'in our body' and have a sense of who we are in the world and stretching activates the parasympathetic nervous system which calms us down," she explained.

It is also thought that yoga techniques, such as breathing patterns, can be used in stressful situations when we need to calm down.

"They also help our body release chronic and acute tension held in our body and teach us how to relax," Ms Catto continued.

In addition, those who use yoga for spiritual purposes, such as to feel close to God or for meditation may find this a calming process, and one that unites the mind and the body.

Yoga for exercise

Yoga has a range of physical benefits, from toning to better posture.

According to experts, yoga starts up the body's metabolism - allowing you to lose those extra few pounds, stretches the major muscle groups - giving you greater flexibility and strength, and tones the body beautifully.

In addition, it can help with posture - particularly for those at work.

According to Charlotte Watts, a nutritional therapist, yoga teacher and co-author of The De-Stress Diet, yoga provides "physical help for sitting on chairs at computers all day!

"Better posture and alignment can lead to improved circulation, digestion and hormone balance. Specifically this can help common issues like back and neck pain, headaches, clenched jaws and muscle tension, cramps and spasms."

Flexibility of yoga

Yoga is such an excellent exercise because it can be done from the comfort of your own home; all you need is a mat and some positions that are within your reach.

However, if you feel that you would benefit more from a class, Ms Catto advises starting with a beginner's course.

"Of course but it is essential to start with a beginner's class/course and to make sure that the teacher is qualified. It is advisable to think what you would like your yoga practice to give you and then you can choose the most appropriately qualified teacher," she said.