Historians argue exactly when the creation and philosophy of yoga began. It’s believed to be some 2500-5000 years ago, during the Vedic and Indus Valley civilisation eras.
The first ideas about yoga were most likely passed from one generation to another. Only in later times were they actually given a written form.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF YOGA
There are two most notable scripts that refer to yoga in its different forms:
A compilation of principles that explain the nature and benefits of yoga. Written by sage Patanjali about 400 AD, it outlines the eight limbs of yoga. These eight steps offer guidelines for living a meaningful life.
One of the Upanishads which belong to the sacred Veda books. Written between the 200-300 AD, it describes the theory of yoga. In Katha Upanishad, yoga is a path to self-knowledge.
For millennia, yoga was a strong part of the eastern culture, particularly in India. Masters traveled around and taught people they met. By doing so, they influenced a large number of ancient cultures.
WHAT IS TRADITIONAL YOGA?
In Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language, the meaning of the word ‘yoga’ means yoke or union.
In essence, it unites the mind, body, and spirit to experience self-enlightenment. A spiritual, mental and physical practice which enhances personal growth, health, and well-being.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describe it as something with eight limbs – Ashtanga. The limbs are components which define the nature of yoga, from a mental and physical side.
Not all yoga schools follow this philosophy. Yet the core of yoga, Ashtanga, suggests you remember these eight steps:
Yama– general rules of morality. They include:
- Ahimsa – respect for all living things and avoidance of violence towards others
- Satya – being truthful in one’s thought, speech, and action
- Asteya – one must not steal, nor have the intent to steal another’s property
- Brahmacharya – sexual continence or conserving sexual energy. In favour of using that energy to further progress along the yogic path.
- Aparigraha – living modestly, minimalism. Keeping the desire for possessions to what is necessary or important. This depends on your life stage and context
Niyama– your duties towards yourself, self-discipline, self-observance. They include:
- Sauca – purity, cleanliness, hygiene
- Santosa – feeling happy about what you’ve already got
- Tapas – physical activity that helps you deal with your inner urges
- Svadhyaya – self-study and self-improvement
- Ishvarapranidhana – attunement to your God or spiritual beliefs
Asanas– postures or poses you take while practicing yoga. It helps to develop a habit of discipline and concentration necessary for meditation.
Pranayama– energy control. Breathing techniques that, in Ashtanga, are the highest stage of purity. They help you regulate the flow of energy within your body. These techniques complete the asanas.
Pratyahara– withdrawal of senses. Practicing it helps you sever the link between your senses and the external world. This allows the flow of energy back to the source. It occurs whilst meditating and restores calmness in your life.
Dharana– state of deep concentration. Asanas, Pranayama and Pratyahara allow you to focus your mind without distraction.
Dhyana– meditative absorption, contemplation of nature, objects, and ideas. It’s a profound contemplation of the divines. But for you, it does not have to have a religious or spiritual nature. Instead, you can focus on ideas to discover your true nature.
Samadhi– oneness, bliss or enlightenment. A state meditative consciousness or union with the divines. It is, by far, the hardest stage for which you prepare by practicing Asanas and Dharana. It will allow you to free your mind and liberate your thoughts.
It was only in the nineteenth century those masters brought yoga to the West. Today, yoga is one of the most popular health and well-being activities.
It attracts people all over the world, regardless of their faith, race or gender. In Australia, yoga started to become popular during the 1960s.
Since then, Aussies have fallen in love with yoga. It stands in opposition to the materialistic lifestyle of consumption.
Why Do Yoga?
As you can see, yoga is much more than a random bunch of stretches and exercises. It’s a philosophy – ideas and beliefs that are far more than a work-out.
Yoga is a practice of self- discipline, and balance. It’s about empowering your body and finding harmony within yourself and with your place in the world.
As we grow and as life becomes more stressful, we become overloaded with too much information. It becomes too hard to process it all.
Media, shopping, restaurants, and technology work almost 24/7. It disturbs our natural sleep/rest cycle.
To make it worse, our professional lives demand more from us. We’re working longer hours and have less time to enjoy the things we love.
But exercises and meditation can alter the way you look at your life. With yoga comes calmness and with calmness a more fulfilling life.
Yoga is what helps us to pause for a moment, take a breath and rework our priorities.
It can be a critical part of a whole new lifestyle. One that will help you to discover purpose, peace, and balance. If you’re looking for more reasons to practice yoga, there is much more to gain than flexibility and fitness.
YOGA AND SPIRITUALITY
This philosophy often refers to spiritual or religious beliefs.
But, it’s understandable that not everybody is a spiritual person, let alone a religious one.
That’s fine! By all means, you can practice yoga even if you’re not interested in its spiritual side. Feel free to practice it the way you want to.
If you’re not into meditating, if you don’t feel the need to bring balance to your inner energy – that’s not a problem at all.
Instead, focus on its physical side – poses and breathing techniques (Asanas). You will still find this beneficial to your health and well-being.
TYPES OF YOGA
Ashtanga is the one described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It’s one of the most ancient teachings and also the most advanced one.
As you practice Ashtanga, you will go through the same set of poses during each session.
This type of yoga is demanding on your body, so be ready for some sweating. It involves a lot of dynamic pose changing and movement – all in sync with your breathing.
It’s a great way to improve core strength and tone your body, and to increase your strength and endurance. It aims to raise your heart rate and to cleanse and purify your body.
Ashtanga has several levels of difficulty, perfect for beginners.
The name Hatha consists of two words which mean the sun and moon.
Hatha provides a gentle introduction to yoga. It is ideal for beginners as it teaches physical postures.
The idea is to unify opposing muscle groups, engaging your whole body. It releases tension stored in your body, whilst increasing strength and flexibility.
Hatha yoga allows you to progress towards more challenging poses.
This form is perfect for beginners and many yoga studios recommend it.
Vinyasa synchronises movement with breathing and is all about flow. As you improve, you’ll know which pose comes next in the sequence.
You’ll begin to move in harmony with your breath, often with your eyes closed.
Vinyasa sessions have many benefits. You will feel calmer, less anxious, more flexible and will have improved endurance.
Named after its creator, B.K.S. Iyengar, this form of yoga stems from Ashtanga.
Iyengar yoga is meticulous, paying attention to proper alignment, planned sequencing, and timing. It’s slow-paced and uses accessories such as blocks, straps, chairs, and bolsters.
Through the practice of Asanas and Pranayama, you’ll find increased balance and strength.
Restorative yoga focuses on the restoration of power, energy, and vitality. Based on Iyengar yoga, it also uses yoga props such as bolsters and pillows.
They’re used to maximise benefits from the pose and minimise effort in holding the pose.
Restorative yoga involves only several poses. They’re held for an extended period of time, allowing you to rest and relax.
This form is rejuvenating. Perfect for relieving stress and anxiety, enhancing your mood and energy levels.
Hot Yoga / Bikram
As the name suggests, this form uses a heated room to practice Asanas and Pranayama. Studio temperatures vary between 25C to 40C with the aim of making you hot and sweaty.
The increased temperature loosens muscles whilst sweat releases toxins to cleanse your body. Hot yoga increases flexibility and supports weight loss.
Bikram yoga is a type of hot yoga created by Bikram Choudhury. It consists of 26 postures with 2 breathing techniques during a 90-minute session.
If you intend to practice hot yoga, be sure to take a yoga towel and water bottle to remain hydrated. As core body temperature increases, this practice is not recommended for pregnant women.
WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED TO PRACTICE YOGA? (Props And Accessories)
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to enjoy yoga. After all, the ancient masters had little at their disposal.
Today, there are plenty of items that make it easier and more comfortable.
Here’s a list of items you may want to consider at the beginning of your journey:
- A good yoga mat is by far the most important part of your yoga equipment.
- Vary in shape, size, thickness, and material.
- Choosing a mat depends on the type of yoga you intend to practice. It also depends on your preference, lifestyle, and budget. But in all, it should provide you with safety and comfort.
- As a beginner, invest in something that will prevent you from slipping on the floor. Such a mat should stay firm on the ground no matter what poses you take or how much you move.
- Choose a high-quality material that won’t lose shape, colour or structure. This way you can enjoy using this mat for a long period of time.
Yoga Mat Towel
- Have anti-slip material on the underside to place over your mat.
- Great for absorbing sweat and moisture from your mat, body, hands or feet.
- Provide added support and anti-slip performance during asanas, improving your safety.
- Yoga attire should be soft and made of flexible materials. It’s up to you whether they’re loose or tight-fitting, as long as you’re comfortable.
- Make sure they don’t get in a way as you advance through positions.
- You should practice yoga barefoot – without shoes and socks. This prevents you from slipping as you exercise.
- Special socks are also available. Their soles have an anti-slip material and are perfect to defeat the cold.
- Offer support during asanas, helping you with proper alignment.
- Help you make your poses in a safe manner and increase flexibility.
- Blocks reduce the distance of reach to the ground with certain poses.
- They are available in many variations of colours and materials, from foam to cork.
- Much like cushions and used for body support and comfort.
- They are perfect for beginners wishing to perform difficult poses.
- Assist in maintaining certain positions for an extended period of time.
- Available in varying colours, sizes and shapes.
- Helpful when you’re stretching, they allow you to achieve desired flexibility faster.
- Offering support and safety during challenging poses, straps are perfect for beginners.
- Also, they act as belts to wrap and carry your mat.
- Assists with Asanas that may not otherwise be achievable.
- Help deepen your asanas, increase strength, flexibility, mobility, stability, and balance.
- This hollow, circular prop can also relieve tension, aches, and pains. It’s a handy accessory to have in your yoga arsenal.
- Help to increase flexibility, muscle strength, range of motion and stamina.
- Once you master beginner poses, you can use them to progress to the next level.
- Working the muscle harder, they tone your body, giving a leaner appearance.
- Resistance bands are inexpensive and come in varying tensions/resistances.
- Used to keep hydrated and maintain body fluid levels, particularly practicing hot yoga.
ETIQUETTE FOR YOGA CLASSES
Practicing at home seems pretty straightforward – do your poses and breathe. But what if you’re attending yoga classes?
Well, there are rules and behaviours that you should definitely follow:
- Arrive on time for class, or even a little early (10 mins or so). This will allow you to maximise value from the lesson. Being late disrupts the class. On the flip side, inform your teacher if you have to leave early.
- Make sure you’ve got everything you need before the session starts. Towels, water bottles, blocks or straps should be near as you begin. You want to avoid disturbing your rhythm to grab something mid-session. It will also disturb those around you.
- Before getting comfortable on the mat, switch your mobile to silent. Loud ringing, beeping and vibrating are a distraction and considered disrespectful.
- Remember Sauca, the rule of cleanliness from eight limbs of yoga? It’s mandatory for group classes. Make sure you’re clean and do your best to avoid emitting unpleasant odours.
- Classes are a great place to start new friendships and meet new people. But do that before and after classes.
- During the session, refrain from talking at all. It will disturb your own practice, as well as the practice of all the people around you.
- It’s normal to have a rough day but try not to bring your moods to class. It’s a place that will benefit your health and well-being, so use it to feel better, relax and unwind.
- After class, if using a studio mat, wipe your mat with a sanitising solution before placing it back on the rack. It’s hygienic to clean your own mat after practice too.