WHAT IS YOGA?
I once heard that yoga was the pursuit of the self, by the self, through the self, which I believe to be completely true. In Sanskrit, yoga comes from the root word yuj, and means to attach, join, harness, yoke. Literally, this is referring to the mind-body connection that’s achieved through regular practice.
Yoga is a spiritual, physical and mental process that connects the mind, body, and soul. Through physical health, mental health and clarity of the self are discovered.
“Yoga is the suppression of the activities of the mind” - Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, c. 4th century CE.
“By the word ‘yoga’ is meant nirvana, the condition of Shiva.” -Linga Purana, c.7th-10th century BCE
“A meditative means of discovering dysfunctional perception and cognition.” -The core principles of “yoga”, 5th century CE, David Gordon White.
Yoga originated in India and has been around since the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, that’s a long time. It is known as a collection of physical, mental and spiritual practices that collectively strengthen the mind, body, and spirit. With its origins dating back to ancient India, Yoga has a number of practices in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. In the Western world, Yoga is widely recognized primarily as a form of exercise, but there is so much more to benefit from its practice.
Yoga has been known to strengthen the mind, body, and spirit while creating a stronger mind-body connection. It builds strength and flexibility, enhances the mood while alleviating symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, supports inner peace and sense of calm in the mind and heart, and has a number of other health benefits as well. Yoga is known to improve immunity and fight off cancer, decrease pain in the body - especially in the lower back, improve sleep, and even heart health.
There are a number of different styles of yoga, including vinyasa, which is a style that includes a fast-flowing transition from one pose to the next, linking the flow with the breath. Ashtanga yoga is based on ancient yoga teachings and is a rigorous style that follows a specific sequence of postures, always the exact same poses in the exact same order. Hatha yoga teaches physical postures, and hold each pose for several breaths. There’s also Bikram, or Hot Yoga, where yoga classes are held in heated rooms. Classes are typically 60 - 90 minutes long, but you can benefit greatly from just ten minutes a day.
TYPES OF YOGA
In vinyasa yoga, flows move quickly from one pose to the next. This is a very popular type of yoga because it's a great workout and can really get the heart rate pumping to burn calories, but that's not to say that other types of yoga can't achieve the same goals. "Vinyasa" means linking breath with movement. The fluid movements of this continuous flow create a calming, meditative effect while linking inhalations and exhalations with different postures.
Many yogis think of vinyasa yoga as a dance, where asanas are gracefully synced together like choreography and followed through with the breath. This can create more of an aerobic flow than other types of yoga and can improve cardiovascular health.
Developed by the highly influential Indian yoga teacher and scholar Tirumalai Krishnamacharya in the twentieth century and has grown incredibly popular in the western world. The sun salutation is probably the most widely known and popular vinyasa yoga flow, but vinyasa is not limited to only this sequence.
Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar):
Begin in Mountain Pose
Hands up and add a slight backbend to Mountain
Swan dive down by sweeping the arms out to the sides and fall into a forward fold
Straighten out the back to a 90-degree bend and lift the gaze
Step back into a lunge
Step your other foot back and come into Downward Facing Dog
Upward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog
Step or hop feet forward between the hands at the top of the mat
Straighten out the back to a 90-degree bend and lift the gaze
Sweep the arms up and rise back to hands up in a slight backbend variation of Mountain
Return to Mountain
Repeat 2 - 3 times
Ashtanga means "8 limbs" in Sanskrit. In translation to yoga practice, the "8 limbs" represent the 8 steps on the path of internal purification that will lead to the discovery of the Universal of Supreme Self. The steps are:
Yama (universal morality)
Niyama (self-study and discipline)
Pranayama (breath control)
Pratyahara (control of the senses)
Samadhi (union with the Divine)
There are also five "yamas" or restraints in ashtanga yoga: Truthfulness (satya), non-violence (ahimsa), non-stealing (asteya), non-collecting (aparigraha), and fidelity or celibacy (brahmacharya).
There are also five "niyamas" or positive duties or observances. These are: Cleanliness (saucha), contentment (santosa), self-dicipline (tapas), self-study (svadhaya), and surrender to god (iswara pranidhana).
The practice of ashtanga yoga comes from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Although the term ashtanga isn't mentioned in the sutras, the practice called ashtanga was developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and T. Krishnamacharya in the 20th century and was based on the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali.
Sri Pattabhi Jois taught in ashtanga yoga theory that a person has to commit to daily asana practice in order to make the body strong and healthy. With the body and sense organs stabilized through daily asana practice, the mind can be steadied and controlled. This is why even just 10 minutes of yoga a day is better than just taking one class a week. The body and mind need daily practice in order to reach its full benefits.
Asana practice must be established for proper practice of pranayama, or breath and live force energy. This is the key to developing the yamas and niyamas. Once the first four limbs of Ashtanga yoga are established through physical practice, the last four limbs can spontaneously evolve through mental strength and clarity.
Asana - A body posture, or yoga pose.
Pranayama - The formal practice of controlling the breath, or prana, or vital life force.
Savasana - Corpse pose, a relaxed asana where yogis often meditate
Meditation - To release one’s thoughts and exist in complete relaxation. Deeply focusing ones mind for a period of time on relaxation, in silence or with chanting.
Namaste - A respectful greeting or parting that means the light within me respects and reflects the light that shines within you.
Ujjayi - Also known as the “warrior’s breath.” It involves breathing in and out of your nose with deep inhales and exhales.
Drishti - A focused gaze meant to draw awareness, concentration, and intent for yoga.
Sun Salutation - A sequence of vinyasa-style poses, beginning in a standing position taking you through a forward fold, down dog, up dog and back up to standing.
Om - Considered the most sacred mantra in Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. It is generally known as the sound of the creation and the universe.
Warrior I, II and III
Wide-legged Forward Fold
Read about my journey with yoga on my blog at www.howsitflowin.com.