There are many books, journals and websites dedicated to yoga. This is a brief introduction and after reading it I hope you are inspired to continue to explore and enjoy yoga. Everyone can practise yoga, regardless of age, flexibility and experience. Yoga is so much more than many people assume.
I have been practising yoga for over a decade. I am a certified yoga teacher and registered with the Yoga Alliance, an international professional yoga organization. Many people not familiar with yoga assume they cannot do it. We have all seen the pictures of slim fit women in leotards holding themselves in positions we couldn't imagine our bodies ever going to!
During a yoga class it is tempting to force your body as far as it can go, especially if the person on the mat next to you is very supple! It's more important to to work with your body and capabilities on any given day. We can aim to look like the pictures in the yoga books EVENTUALLY, but it is not how your body looks that is important. What does matter is that you focus your mind on your body and the posture, to actually feel each movement and posture, to find peace with your body at that very moment and to integrate the breath.
Some people are naturally supple and everybody's body is different with varying capabilities. How a posture looks has very little to do with how well that person is doing yoga. Many of us want to look good in a posture rather than truly honouring where our body can comfortably go in that moment and finding peace within that. I remember my first few yoga classes. I was very stiff and could barely touch my knees let alone the floor during a forward bend. Instead of allowing my body to be as it was and to work with my breath and only go as deep as I could manage, I forced myself down to the ground, overstreched the back of my legs, cranked open the back of my knees, pulled my back and was in pain for days after! That was in the days when ego ruled my life. Since then I have come to know that it does not matter how impressive a posture looks, we are only doing yoga when we fully integrate the mind, body and breath.
Yoga has become popular in the west in recent years with a huge variety of classes and styles. If we have not done it ourselves, we all know someone who has. Most church halls offer a weekly class and it is well accepted in our society. However, there is so much more to yoga than the postures. Yoga is a myriad of things, it is a science, a philosophy, a method of cleansing and purification, a path to enlightenment and a way of life. Below is a little more background to the origins of yoga.
Yoga is over 5,000 years old. There have been a large number of texts regarding the creation and development of yoga, The Bhagavad Gita being one of the more well known texts. Patanjali, who is considered the father of modern Yoga, composed a text called the Yoga-Sutra and defined Classical Yoga. The Yoga Sutra consists of 195 aphorisms and described the eight aspects of a Yogic lifestyle called the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The limbs are practical guides to help a person achieve harmony of the mind, the body and the spirit which leads to enlightenment (Samadhi).
In the west, when people mention the term yoga they are usually referring to Hatha Yoga. Many of the styles of yoga we know today (Ashtanga, Bikram Kundalini, power yoga, Scaravelli, Kundalini) originate from Hatha Yoga.
Hatha Yoga came from the words ‘ha’ which means sun and ‘tha’ which means moon. It is the branch of Yoga that brings union of the pairs of opposites referring to the positive (sun) and negative (moon) currents in the system. By practising postures we focus the mind on the body using the breath, to create a union of mind, body and spirit.
Hatha Yoga concentrates on the third limb of yoga, Asanas (postures) and the fourth limb, Pranayama (breathing exercises). It uses the physical postures and breathing exercises to clear the energy pathways (nadis) and energise, removing the obstacles for other limbs which are Pratyahara (bringing mind/senses under control), Dharana (maintaining concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (enlightenment). The first two limbs are Yamas (how you treat others) and Niyamas (how you treat yourself). Practicing yoga is about so much more than practicing postures.
Benefits of Asana (postures)
There are numerous benefits to practicing yoga postures, I have detailed some of them here hoping it will encourage you to practice regularly. Practicing postures can help your body become stronger, more supple and relaxed. Practicing regularly opens the energy channels allowing your energy to flow freely. It improves digestion, circulation and posture. Yoga practice can relieve headache, insomnia, back pain and fatigue. It is therapeutic for high blood pressure, low blood pressure, asthma, back ache and sciatica. It can help prevent osteoporosis. Postures stimulate and massage the internal organs. Hatha Yoga practice is a great way to cope with stress, relieve tension and depression.
If one could buy a vitamin tablet that provided all the beneficial effects of yoga, it would be an all time best seller. However there is no shortcut. The only way to enjoy these benefits is to get on and do it. I know we are all busy, but a little effort will go a long long way and you are worth that effort.
During the classes I teach I encourage people to work with their body in that present moment and not push it too much. It's okay to challenge your body but not hurt it. I do not expect those who come to my classes to wrap their legs around their head (unless they want to!) I encourage people to enjoy yoga without competition or pressure to perform and to feel the postures rather than force them always working closely with the breath. Regardless of how impressive a posture may look, it is only when we integrate the mind and body using the breath, that we are really doing yoga. This is why yoga really is available to everyone regardless of age, flexibility etc. Try it or for those that have and enjoy it regularly, encourage others to also and aim to establish a regular practice for yourself.
*Yoga Journal *Yoga Basics *Yoga Alliance *Yoga Finder *Yoga Pages *Yoga Directory
Rather than promote pages of yoga books, I have chosen 5 *fabulous* books I'm sure you will enjoy.