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All About Yoga E-mail
Written by Jeff Behar, MS, MBA   

 What is Yoga? 

Yoga is an ancient physical andhot_moksha_yoga_final spiritual discipline and branch of philosophy that originated in India reportedly more than 5,000 years ago. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means to yoke, join, or unite.

The Iyengar school of yoga defines yuj as the "joining or integrating of all aspects of the individual—body with mind and mind with soul—to achieve a happy, balanced and useful life."

 

Purpose of Yoga

The ultimate aim of yoga, they claim, is to reach kaivalya (emancipation or ultimate freedom).

 

The History of Yoga

There is no written record of who invented yoga because it was practiced by yogis (yoga practitioners) long before humans knew how to write. The earliest written record of yoga, and one of the oldest texts in existence, is generally believed to be written by Patanjali, an Indian yogic sage who lived somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago.

How Does Yoga Work?

Yoga uses asanas (postures), focused concentration on specific body parts, and pranayama (breathing techniques) to integrate the body with mind and mind with soul. 

The Mind

Yoga focuses on the mind by teaching you to concentrate on specific parts of the body. The focus is internal, between your head and your body. The idea is to not fight any thoughts you have, but to let them come and go while the instructor leads you through visual imagery to help you focus on how your muscles feel. The result is to drift into a peaceful, calm, and relaxing state.

The Spirit

 

Yoga uses controlled breathing as a way to merge the mind, body, and spirit. The breathing techniques are called pranayamas; prana means energy or life force, and yama means social ethics. It is believed that the controlled breathing of pranayamas will control the energy flow in your body and lead to a deep, inner calm and sense of relaxation. 

 

The Body

 

Yoga asanas (postures or poses) help condition your body. There are thousands of yoga poses to help condition the body.

 

In Sanskrit, these poses are called kriyas (actions), mudras (seals), and bandhas (locks). 

  • A kriya focuses on the effort necessary to move energy up and down the spine.
  • Yoga mudra is a gesture or movement to hold energy or concentrate awareness.
  • A bandha uses the technique of holding muscular contractions to focus awareness. 

Types Of Yoga  

There are many types, or schools, of yoga that have evolved over the centuries. These different types of yoga evolved as different yogis developed their own philosophies and approaches based on the traditional methods and then taught their own approach to new  students, who then passed them on to their own students and disciples. Some of the many types of Yoga include:  Purna, Ashtanga, Jnana, Bhakti, Bikram, Karma, Raja, Hatha, Kundalini, Mantra, Tantra, Iyengar, Astanga, Vini, Ananda, Anusara, Integral, Kali Ray Tri, Kripalu, Kundalini, and Sivananda. Some of the most popular in the U.S., and the ones you are most likely to find in yoga and fitness centers, are Hatha, Iyengar, Astanga (or Ashtanga), Bikram, and Kundalini (Kundalini yoga is reported to be more than 5,000 years old, was introduced to the west in 1969 by Yogi Bhajan when he traveled here from India).

 

 

 

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga yoga, or power yoga, is an ancient system of yoga taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. In the U.S., it is taught as an aggressive workout where you move quickly from one pose to another to build strength and endurance. There is little emphasis on meditation with Ashtanga, and at the end of the session you will feel more like you have completed a traditional weight-training or calisthenic workout than you would with any other type of yoga. Ashtangais more of a physically challenging workout.

Bikram Yoga

Bikram yoga is practiced in a room (sometimes unventilated) heated to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The objective is to loosen muscles and to sweat to cleanse the body and remove symptoms of disease and chronic pain. To my knowledge, there hasn't been any research on the safety or efficacy of Bikram, and so I don't recommend it because of the potential risk of dehydration, blood pressure changes, and cardiac problems with exertion in such an inhospitable environment. This is particularly so for individuals who may have an existing heart problem or high blood pressure but don't know it. Bikram has grown in popularity, and some people swear by it. I recommend that you speak with your physician first if you are determined to try it. 


Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga is the most popular type of yoga taught in the U.S., was developed by Yogi Swatmarama in India in the 15th century. Hatha yoga is the most widely practiced type in the U.S. and is excellent for beginners. It is gentle with slow and smooth movements, and the focus is on holding the poses and integrating your breathing into the movement. It's a great introduction to yoga as it incorporates many different asanas, as well as pranayamas and chanting. Hatha yoga will prepare you for other yoga types that might be taught at your yoga center. Hatha is a great way to stretch, work your muscles, get in touch with your body, relax, and decrease stress.

 

 

 

Kundalini Yoga

 

Kundalini yoga focuses on psycho-spiritual growth and the body's potential for maturation, giving special consideration to the role of the spine and the endocrine system in the understanding of yogic awakening. The practice of kundalini yoga consists of a number of bodily postures, expressive movements and utterances, cultivation of character, breathing patterns, and degrees of concentration. Kundalini yoga emphasizes rapid movement through the poses and emphasizes breathing, chanting, and meditation. It has a more spiritual feel than Hatha and focuses on energy balance in your body. You might find Kundalini physically and mentally challenging if you're a beginner and unfamiliar with yoga poses, chanting, and meditation, and so Hatha or any beginner class is probably a better way to go. 

 

 

 

 

Lyengar Yoga

Lyengar yoga is a form of yoga that uses poses similar to Hatha, but it focuses more on body alignment and balance, holding poses longer, and using props such as straps, blankets, and blocks. It's also a good choice for beginners.

 

Equipment  Needed

You don't need much to practice yoga, but in modern yoga studios with hardwood floors, you will need a sticky rubber mat to keep from slipping. You can find mats online from $10 to $75.  You can usually rent a mat from the yoga studio for $1 to $2 if you're just starting out.

 

Other items that you will need include:

  • Towel.
  • Blanket. Most studios supply these. A blanket is helpful to fold up and sit on if you have difficulty sitting flat on the floor with legs crossed like in a pose called sukhasana. A blanket is also useful to cover you when you lie still during savasana if the room is cool.
  • Blocks and wedges. Blocks are brick-sized pieces of foam that help with body alignment and getting into some of the poses. Most studios supply these, but if you want to buy your own, expect to pay $8 to $20 per block.
  • Straps. Straps are made of cotton and useful for stretching and holding poses, particularly for poses with your legs. They come with a D-ring or quick-release buckle to adjust the length. Both work fine, the quick release is just a bit easier to adjust (you probably won't adjust your strap all that much, so either will do). They cost around $10, but again, check with your studio to see if they supply it. Order an 8-10 foot strap if you are taller than 6 feet. 
 
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