What is Yoga? Your Guide to Yoga

Guide to Yoga:

What is Yoga?
History and Philosophy of Yoga
Different Branches of Yoga
Variations of Yoga
Benefits of yoga
Who can practice yoga?
How to start
What to wear to yoga class
Yoga Poses
Breathing
Relaxation
Meditation

 


What is Yoga?

Yoga is a thousands of years old form of exercise. Practicing yoga fosters good health.

Different styles and types of yoga have emerged over the years but all of them have the same goal: balance of the body and mind.

The word “yoga” means unity or connection to our self. In yoga mind, body and breath are united. The yoga postures are called “asana”. All forms of movement yoga are based on Hatha Yoga.

Yoga is not a religion, new-age movement or a cult. You don’t have to stop drinking or smoking or become a vegetarian to practice yoga. Yoga accepts everyone for who they are. Although there is an old philosophy behind yoga, not all who practice yoga are connected to it or even aware of it.

Yoga aims at the spiritual growth and overall well-being. It relaxes stressed mind, improves concentration, strengthens physical fitness, increases flexibility and can help alleviate anxiety and insomnia.


How Yoga is Different from Other Types of Exercise

Yoga class is not a competition, there are no demands or expectations. There is only what feels good to your body at that very moment. The mind gets a chance to relax through the movement.

Yoga doesn’t stress your body like many other workouts do. This means that the body doesn’t need days to rest in between training sessions to recover like it does with weight training and other high impact sports. Yoga can also be used to enhance weight loss.

Yoga practice is not just about body maintenance; it’s a holistic method where the ultimate purpose is to unite the mind and the body.

In addition, the physical yoga exercises are based on yoga philosophy. These factors, as well as the use of breathing and awareness during practice, separate yoga from other types of exercise.


History and Philosophy of Yoga

The roots of yoga are deep in India. Yoga has been a part of different Indian philosophies and religions for thousands of years. Yoga is also a part of old traditional healing method: Ayurveda.

The oldest scriptures that include descriptions about Yoga are the Vedas (1200 BC.). There has been found possibly even older pictures of men sitting in meditation poses that are dated back to Indus Valley Civilization (2600-1500 BC.) For thousands of years the Yoga tradition was conveyed orally from teachers to student.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali is widely regarded as the most important piece of yoga literature. It was compiled over 1500 years ago by philosopher named Patanjali. The original language of the Yoga Sutras is Sanskrit that was spoken in India 2500-500 BC.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are 196 aphorisms written in the book form about philosophy and practicing yoga.
The Yoga Sutra aphorisms share information about how a yogi can strengthen his mind, body and soul.

The book is divided into four chapters:
Samadhi pada tells what yoga is.
Sadhana pada tells how to practice it.
Vibhuti pada tells about the obstacles in the path of yoga practice.
Kaivalya pada tells how to be free from all the forces that drive life to imbalance.

The Eightfold Path in the Yoga Sutras is considered as the philosophical foundation of yoga.
The eightfold path contains “codes of conduct” for spiritual development:
1. yama (moral guidelines). Yama means to abstain from wrong actions. Moral rules tell how to act and behave around other living creatures.
2. niyama (cleansing and studying). Niyama means abiding the rules.
3. āsana (poses). Practicing the sitting and standing poses of yoga.
4. prāṇayāma (controlling the breath). The dynamics of breath is learned through the yoga poses.
5. pratyāhāra (controlling the senses). When the mind is calm it is possible to control the other senses. The tougths and feelings that arise are not completely excluded but they are left alone, accepted and let go with breath.
6. dhāraṇā (focus). Deep concentration can be achieved when the mind is not distracted by thoughts, noises or feelings.
7. dhyāna (meditation). The purpose of meditation is to clear the mind completely
8. samādhi (enlightenment, self-realization). To get to this point the previous steps need to be completed.

One truth that would fit all can’t be found in the Yoga Sutras. The text is open and it is left to the reader to find their own truth in it.

6 Branches of Yoga

Yoga has been compared to a tree with 6 branches. The six branches of yoga are hatha, bhakti, jñana, karma, raja and tantra.

Each branch represents different approach to life. In our modern society the exercises that we call Yoga come from the hatha branch.

Hatha Yoga is traditional physical yoga form. Breathing guides the movement from one pose to the next. Relaxation techniques are used at the end of every practice.

Tantra Yoga represents the energy of yoga. Tantra Yoga has different rituals to celebrate this energy.

Raja Yoga is a classical yoga form. The key principle is to exercise the mind through meditation. It aims to extend the yoga philosophy to all parts of life and to ethical principles: nonviolence, inner happiness, contentment and truthfulness.

Bhakti Yoga is the way of love. Bhakti Yoga practitioners devote to helping others. Understanding and kindness is pursued through unconditional love.

Karma Yoga is the yoga of work and action. Karma Yoga practitioner observes the motives of his/her actions and aims to complete altruism.

Jnana Yoga is deep and philosophical way of knowledge. The ultimate truth is searched through reading, meditation and conversation.


Variations of Yoga

The options are now so abundant that a beginner can easily be overwhelmed with the difficulty of choice. Explore bravely for various types of yoga so you may find yourself a new favorite hobby – and peace of mind.

Ashtanga (Astanga) Yoga is a dynamic form of yoga, in which similar repetitive physical motion sequences are performed with powerful breathing. Ashtanga Yoga is known for impressive poses such as hand- and headstands that demand strength and flexibility. Ashtanga Vinyasa (sometimes called Vinyasa Flow) combines yoga poses together with breath.

Hot Yoga is a sequence of Hatha or Bikram Yoga and the classes are held in a heated room. High temperature makes the movement easier on the muscles and joints.

Iyengar Yoga aims to accuracy and alignment of the yoga poses. Often various tools such as blocks and belts are used.

Kundalini Yoga is thousands of year’s old form of yoga. Kundalini includes meditation, chakras and mantras into yoga practice.

Sivananda Yoga is a classical form of Hatha Yoga. Sivananda Yoga is more dynamic than Hatha but not as physical as Ashtanga. The basic pillars of the yoga practice are breathing exercises, relaxation, proper diet and meditation.

Yin Yoga focuses on improving the mobility of the pelvis and the spine area.

Read more about the different types of yoga


Benefits of yoga

Yoga gives both physical and mental resources to counterbalance our busy lifestyle.
Yoga is an effective form of exercise that activates the whole body. It massages the internal organs, limbers up spine and joints, stretches and strengthens the muscles and ligament, as well as improves blood circulation. Yoga can also alleviate headaches, back and neck pain.
Yoga exercise affects the nervous system, metabolism and digestion as well as strengthens the immune system and balances hormones.
In Yoga the movement is connected to the breath. Focusing on your breathing teaches to be present in the moment.

Read more about the benefits of yoga


Who can practice yoga?

Anyone regardless of their age or physical fitness can practice yoga. There are many different variations of yoga to choose from. Not all of them are suitable for everyone.


How to start practicing yoga?

Practice yoga in a peaceful and quiet place. Remember to turn off your phone. There are no limitations to where you can practice yoga. Try yoga outside: on a beach or in a forest if you have the opportunity.

It is recommended to practice yoga regularly. There is no time limits for practicing yoga. You can practice in the morning, during the day or in the evening. If you choose to practice in the evening before going to bed remember to keep the exercises light so that they won’t interfere sleep.
Don’t do the exercises right after eating. It is recommended not to eat 2-3 hours before yoga practice.
Use a yoga mat or soft blanket as a pad. The mat or towel should be big enough that you’ll fit to lie on it. It should also be thick enough to protect your spine.
Before yoga practice you should try to relax your whole body. You can do a short meditation or stretch before starting.

What to wear to yoga class

Dress in comfortable clothes that won’t slide when you do different poses. Don’t wear shoes. You can wear socks during relaxation.


Yoga Poses

Many yoga exercises and poses, asanas, have been named after animals, from the way they move and stretch.

Every pose has a purpose and special effects on the body. There are many poses in Yoga that are suitable for the beginners as well as more difficult poses for the more advanced yogis.

Basic Yoga Poses

Beginner Yoga Poses video from YouTube:

 


Yoga Breathing – Pranayama

“Our breath is the bridge from our body to the mind” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Part of yoga is to learn to breathe properly. In natural breathing the breath passes through the nose so that the air is filtered, warms up and gets damp. The sense of smell warns of poor air quality. Breathing through your nose increases vitality and makes you feel more refreshed.

Stress builds up in the body as muscle tension. Anxiety and stress make breathing shallow and fast. At that time you are breathing only with the top part of the chest.

Learning a proper breathing method can help you to let go of the anxiety and tension. Yoga breathing methods teach how to deepen the breath by using diaphragm. Deep breathing exercises have a relaxing effect for the body and the mind.

Pranayama Breathing

Pranayama is Sanskrit language and means breathing exercise. It is an important part of yoga tradition and it’s considered to be a great asset in the balance between the body and the mind.

Even a few minutes of daily exercise can bring great results.

Benefits of yoga breathing exercises:
– Relieves stress and eases relaxing
– Adds concentration and brings the mind to the present moment
– Boosts digestion
– Warms the body
– Activates parasympathetic nervous system
– Increased supply of oxygen refreshes and makes you more alert

 


Relaxation

Relaxation is a state where muscle tension is relieved, breathing stabilizes and the mind calms down.
Yoga is very suitable for learning to relax because it treats the body and mind at the same time. Yoga practice usually ends with relaxation exercise that is done lying on your back.

Shavasana – the corpse pose (or dead man’s pose)
This pose relaxes the entire body and mind. Shavasana gives the body a chance to relax after the workout, strengthening muscles, relaxing the joints and calming the mind.

– Lay on your back
– Separate the legs to a comfortable distance
– Bring your hands away from the body, palms facing up
– Relax your jaw and neck, arms and legs
– Don’t control your breathing, just focus on it

 


Meditation

Meditation is part of yoga practice. The purpose is to calm the mind into a state of concentration.

Meditation relaxes and calms the body and the mind.

The mind is calmed with different mediation techniques (watching the breathing, using mantras). Calming the mind relaxes the nervous system, relieves the body from stress and improves the ability to concentrate.

Using one meditation technique doesn’t rule out the others. In Yoga tradition different meditation techniques complement each other.

Read more: Guide to Buddhist Meditation

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thanks for sharing nice information.

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