What Is Yoga?

The word yoga derives from the Sanskrit ‘yuj’, meaning ‘to yoke’. The term refers to the practice of uniting the mind, body and spirit together in sync. Yoga is thought to have originated in India and has been practiced for over 5000 years, experiencing a steady rise in popularity throughout the west in recent years.

Today, athletes and celebrities have further boosted the reputation of what is actually an ancient form of exercise, bringing it to the attention of a much larger audience around the world.

Yoga comprises two components; posture and breathing. It is one of very few forms of exercise that can be enjoyed by all ages, with a variety of classes on offer for all abilities. Through focusing on strength, flexibility and breathing, yoga is capable of improving not only your physical state, but also your mental wellbeing.

Improve Your Health

In recent years, doctors and other health practitioners have increasingly promoted yoga as an alternative and supplementary treatment for a wide range of medical issues and ailments. Practicing yoga is proven to ease high blood pressure, lessen your chances of heart disease, soothe back and joint pain, and ease depression and stress.

Regular practice results in a marked improvement in balance, coordination and mental awareness, which explains why yoga has such a dedicated following from athletes, Olympians, footballers and other sports players.

Did you know that governing body The British Wheel of Yoga estimates the majority of people utilise just 25% of their breathing capacity? With busier lives and more time spent at our desks than ever, correct and considered breathing plays an important part in restoring the body back to its ideal state.

Poor posture, physical tension and emotional upset can impact on our ability to breathe to our full potential. A result of this is that we bring less oxygen into our bodies, leading to less than optimum physical performance and mental wellbeing.

The breathing techniques practiced in yoga encourage you to gain full control of your breathing. In time, you will become calmer, more aware of your surroundings and with more energy to take on whatever the day throws at you. Aside from encouraging more considered breathing, many believe yoga to simply be a series of body-contorting poses that test your flexibility and balance. This is not the case.

The physical aspect of yoga is referred to collectively as ‘asana’, with each of the physical postures or ‘poses’ designed to do far more than simply stretch and tone the body. Yoga poses open the nadis (energy channels) and chakras (psychic centres) of the body, allowing energy to flow freely through these open channels.

The physical aspect of yoga also helps heal and purify the body, encouraging the stamina and strength required for mental control, emotional calm and focus of the mind. With different postures producing different emotional and physical effects, it is important to give adequate thought to which yoga style is right for you.

Different Styles of Yoga

There are many different styles of yoga, some of which are very low impact, others quite challenging.

The core benefits and principles behind each yoga style differ greatly, so it is important to carefully research the differences in each. You can find more information on this here. As an example, Ashtanga yoga is a vigorous style made popular in recent times by the likes of Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston, whilst Kundalini yoga is a more spiritual form which focuses on meditation more than physical exertion.

With so many styles now practiced in the west, there really is one to suit all abilities. The fantastic thing about yoga is that you require very little space and equipment to practice. Leggings or shorts are usually worn with comfortable tops, and yoga should be practiced barefoot, meaning no expensive trainers required.

You will need a small towel and once you know that yoga is for you, you may wish to purchase your own yoga mat.

Classes vary in duration but typically last between 45 minutes and 1 hour 30 minutes, with techniques practiced often depending on the specific individual teaching the class. It is important to start your yoga journey with classes led by an experienced teacher, in order for you to learn the poses and breathing techniques correctly.

Once you have gained an understanding of the poses involved, you may then choose to practice yoga in the comfort of your own home. Many people even use yoga to ‘zone out’ on holiday, continuing to practice regularly even when away from home.

With so little space required, yoga is capable of providing a constant source of calm amidst challenging or unusual circumstances, allowing you to maintain positive emotional and physical wellbeing wherever you are in the world.