“99% practice, 1% theory” – Pattabhi Jois
As yoga becomes increasingly diverse, a single common definition that can be agreed upon by everyone is all but impossible. Complicating matters further, the term yoga has been in use for several thousand years and has shifted in meaning many times. Since the primary concern is the modern interpretation of the physical practice of yoga it is there that we will look for our definition.
The word Yoga comes from Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language. It is a derivation of the word ‘yuj’, which means ‘yoking’ as in a team of oxen. In contemporary practice this is often interpreted as meaning Union.
Yoga is said to be for the purpose of uniting the mind, body, and spirit.
How can this Union be achieved?
Meditation is one way, but sometimes it is necessary to prepare the body for meditation by stretching and building strength. This is the physical practice of yoga also know as asana (posture).
Most modern yoga practices rely heavily on the Yoga Sutras of Patajali, a series of aphorisms written c.250 CE, as the basis for their philosophies. Patanjali classifies asana as one of the eight “limbs” of yoga, the majority of which are more concerned with mental and spiritual well-being than physical activity.
Many people think that yoga is just stretching, while stretching is certainly involved yoga is really about creating balance in the body through developing both strength and flexibility. This is done through the performance of poses or postures, each of which has specific physical benefits. The poses can be done quickly in succession, creating heat in the body through movement (flowing style yoga) or more slowly to increase stamina and perfect the alignment of the pose. The poses are constant, but the approach to them varies depending on the yoga tradition in which the teacher has trained.
Yoga teachers will often refer to ‘your practice’, which means your individual experience with yoga, as it develops over time. The amazing thing about yoga is that your practice is always evolving and changing so it never gets boring. Although the poses themselves don’t change, your relationship to them will. Anyone can start a yoga practice even if you don’t feel like you are very flexible or very strong as these things will improve the longer you practice. Another great thing about thinking about ‘your practice’ is that it encourages the non-competitive spirit of yoga. One of the most difficult, but ultimately most liberating things about yoga, is letting go of the ego and accepting that no one is better than anyone else. Everyone is just doing his or her best on any given day.
In addition to practicing the poses yoga, classes may also include instruction on breathing, call and response, chanting, meditation or an inspirational reading by the teacher. The variety and amount of this will depend on the individual teacher and the yoga style in which he or she is trained. Typically, a yoga class at a gym will be more focused on the purely physical benefits of yoga, while one at a yoga centre may delve more into the spiritual side. Some people find that the physical practice of yoga becomes a gateway into a spiritual exploration, while others just enjoy a wonderfully low-impact workout that makes one feel great. Whatever your tendency you will be able to find a yoga class that suits your style.
Yoga is not a religion. People of all faiths practice yoga. Yoga is not about being flexible or strong. So many people think that you must be flexible to practice yoga. Flexibility and strength develop as you practice. Many people choose to practice yoga to help with medical problems such as back pain, arthritis, depression, migraines, heart or breathing difficulties and more. Yoga is not a medical practice, but it has been shown to be helpful with many medical conditions if taught safely and correctly.
The practice of yoga realigns the spine, detoxifies the body, and builds strength, flexibility and stamina. But these are only the side benefits of a yoga practice.
Yoga is about breathing and moving your body whilst being completely focused on that breath and movement. Several movements are made ending in a posture, which is held for several breaths or more. Each posture can be modified to work at the level that your body will find comfortably challenging. A typical yoga class will consist of a series of postures and end with a relaxation period.
Adding yoga to your life will enhance personal growth and well-being. It is a practice that once incorporated into daily life, will bring many benefits. But in order to reap those rewards the work must be done. Yoga is like anything else that is worthwhile. You get back what you put into it.
Trying one or two yoga classes is like taking one or two dance lessons. You must begin with the basics and then continue with developing the practice. You will need to make a fair commitment to yoga for 10 to 12 weeks. Remember that you are practicing yoga to change physical and mental parts of yourself that have taken a long time to develop.
Yoga is something that becomes part of your daily life, like sleeping, eating and drinking. Give your practice time to develop, pay attention to what happens every day. Your yoga practice should be something you look forward to, something you enjoy and something that makes you feel better than you did before the practice began.
Benefits of yoga
Some of today’s common complaints are:
- Back pain
- Sleep problems
- Gastro-intestinal disorders
And the list goes on and on……………..
There are 168 hours in a week (24 hours a day x 7 days in a week). Spend 1 hour a week in a yoga class and get BIG benefits. Invest in some time for YOU!
BUT BETTER YET! Don’t just research it… DO YOGA…..
“Enjoy yourself. I have never had a practice that I regretted. Not once have I finished a routine and thought, ‘Oh, I wish I hadn’t done that’. But there have been days that I didn’t practice and later wished I had”.