What is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient system that offers wisdom, techniques and practices to support physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. From the physical postures (asana) and breathing techniques (pranayama), to guidance on living (yama & niyama) and meditation, the aim of different yoga processes is to help a person achieve harmony and greater understanding of themselves and life.
Yoga is a science that can be effectively applied whether the practitioner ‘believes’ in the philosophy of yoga or not. It offers a wide range of tools and practices that are accessible to all, and is not limited to any age, sex, race, or religion.
Essentially, yoga is a process of self-realisation and discovering the true nature of things. While it may appear that yoga is a group activity, the journey itself is an individual one. And as such, everyone will have their own unique level of understanding as they progress along the path of yoga.
The Benefits of Yoga
Some of the commonly known benefits of practicing yoga:
- Improves flexibility and balance: Yoga poses and stretches help to increase mobility and enhance the range of motion in various joints in the body.
- Reduces stress and anxiety: Yoga practices such as deep breathing, meditation, and certain poses help to calm the mind and reduce stress.
- Improves overall health: Yoga has been linked to reducing high blood pressure, improving heart health, easing chronic pain, and strengthening the immune system.
- Enhances mental clarity and concentration: Yoga practices promote mindfulness and focus, leading to improved clarity and concentration.
- Promotes better sleep: Yoga practices can help to reduce anxiety, stress, and physical tension, leading to improved sleep quality.
- Increases strength and tone: Yoga poses and sequences challenge various muscle groups, leading to improved strength and muscle tone.
- Boosts self-awareness and self-esteem: Yoga practices help to increase self-awareness and self-esteem by promoting self-reflection and self-acceptance.
- It is important to note that the benefits of yoga vary from person to person and depend on various factors such as the type of yoga practice, frequency of practice, and individual health conditions.
Yes, there are different subsets of yoga that focus on different goals and tenets. For example:
- Hatha Yoga: a set of physical practices (inclusive of asana and pranayama) that aim to promote vitality and health. This is the most widely known type of yoga in the Western world.
- Karma Yoga: living life in a manner where one strives to be of service to others and God.
- Jnana Yoga: A practice that focuses on developing wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of the self and the nature of reality through meditation, self-reflection, and study.
- Bhakti Yoga: the cultivation of love for the Supreme, or God.
There are many different styles of yoga, each with their own unique approach and emphasis. Here are some of the most practiced styles:
- Hatha Yoga
- Vinyasa Yoga
- Ashtanga Yoga
- Iyengar Yoga
- Bikram Yoga
- Kundalini Yoga
- Yin Yoga
- Restorative Yoga
- Power Yoga
- Jivamukti Yoga
- Anusara Yoga
- Kripalu Yoga
- Satyananda Yoga
- Sivananda Yoga
- Bhakti Yoga
Yama and Niyama are the first two limbs of the eight-limbed yoga system. They are ethical principles that guide behaviour and actions towards oneself and others.
Yama consists of five principles that represent behavioural guidelines towards others:
- Ahimsa (nonviolence)
- Satya (truthfulness)
- Asteya (non-stealing)
- Brahmacharya (celibacy or continence)
- Aparigraha (non-greediness)
Niyama consists of five principles that represent moral and ethical values towards oneself:
- Saucha (cleanliness or purity)
- Santosha (contentment)
- Tapas (discipline or austerity)
- Svadhyaya (study of self)
- Īśvara praṇidhāna (dedication to the universal absolute)
Together, Yama and Niyama act as a foundation for the practice of yoga and help create a peaceful and harmonious inner and outer environment.
General Yoga Classes
Yoga classes typically begin with some breathing exercises and warm-up poses to prepare your body for the practice.
The main portion of the class includes a series of yoga poses or asanas, which are held for varying lengths of time. These poses can range from gentle and relaxing, to more challenging and physically demanding.
Throughout the class, the instructor may give verbal cues to help you maintain proper alignment and offer modifications to make the poses more accessible or challenging.
Many classes also incorporate meditation and relaxation techniques, as well as ending with a final resting pose called Savasana to allow your body to fully relax and integrate the benefits of the practice.
Some teachers may include chanting during or at the end of the practice, and students can choose to engage as they feel comfortable.
Overall, a yoga class is a holistic experience for the body and mind, and is designed to help increase strength and flexibility, reduce stress, and promote overall wellness.
Meditation is usually an integral part of yoga and many yoga teachers may offer classes dedicated to the practice of meditation. Participants usually practise either on cushions on the floor, or seated on chairs. A dedicated meditation class typically includes:
- An introduction possibly including breathing exercises and relaxation
- Mindfulness and meditation practices
- Returning to an outward focus and brief discussion
Classes generally span 1 – 1½ hours.
Many people are afraid of attending yoga classes for the following reasons:
- Being judged by others for their knowledge, flexibility, body type, or outfit.
- Feeling like they don’t belong in a group setting or are self-conscious about participating in group activities.
- Worries about not being able to keep up with the instructor or other students.
- Fear of physical injury or pushing beyond their physical limits.
- Unexpected physical or emotional reactions during the class, such as crying or feeling overwhelmed.
- Concerns about hygiene, cleanliness, or the potential for germs and bacteria in a shared environment.
- Fear of the unknown, doing something new, or out of their comfort zone.
If you can relate to any of these fears, it can be helpful to speak with your local teacher before attending classes in order to gain a better understanding of how classes are run, if the style of class is a right fit for you, and to see if the environment the class is held in is suitable for your needs. Or feel free to give us a call in the office to talk. We’re here to support your journey, every step of the way.
Yoga is not a belief-based practice, but rather a set of techniques and tools for physical and mental well-being.
Even if someone does not subscribe to the philosophy behind yoga, they still benefit from the physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation techniques.
In fact, one could make the case that it is better not to be encumbered by jargon or concepts that have been awkwardly translated.
These practices have been shown to improve flexibility, strength, balance, stress management, and overall health.