What is Yoga?


Yoga is a philosophy of life;  Yoga is also an ancient form of exercise that originated in India over 5,000 years ago to prepare the body for sitting still in meditation; Yoga combines focus on the breath with a series of movements (postures) in a moving mediation that can be tailored to suit you.  These postures build strength and flexibility throughout the entire body and have vast benefits for the physical and mental health.


yoga infographic

You will find out the benefits for yourself, but here’s what to expect!  You will:

1. Be more calm and tranquil: focussing on the breath and staying in the present calms the nervous system and promotes well being

2. Build strength and endurance in both body and mind

3. Become more flexible 

4. Increase your energy levels and boost your immune system

5. Develop more compassion and patience; the focus on the breath allows us to be more mindful and kind to others, and to ourselves!

6. Be curious: Yoga can facilitate a journey of inquiry, of our bodies and minds. It is the perfect opportunity for us to find out who we are, how we work and what our boundaries are. The more curious we become, the more we can learn, grow and transform through our practice.

7. Feel more connected to others:  We are all connected.  Yoga helps us realise this interconnectedness and tuning in to the people around you during a yoga class can create an inspiring group energy that can carry you through even the most challenging postures.

8. Become more balanced: Balance means more than being steady while standing on one leg. It is also our approach to life and the choices we make each day. The balancing postures in yoga have a really positive effect on both our internal and external worlds

9. Develop better eating habits:  Yoga encourages us to listen to our bodies and may start to crave nutritious and wholesome foods that support your well being. And if you’re anything like me and love the (ahem) odd slice of cake, the mindfulness that is cultivated on the mat means you will eat with more awareness and enjoy every bite!

10. Have more confidence: Just the act of going to class sends a positive message to your subconscious, you are actively choosing to take time for you and your well being.

We live in a world where stress, anxiety and depression are increasingly common place.  The top 3 stress symptoms are trouble sleeping, anger/irritability, fatigue.  Short-term escapes from this stress and anxiety can be sources of anxiety in themselves.  It is therefore so important to bring stillness and calm to our lives and to look after our health.  Yoga and the associated body-mind awareness can help the restless mind to become calmed and the energy directed into constructive channels.

As a mighty river which when properly harnessed by dams and canals, creates a vast reservoir of water, prevents famine and provides abundant power for industry; so also the mind, when controlled, provides a reservoir of peace and generates abundant energy for human uplift.

The steady control of the senses and mind has been defined as Yoga.  Every expert was once a beginner, be kind to yourself and allow the journey to unfold.

Origin

The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning to bind, join, attach and yoke, to direct and concentrate one’s attention on, to use and apply.  It also means union or communion.

History

Yoga is one of the 6 orthodox systems of Indian philosophy and was collated, coordinated and systematised by Pantanjali in his classical work, the Yoga Sutras.  The system of yoga is so called because it teaches the means by which the Jīvātmā (human spirit) can be united with Paramātmā (the Universal spirit) and so can secure liberation (moksa).

Breath

Ujjayi is a specialised breathing technique which means Victorious.  This unique form of breathing is performed by creating a soft sound in the back of the throat while inhaling and exhaling through the nose.  In Yoga, the breath is paramount to the practice.  We must learn to listen to our breath, it is the guide which will tell us the quality of our practice.  If we apply too much effort the breath will become constricted or forced, with too little focus the breath may be drowned out by the sound of our own thoughts.  Maintain awareness upon your breath and every moment becomes a meditation.

Posture (Sanskrit “Asana”)

Asanas are postures that use the body to provide the weight and counterweight; they have evolved over centuries to exercise every muscle, nerve and gland in the body.  Asana brings steadiness, health and lightness in the body.  They build strength and flexibility, reduce fatigue and steady nerves but the real advantage lies in the way they train and discipline the mind; a steady and elegant posture produces mental equilibrium and focuses the mind.

Alignment

Balance, core strength, effortlessness, flow and lightness rests on an efficient use of the body. When you use your body well you release power that is otherwise tied up in inefficient patterns. When you release muscle tension you free physical and mental energy for other actions of your choice. How do you free that? A good use of the body, or healthy alignment, as it is often called, is the key.

To move better, healthier and more efficiently, it is essential to work with a dedicated focus on how to move. It is essential to move from a conscious state rather than a place where what feels normal is considered natural and therefore healthy and efficient. Because sensation of right and wrong is often simply based on habitual patterns from the past. (Tim Feldmann, http://timfeldmann.com/yoga/writings_I.htm)

Gaze (Sanskrit “Drishti”)

Drishti is a point of gaze or focus, yet it has little to do with our physical sight.  Although we may focus on a particular point (e.g. the nose or the toes), the real “looking” is directed internally and the drishti is meant to direct our attention to the subtle aspects of our practice.  The dristhti is a device designed to balance our internal and external practice; in Ashtanga there are 9 dristhti points and each asana is assigned a different drishti, which are commonly associated with the direction of the stretch.

Bandhas

Bandhas are a series of internal energy gates within the body which assist in the regulation of pranic flow (life-force, or energy).  They can be thought of as valves which work similarly to the valves within circulation system but, instead of blood, they regulate the flow of prana within energy channels known as nadis.  When engaging the locks, energy is forced to spread throughout these pathways and prana fills the body.  The 3 main bandhas used in Ashtanga are “Uddiyana Bandha” (flying upward), “Mulabandha” (root lock) and “Jalandhara Bandha” (chin lock).

Yoga and mindfulness

Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally, to things as they are.  Mindfulness based therapy uses the same techniques that Yoga has encompassed for thousands of years.  These techniques include:

  • Becoming aware – noticing and noticing that you are noticing
  • Focusing on the present moment
  • Working with direct experience rather than thinking about experience
  • Accepting – letting go of the impulse to avoid, control or hold on to thoughts and feelings
  • Practicing a non-judgmental attitude, especially suspending self-criticism.

Mindfulness is taught through attention and meditation skills which involve bringing attention to the breath and the body during stillness or movement.  Similarly, Yoga is a self-practice and centres the awareness on the breath and postures and promotes inward-focus; the practitioner is then bestowed with a peaceful and content state of mind.