Today, there are more than 300 million yoga practitioners worldwide, and it has become a multi-million dollar industry. The popularity of yoga has reached an unprecedented height, and we find that there are more styles and practitioners than ever before.
The word 'yoga' stems from the ancient Sanskrit language which means 'to bind' or to unite. It's the unity of your individual self with your highest potential. Yoga finds its roots in India's classical traditions. Some of the practices are more than 3000 years old. Teachers and yoga texts guide us and help us navigate the path, like maps that show us where we want to go!
Just a century ago, women were not encouraged to do yoga, and the practice wasn’t as easily accessible to people outside of India. Yoga is not only for Indians, and neither is it for a particular group of people. Yoga is not a one size fits all practice. There’s something that suits everyone.
Do you think you are too old to start yoga? Or you are not cut out for the “yogi lifestyle”? Think again. There is no cookie-cutter profile of a yoga practitioner. You can start yoga at any age, young or old. It is not about flexibility either. One of the most common myths about yoga is that you have to be very flexible. But that’s not true.
Ever heard of yoga being too girly? If you have ever practiced the downward facing dog for more than a minute, arm balances or backbends, you’ll know that it’s harder than it looks. It will make you sweat. Take a class and you will see.
Can yoga help you lose weight? Unfortunately, this isn’t true. You may reach your ideal optimal weight by gaining or reducing a few kilos, but the objective here isn’t weight loss. It can, however, help you tone up, reduce tightness and leave you feeling good.
Do you have to be a vegetarian or give up alcohol? Definitely not, though it is natural that many people want to give up alcohol or decide to be a vegetarian along their health journey. Yoga is not a religion. While yoga comes from India, it is open to everyone and does not require you to change your faith or convert into something else. While chanting sounds are used in yoga to focus and concentrate, it’s perfectly fine to not chant OM.
There is no yoga look that Instagram seems to suggest. You don’t need fancy gear to do yoga. Branded clothes, expensive props, and designer mats may be fashionable, but they aren’t necessary at all. Think simple, functional, and comfortable. Come in your PJs if you feel like you stretch best in them!
Yoga is more than just asanas. Traditionally, the postures or asanas are only one eighth of the entire equation. Ethics, moral disciplines, breathing techniques, and meditation are also involved. To be asana-obsessed is to make it a skewed practice. This is why it is so important to find a good teacher. While you can learn from a book, a good teacher is crucial in helping to guide your progress. A teacher is indispensable particularly if you need therapeutic assistance or wish to customise your learning to better suit your needs.
Yoga is a practice that consists of guidelines to enhance physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Some of these guidelines include meditation, breathing techniques, deep relaxation, asanas or physical postures, and ethical codes of behaviour.
Yoga offers a unique combination of techniques and practices, to help transform you and the tendencies of your mind. It doesn’t just help in achieving a healthy lifestyle overall but also leads to greater freedom and joy. By following the structured guidelines on diet, lifestyle, rest, relaxation, and meditation, many people around the world have achieved great transformation over centuries.
Through consistent practice of yoga, you can also experience a higher level of happiness. Mental patterns and habits that are toxic to your mind also gradually fall away, allowing you to reach greater heights of happiness than ever before. This encapsulates the philosophy of yoga.
As you embark on your journey, it is a good idea to visit classes or teachers in your neighbourhood and try out different styles of yoga. This helps you to find a practice and teaching that resonates with you. You may discover a place you enjoy and a competent teacher who may become your guide.
These are some of the most common types of yoga classes you are likely to find around you.
Hatha is a more traditional form of yoga with an emphasis on postural alignment and specific techniques to control the breath. This is achieved through regular, rigorous and consistent practice, which leads to the purification and the strengthening of the body and mind. The class may begin with a short mediation and will almost always end with a guided relaxation practice. Hatha literally means the sun and moon practice in Sanskrit. This refers to the two primary channels of the body, which are the sun and moon and their integration through practice.
Iyengar Yoga is a type of yoga that uses a lot of props such as mats, blankets, chairs, blocks and straps to help you achieve precise alignments, which you may not otherwise be able to experience. For instance, using a bench to help you deepen your backbends. This style is named after Mr B K S Iyengar from India, who shared this method of yoga with the Western audiences and went on to become one of the most well-known masters of our time.
Ashtanga Vinyasa method as taught by Pattabhi Jois from Mysore in India, is a very popular choice. In this practice, students repeatedly do the same series of postures, flowing from one pose to another while synchronising with their breath. Over time, these students gain mastery over the poses and breathing. The key is to slowly increase the intensity in the series. Jivamukti yoga is a vinyasa flow based practice with chanting.
Kundalini yoga is a practice where dynamic, energetic physical movements are combined with repetition of certain sounds called mantras. Using the sound vibration and sequenced movements, energy is harnessed and channelled to experience bliss and joy.
Hot or Bikram yoga has recently emerged as a popular practice in western countries. It’s a very new style which doesn’t have any scriptural basis to it. It involves cranking up the heat to a particular temperature and doing a sequence of exercises in a closed hot room. It was founded and patented by Bikram Choudhury, and while many yoga purists don’t consider hot yoga to be real yoga, proponents of this style find that it helps them feel more flexible.
Yin yoga targets deep tissues and ligaments in the body. It’s also a newer practice where you hold seated postures passively for a longer period of time. Poses are held anywhere from three to seven minutes and are designed to positively affect meridians or channels of the body.
Therapeutic Yoga is a specialised practice where experts design a protocol that helps those who are in pain or suffer from specific disorders. In recent years there has been a lot of research which suggests the efficacy of these methods. Yoga therapy is now being increasingly used in hospitals and other treatment clinics as a regular approach to managing disease and restoring balance and good health. It involves a combination of physical postures, breathing techniques, meditation, lifestyle and diet guidelines.
In yoga therapy, it’s very important to work under the direct supervision of an expert. Yoga therapists often work with medical practitioners. This integrated approach tends to be most beneficial in restoring a person to their optimal health. Yoga therapy is known to be very effective in muscular and skeletal diseases, such as arthritis, and glandular imbalances such as diabetes and thyroid. Prenatal and postnatal yoga offers valuable support to women.
Acro yoga, Rope yoga, Pole yoga and Aerial yoga involve doing yoga in the air using props or partners. Aqua yoga is done in water there are more new age methods emerging in this practice. Some of these may be purely for fun with interesting elements in the yoga practice.
Some other types of yoga include Karma, Nada and Jivamukti. If you like to go volunteer at the shelter near you, or a soup kitchen, Karma yoga might be for you. Nada Yoga is a type of sound yoga, where sound becomes the integral focus of the practice. Jivamukti yoga is a vinyasa flow based practice with chanting.
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