Yoga means ‘union’ in Sanskrit and is a series of physical postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation that began in India over 3000 years ago and aims to achieve ‘enlightenment’.
There are four branches of yoga which all begin with hatha, the physical practice which balances the left and right sides of the body.
- Raja is the control of the mind.
- Jnana is the philosophical approach.
- Karma is selflessness, doing tasks for no personal gain, but as an offering to God.
- Bhakti involves devotion where chanting, mantras and ceremonies develop humility and channel love to all beings.
What are the benefits of Yoga?
Yoga is completely holistic, it provides an entire health workout, like no other form of exercise around today, bringing so many benefits on every level: spiritual, emotional, physical and psychological.
Many people start yoga when they are in pain or discomfort or unwell. If you start when you are healthy then it can help take your health, flexibility and vitality to another level.
Yoga can tone, lengthen and strengthen muscles and increase flexibility, core stability and aid relaxation. It helps to relax the mind and reduce stress levels. Studies have shown that yoga helps support blood sugar balance, reduce blood pressure and reduce inflammatory markers. Yoga can also be of benefit for eating disorders, depression, anxiety and memory function.
The asanas stimulate and nourish the systems and the organs of the body. When practising the asanas, breathing exercises and meditation, the nervous and endocrine systems are harmonised encouraging balance and stillness.
What does a typical class look like?
You could start with a few on-to-one yoga sessions for some focused teaching to get familiarised with the asanas.
Then sign-up to a group class where there will be one teacher demonstrating and talking you through the movements, breathing and meditations, expect anything from 10 to 40 people in a class.
Pranayama is an important element of any yoga practice. ‘Prana’ means ‘life-force’ or ‘vital energy’ and ‘yama’ means ‘restraint’. Pranayama is about controlling the life-force (your breath) and learning how to use the breath to guide you in and out of the asanas, to release stress and tension from the body, to settle the mind and nourish your whole body with oxygen.
How do I find a class that suits me?
There are many variations of yoga. Some are spiritual with chanting (Kundalini, Jivamukti). There are more physical ones (Iyenga, Ashtanga, Vinyasa). Some are carried out in a hot room (Bikram) and some that are more slow paced (Yin, Restorative).
Try a few different introductory classes before committing to a course of classes. You’ll need a yoga mat, water bottle, clothing (leggings, vest top) and a warm top, socks or light blanket for the closing meditations.
Pick an appropriate class – beginner, intermediate or advanced level and let the yoga teacher know if you have any injuries or health issues so alternative asanas can be suggested for you.