So what is Yoga? Yoga is a word that is used for the spiritual, mental and physical exercises which have their origin in ancient India with a view to attain a state of permanent peace.
Yoga has been defined as ‘the stilling of the changing states of the mind’ and is one of the six ‘?stika’ or orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy. Other traditions of yoga are found in Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
Hiranyagarbha is thought of as the originator of yoga. It is not clear exactly when yoga started but there appear to be references to it going back to 3000BC. Yoga practices of the first millennium BC were formalised by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The term ‘yoga’was first seen in the Hindu scripture Katha Upanishad in approximately 400BC. It was said of it that it was - the steady control of the senses, which along with cessation of mental activity, leads to the supreme state. Eventually Hatha yoga became the prominent tradition of yoga and marks the development of asanas into full body postures and, is the style of yoga that many people think of when they talk of yoga nowadays.
In the late 1800s Hindu monks began to introduce yoga to the Western world with a major surge in its popularity in the 1980s. Many people who practice yoga regularly claim that they get mental health and musculo–skeletal improvements from its practice. There have also been many studies into yoga and potential health benefits. Though many people appear to gain great health benefits from yoga there are also a small number of injuries reported from some practitioners. There are also some yoga practitioners who do not recommend certain yoga exercises for women who are pregnant, during menstruation or for nursing mums.
Hatha Yoga, in the sense of yoga as a physical exercise, has in the last 50 years in the West become very popular. A person who is highly committed to and practices yoga or follows the philosophy of yoga is called a yogi or yogini.
The ultimate spiritual or mental goals of various forms of Yoga differ from branch to branch but many seek to attain freedom or a state of permanent peace.
The physical postures in yoga are said to alleviate health problems, reduce stress and make the spine more supple and Yoga is often and increasingly used as an exercise programme.
There are various styles of yoga (some of which include meditation) and these include:
Bikram Yoga – Some like it hot! Bikram Yoga that only has 26 poses but is done in 105 degree heat and in 40% humidity! These yoga classes will certainly make you sweat.
Hatha Yoga - Hatha style of yoga that is focused on slow and gentle movements.
Vinyasa Yoga – Vinyasa yoga is the most popular style in the USA and is often called, Vinyasa flow or just, flow. This style of yoga is constantly changing, moving and flowing from one pose to the next.
Kundalini Yoga - Kundalini refers to the energy of the Root Chakra. This is the area around the lower spine and there is a lot of work on the body core. This style of yoga stretches is said to be very intense.
Iyengar Yoga – Iyengar focuses on alignment and often uses various blocks, straps, harnesses and sometimes cushions.
Anusara Yoga – This style of yoga class was started in 1997 by John Friend and is said to be "the celebration of the heart” and it has. Expect many "heart-opening" and has many poses like backbends.
Jivamukti Yoga - Jivamukti is mainly practiced in New York as it was founded there in 1984 by Sharon Gannon and David Life and is a mix of vinyasa flow sequencing coupled with vegetarianism and chanting.
Prenatal Yoga - If you're an expectant mother then there is even a style of yoga for this. There is said to be emphasis on core work and a focus on breathing.
There are many brands and outfit types of yoga clothing available and it is important to wear a style that is comfortable and that stretches. These yoga clothes include pants, crops, tanks, leggings, shorts, tops and of course you may need a yoga mat!
As with all exercise it is important to see your doctor before taking it up to make sure that you are safe to do so.