What Is Yoga Anyway?

When I started this blog a little under three years ago, my cousin suggested I write on the topic of “What is Yoga” – Simple as that. To her, yoga was something along the lines of ”sitting on the floor in an uncomfortable position, being spiritual” and I am sure there are still many who share the same impression.

I have also recently had the pleasure of welcoming many new people to several of my classes, so I thought it would be appropriate to publish a freshly edited version of my “What is Yoga” post from September 2016.

Yoga Is Both An Art and A Science

1.  The actual word ”yoga”, means ”union” or ”connection”, in its original Sanskrit. In everyday terms we can interpret this as having a better awareness of ourselves in our lives, be it by being more aware and in tune with our bodies and mind, or with the wider physical context we live.

2.  Yoga is often described as ”the science of being here and now”, or “the art of living.” We can describe this as a practise that helps us to focus on being in the present and not worrying about the past or future, or a way of uniting mind, body and spirit.

3. What Yoga is NOT is a religion. Rather it is a philosophy and a practise encompassing all aspects of life. You are not signing up to a cult by walking into a yoga class. Equally you do not need to be a vegetarian to do yoga. You are, however, better off not having a heavy meal right before a class, due to the twisting and bending that may take place – no different to a regular exercise class or a gym session.

4. Yoga is also a journey. A journey to self-discovery, to learning patience, to improving (self-)acceptance. This is not a quick trip but rather a process. It is called yoga practise for a reason! The good part is that doing yoga even once a week, or even 20 minutes at a time, will bring you benefits with time if you practise with an open mind and sincerity.

Yoga is A Physical Practise… But There is More!

5. Many practitioners come to yoga through its physical form, the asana practise. Some types of yoga, such as Ashtanga or  Vinyasa Flow can be very strong, but even the more gentle forms bring you physical benefits as they help to increase strength, mobility, flexibility and general body awareness. However, the physical practise is just one of the seven limbs of yoga and different styles and teachers can give you different experiences.

6. Some yoga classes bring more philosophy, breathing practises and/or meditation into the mix.  If you are completely new to the yoga try out a class that clearly says it is for beginners, or a hatha/gentle yoga class. You might not break a sweat, it can even be completely different from what you thought it would be. Not all the classes or teachers are going to resonate with you either and that is absolutely fine. I always encourage people to try different classes and teachers, and it can be a good idea to try the same class with the same teacher for few times to give yourself time to figure out what works for you.

7. Yoga differs from your regular stretching with its emphasis to breath. Ultimately, we aim to move to the rhythm of our breath and getting to feel a mind-body connection. No need to worry too much about this either, even us yoga instructors confuse our inhales and exhales from time to time. It’s ok, this teaches us the art of ”letting go” in its own way.

But What if Things Get… Weird? Like, Chanting and Stuff!

8. Yes, some classes have chanting or mantras repeated. You absolutely do not have to join in. Most commonly, you can hear the mantra OM (often repeated 3 times) and/or the saying ”Namaste”, meaning “the light in me honours the light in you.”

9. You should never feel forced to do anything in a yoga class, even if you want to make an effort to the best of your abilities at that moment. We do not want is to get fixated in some end game or goal, but rather live and accept what is now. There is absolutely no need to be flexible in the body in any yoga class. Having a flexibility of the mind, on the other hand, will help you. Just see what unravels and trust what your body and mind tell you.

I hope this clarifies a little what is, or can be. You can always search in the blog for more information, drop a question below, or even better, come to one of my classes! I would love to see you there!

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