Introduction to Yoga
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj which means to yoke (or to join). Yoga integrates the body - physical movement - and the mind - spiritual growth.
Practicing yoga is not just about completing a pose, but includes what happens along the way. It includes how you breathe, how you listen to your body and how your mind is focused on what you are presently doing. Yoga poses (asanas) work together with the breath (prana) to strengthen the body and to calm the mind.
Yoga was developed in India thousands of years ago and was committed to writing by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras over 2000 years ago. Yoga is not a specific religion or set of beliefs but a *process of channelling the activities of the mind in the desired direction, and sustaining that focus without being distracted.
Yoga also heals and strengthens your body. The poses help build muscles, co-ordination, flexibility and stamina, and like other exercises it provides a physical release for stress.
But yoga offers more than just physical exercise. The more you practice yoga, the more you increase your self confidence and your ability to concentrate and focus. Yoga also foster creativity and self expression as you explore and develop your own variations on poses. Breathing techniques and visualisations also play a very important role in yoga as they help you relax, and learning how to relax is the key to physical and mental health!
What does Yoga consist of
Yoga usually includes three elements of the traditional yoga techniques: postures (or asanas in Sanskrit), breath control (or pranayama) and meditation.
Yoga asanas: Yoga asanas are the physical stretches or postures familiar to many of us when we think of yoga. Asanas come in standing, sitting, and inverted forms and are designed to improve suppleness, flexibility, and posture. They also stretch the muscles, and help to build stamina and strength in the body, as well as calming the mind.
Pranayama: Breathing exercises are designed to master the movement of prana (or life-force) within us. The practise of pranayama enhances lung capacity, oxygenating and energizing the body, and improves the circulation. Like the asanas, pranayama also calms the mind, allowing a feeling of tranquility and emotional well-being to develop over time.
Meditation techniques: Meditation allows us to become aware of how our mind works and allows us to accept ourselves. We become more single minded, our concentration improves, and we give up on habitual thought patterns, allowing us to become self-confident, open, and honest with ourselves and others.
What are the benefits of Yoga
Toning and strengthening. As a form of isometric exercise, the prolonged holding of yoga postures tones the muscles as well as internal organs.
Increasing flexibility. Gently holding yoga poses at the edge of comfort, stretches and lengthens muscles, tendons and ligaments, allowing them to become more flexible.
Improves respiration. Deep breathing during yoga practice opens the chest and strengthens the diaphragm.
Improves concentration. Moving mindfully while maintaining awareness of the body and breath develops focus, attention, and concentration.
Promotes relaxation. The combination of gentle stretching, deep breathing, meditation, and guided relaxation releases body tension and calms the nervous system and emotions, giving a sense of renewal to the body, mind, and spirit.
Builds internal and external awareness. As a focused practice, yoga builds awareness of the body and feelings, along with increasing awareness of the needs of others, our communities, and our world.
Facilitates improved health. In addition to exercising the mind and muscles, yoga exercises and massages the glands and organs and increases circulation throughout the body, resulting in improved digestion, elimination of toxins, and the promotion of overall health.