Yoga

Definitions

Yoga: a mental, physical, and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India, specifically within Hinduism.

In Sanskrit, the word yoga means union.

  • Yoga is a practice that aims to join the mind, body, and spirit. The ultimate goal is to achieve liberation.

In the West, we tend to focus on Hatha yoga or physical yoga, but there are 8 different components of yoga.

The 8 Limbs of yoga (as listed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras)

  1. Yamas: Five abstentions (or outer observances)
  2. Niyama: Five inner observances
  3. Asana: Meaning “seat” and referring to the physical posture needed for meditation
  4. Pranayama: Controlled or suspended the breath
  5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses
  6. Dharana: Single pointed concentration
  7. Dhyana: Meditation
  8. Samadhi: Liberation

Hatha yoga or physical yoga is part of the third limb, asana.

    • Hatha yoga helps to stretch and relax the body so that you can sit in meditation.

Common Questions 

What types of physical yoga are there? 

  • Hatha
    • A general category for a physical yoga class
  •  Vinyasa
    • Fluid and movement-intensive
    • Classes are sequenced to flow from pose to pose
    • Breath is linked to movement
  • Yin
    • Designed to help you sit longer, and more comfortably in meditation
    • A Passive practice of seating and supine poses help for 3-5 minutes
  •  Restorative
    • Extremely relaxing and calming
    • Uses bolsters, blankets, and blocks to prop students into passive poses so the body can experience the benefits of a pose without having to exert any effort
  •  Iyengar
    • Intense focus on alignment and correct posture within poses
    • Heavy utilization of props for assistance: blocks, blankets, straps, chairs, and bolsters
  •  Ashtanga
    • Physically demanding
    • Physical movement is linked to the breath
    • Always performs the same poses in the same order
  •  Bikram
    • Held in a heated room
    • The same sequence of 26 poses in each class
    • Different sequence and poses than Ashtanga
  • Hot Yoga
    • Held in a heated room
    • The sequence of poses deviates from Bikram and varies per class
  • Buti Yoga
    • A high-intensity fusion of yoga, tribal dance, and plyometrics
    • Combines cardio, strength training, and flexibility
  • Kundalini Yoga
    • Incorporates movement, dynamic breathing techniques, meditation, and the chanting of mantras
    • The goal is to build physical vitality and increase consciousness
  • Aerial Yoga
    • Uses a hammock or yoga swing to allow students to perform postures that they may not ordinarily be able to attempt on the yoga mat
    • Combines yoga with moves inspired by pilates, dance, and acrobatics

There are other types of yoga classes available beyond this list.

I listed the ones I find to be the most common.

What are the benefits of yoga?

There are many benefits of yoga that have been proven through scientific research:

  • Physical Health
    • Lessens chronic pain
    • Lowers blood sugar
    • Reduces inflammation
    • Improves breathing
    • Lowers blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health
    • Improves flexibility and balance
    • Promotes sleep quality
    • Enhances the quality of life
    • Migraine relief
    • Builds muscle strength
    • Improves posture
    • Drains your lymphatic system and boosts immunity
  • Mental Health
    • Decreases stress
    • Relieves anxiety
    • Decreases symptoms of depression
    • Increases focus
    • Improves self-esteem

What is the difference between yoga and pilates? 

Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice that’s ultimate goal is to experience liberation and enlightenment. However, many yoga classes today only teach the physical aspect.

Pilates was invented in 1920 to gain flexibility, strength, and body awareness without building bulk. The main goal of Pilates is to strengthen the stomach, improve posture, stabilize and elongate the spine, and develop balance and overall strength.

Ultimately, the main difference is the intention behind each practice. Yoga is rooted in spirituality while pilates was created for physical fitness.

History

The first time yoga was written about was in the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. Yoga was discussed in the Rig Veda. The Veda was a collection of texts containing songs, mantras, and rituals used by Brahmans (Vedic priests).

The first systematic approach to yoga was published by Patanjali and called the Yoga-Sûtras sometime between 101-200 AD.

  • Patanjali organized the practice of yoga into an “eight limbed path” containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi or enlightenment.
    • Patanjali is considered the father of yoga.

In the late 1800s, yoga was first introduced to the West.

  • In 1893, Swami Vivekananda lectured on yoga and the universal themes that exist in all major religions in Chicago at the World Fair.
    • Swami Vivekananda was the first Indian monk to translate yogi texts from Sanskrit into English.

Yoga did not become an accessible group practice in the United States until the mid-1900s.

  • In 1947, Indra Devi opened the first yoga studio in Hollywood, California.
  • In 1961, Richard Hittleman began teaching the physical practice of yoga on TV.
  • In 1969, Swami Satchidananda opened the Woodstock Festival.
  • In 1970, Swami Rama amazed the Menninger Foundation with the ability to control his autonomic nervous system functions, including heartbeat, pulse, and skin temperature.

Resources

My favorite YouTube channel for free yoga is Yoga with Adriene.

YouTube and your local library are both excellent free resources.

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