Yoga is a practice originated in India about 5,000 years ago and has been adapted in other countries in a variety of ways. Yoga is now commonplace in leisure centres, health clubs, schools, hospitals and surgeries. Yoga is a philosophy that emphasises the connection between mind and body. The yoga lifestyle has changed quite a bit since ancient times, but the essence of yoga remains the same, as does the ultimate goal: to find harmony with yourself and the world.
A yoga pose is called asana, based on the Sanskrit word for “seat”. Yoga poses are the building blocks of a physical yoga practice, and a gateway to a deeper understanding of the mind and body. Yoga poses were traditionally done in preparation for seated meditation, helping to strengthen the back and core and open up the hips to facilitate longer periods of sitting.
True to their origins, most poses have the name that ends with asana. Poses are often named for animals such as cobra, and objects whose shapes and characteristics inspire the pose, such as boat or warrior.
What are the principles of yoga?
- Exercise: yoga routines can provide you with a full cardiac workout and increase your aerobic stamina. Sequences will always involve building up your body to be strong for the more challenging poses, then gently cooling it down in recovery postures. Rather than focussing on dramatically expending energy, yoga also emphasises the conservation of your body’s energy, so that after each session you have more energy than when you began.
- Breathing: Yoga places a great importance on the breath as it is considered to be a bridge between the mind and the body. You need to be able to regulate the depth and duration of inhalation and exhalation of the breath. Yoga encourages breathing in and out through your nose. Yoga breathing techniques reinvigorate your body by maximising oxygen levels in the blood. This has a direct influence on your nervous system.
- Relaxation: the yoga tradition recognises that regular relaxation releases tension and allows you to make new energy, even when you’re tired and overworked!
- Balanced diet: it is all about healthy eating! The way we consume food will have an impact upon the body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients.
- Meditation: the yogic approach places great importance on positive thinking for sustaining mental wellbeing. Meditation techniques are used to consciously clear the mind of negative thought and emotions; it helps control and focus your mind away from impulsiveness.
What are the benefits of yoga?
Through research, yoga has been proven to help decrease stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and many other mental health issues. Yoga works by decreasing activity in the sympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the “fight or flight” response, which is typically responsible for constricting blood vessels and raising heart rate and blood pressure.
In the past few years, yoga and other mind-body practices have been a topic of interest for researchers in the psychology field, exploring its benefits for individuals working to improve their psychological well being. There is an increasing number of communities, such as hospitals, rehab centres and transitional homes incorporating yoga into their programming for improving mental health in many individuals.
Have you tried?
Many people think that they need to be flexible to begin yoga, but that’s a little bit like thinking that you need to be able to play tennis in order to take tennis lessons! There are many different types of yoga, and yoga isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Some people are intimidated to practice yoga because they think they aren’t good enough or are discouraged that they don’t look like the cover of a yoga magazine in each pose. Although seeing a beautiful yoga pose is amazing, the point of yoga is how you feel in the pose and what works for your body. Everyone’s yoga practice is different and unique to them. Being present and in touch with your own body is one of the most important aspects of yoga. Don’t worry about anyone else.
Even if you only practice for one hour a week, you will experience the benefits. If you can do more than that, you will certainly experience more benefits. Don’t let time constraints or unrealistic goals be an obstacle—do what you can and don’t worry about it. You will likely find that after a while your desire to practice expands naturally and you will find yourself doing more and more, like I did! During your first class, you probably won’t be able to touch your toes, never mind do a backbend. But if you stick with it, you’ll notice a gradual loosening, and eventually, seemingly impossible poses will become possible.
About the author.
I started practising yoga about eight years ago. Like many, initially I saw it as a form of exercise to get physically fit and flexible. Yoga opened my body and my mind on a much deeper level than I ever thought!
I am an approved Anusara inspired yoga teacher by the Anusara School of Hatha Yoga. I currently live in London and teach private lessons. My passion are children and the next step, happening soon, is qualify as yoga teacher for children.