Yoga is an ancient Indian body of knowledge dating back to over 5,000 years. Yoga is a system for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and the different physical postures (asanas) practised had a purpose beyond our physical health.
Ancient yogis had a belief that in order for us to be in harmony with our environment, and ourselves, we need to integrate the body, the mind and the spirit. The yogis formulated a way to achieve and maintain this balance through asanas, breathing (pranayama) and meditation - the three main yoga structures.
Today these timeless and holistic practices of yoga still work helping us to relieve stress, re-energise, build overall body strength, improve flexibility, gain confidence as well as look and feel younger for longer.
The word yoga is derived from the ancient Sanskrit root 'yuj' which means to join, to yoke together to unify or unite as one.
One who follows the path of yoga is a yogi or yogin.
People choose yoga to become healthier, lose weight, learn mindfulness, de-stress and bring calm, while others enjoy a high intensity super powered class. However, yoga does not seek to offer a quick fix to one's problems although it could provide a long-term program for living positively and mindfully.
Practising yoga regularly in a class with the expert guidance of an experienced teacher can be invaluable when building self confidence. Making a commitment to attend class regularly can help develop your skills and abilities, and enhance the qualities of overall body strength and tone, as well as stress management. You could also notice a difference to your posture, energy and confidence.
"Be even tempered in both success and failure. This mental evenness is what is meant by Yoga. Indeed, equanimity is Yoga!"
~ Bhagavad-Gita (Ch. 2, V. 48)
Which yoga type suits you?
With such a wide variety of yoga practices available these days it can be hard to decide which one is right for you. Listed below are only a few practices.
AIR YOGA uses an aerial silk hammock to deliver a workout inspired by circus aerialists and acrobats. Built around the concept of aerial conditioning, the hammock is used to develop the three primary elements to allow freedom in the air - the pull up, the leg lift, and the front and back split. The hammock also allows for a deeply relaxing "inversion" as it actively decompresses the spine. The result is a challenging, varied, and fun workout suitable for all skill levels including those who are complete beginners. For people wanting to try something new, challenging, and effective.
ASHTANGA consists of about 75 poses performed in the same sequence taking an hour and a half to two hours to complete. Each sequence begins with Sun Salutations, moving through standing and seated poses, inversions and back bends and ends with closing poses. Best suited to men, due to the upper body strength needed, or athletic women.
BIKRAM consists of a set of 26 poses with two breathing exercises. Classes are held in a heated room to help deeper stretching while preventing injury. Suited to people wanting a high power work out.
HATHA is the most widely practised form of yoga concentrating on physical health and mental wellbeing through the practice of asanas (poses/postures). Hatha Yoga promotes circulation in all organs, glands and tissues and aligning of muscles, helping with balance and flexibility. Suited to people wanting to improve their flexibility, balance, and overall body strength and create calm within.
IYENGAR focuses mainly on finer adjustments in one's alignment and precision when performing poses. Yoga blocks and straps are widely used to help guide and assist the student. Suited to students wanting to improve their posture, stamina, flexibility, concentration and balance.
KUNDALINI involves unique and specialised practices that focus on the chakras and should always be taught under the guidance of a guru or a highly advanced Kundalini instructor.
QiYoga® is self healing chi gung with Hatha Yoga, breath and meditation to improve flexibility and body strength while calming and restoring. More suited to the 40+ age group because of joint care practices and variations for people with high or low blood pressure. Women trying to fall pregnant, specifically with QiYoga® for Fertility
RAJA is the yoga of Patanjali where he explains the workings of the mind leading to the practise of posture, breath control and meditation to improve concentration. Appeals to a true spiritual seeker.
YIN is a more restorative form of yoga that focuses on relaxing the muscles and moving deep into the stretch, engaging the connective tissues. These poses are held from three to five minutes without straining the muscles. Suited for people wanting calm, flexibility and greater joint mobility.
With so many styles and varieties of yoga the sheer choice can be discouraging. The best way is to attend at least three classes before deciding on the style that suits you best.
Remember that yoga is work in progress!
Next month we'll begin looking at breath (pranayama) and meditation, both intrinsically linked to yoga.