What is yoga? A background of yoga practice

It’s a great question, with several possible answers, depending who you ask. To someone who has never practiced before, yoga can perhaps be described as a physical activity, developed some 5000 years ago in India, where participants move into unusual and awkward looking positions, stretch a lot, whilst practicing deep breathing! Those who have practiced some yoga, may describe it as, a class they go to a few times a week to help them to  keep fit, relax and “get in touch” with their inner-self. Those who are experienced in yoga, may well say, that yoga is life. And, none of these would be wrong when trying to describe “what is yoga”.

What is yoga?

“Yoga” in Sanskrit can be translated to “yuj”, which means “to unite or integrate” and the essence of yoga is deep rooted going far beyond what is practiced in most western cultures.

Yoga, in it’s intended, purest form, is in fact a way of life. It is believed that about 2,000 years ago, Pantanjali, the Indian sage, collated through 195 statements, the practice of yoga that still serves as the foundations, and as a guide of all yoga practice today – it’s called the Yoga Sutra.

The Sutra outlines eight limbs of yoga:

  • Restraints (yamas)
  • Observances (niyamas)
  • Postures (asana)
  • Breathing (pranayama)
  • Withdrawal of senses (pratyahara)
  • Concentration (dharana)
  • Meditation (dhyani)
  • Absorption (samadhi)

Working through each phase, not only during a yoga class, but in daily life, is believed to lead the way to samadhi, which is enlightenment, or liberation.

21st century yoga has a key focus on the postures (asanas), which is what most yoga teachers look to develop in a yoga class, as well as a focus on breathing techniques (pranayama) and concentration (dharana), which both help deepen the practice of yoga.

In summary, yoga is a harmonisation of the body and mind, through postures, breathing and meditation.

Types of yoga

There are now so many types of yoga, even some quirky, unconventional types such as Laughter yoga, Harmonica yoga and Anti-gravity yoga…not to mention the advancing interest in Yoga Raves.

The more traditional styles of yoga include:

  • Ashtanga yoga / Pantajali Ashtanga yoga
  • Bhakti yoga (devotion yoga)
  • Classical yoga
  • Hatha yoga
  • Japa yoga
  • Jnana yoga (yoga of wisdom)
  • Kriya yoga (yoga of purification)
  • Kundalini yoga
  • Laya yoga
  • Mudra yoga
  • Tantra yoga
  • Raja yoga
  • Yantra yoga

Ashtanga, Hatha and Kundalini yoga are, of the traditional yogas, the ones that are most practised in the western world today.

Yoga is open for everyone

Yoga is suitable for everyone, any age and any capability.

Even if you can’t touch your toes, or your not in perfect shape, don’t let this put you off, because yoga could be just the thing to help improve your flexibility and health.

Even though yoga is often practiced in a class, it is a very personal journey, where it is possible to improve at a slower or faster pace, depending on your commitment and discipline.

All practice is good practice though, as there are so many benefits of yoga, including physical, mental and spiritual.

Yoga for beginners

The majority of yoga studios will cater for beginners and yoga teachers are only to keen to help explain the concepts behind yoga and discuss personal goals.

A yoga studio or centre will have more information about the types of yoga they offer including in their timetable. If in doubt which type of yoga would most suit you to get started, speak with someone and they will be able to offer advice.

A good yoga for beginners is Hatha yoga, as it covers, slowly, the basic postures (asanas) and will help to get your fitness to a good level. Hatha yoga poses filter down through many other types of yoga, so it may be as you gain experience that you want to step-it-up and try a Vinyasa yoga class, or Ashtanga, which are more energetic.

Other than that, the only thing to do is to prepare for your first yoga class. There isn’t a requirement to invest in any specific yoga clothes or yoga accessories immediately – check the class and see how you like it first. It is best to wear loose fitting clothes to allow room for movement, and take a bottle of water, in case this facility isn’t offered.

If you want to research more, read some of our other articles, written by experienced yoga enthusiasts!

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