Originating from South Asia centuries ago Yoga has evolved and spread all across the world for many to enjoy its many benefits. From beginner classes that emphasise relaxation and meditation to intense sweat-filled workouts done in a heated room Yoga comes in many forms, and the great thing is that most people are able to join in and experience what many do to gain physical, mental, and spiritual strength.
Going Yoga: An Introduction
Existing for more than 5,000 years coming from ancient India Yoga was originally intended as a means to increase one’s own spiritual energy. The word ‘yoga’ is dervied from the Sanskrit word ‘Yoj’ meaning to yoke or harness energy where breathing techniques were combined with repeated postures to achieve unity of the mind, body, and spirit.
With such a rich and diverse range of disciplines and styles it can be intimidating for a newcomer to partake in Yoga but there is a Yoga style for everybody. From beginners with no knowledge or those that aren’t atheletic that want to dip their toes in, to those that want to push their body to the limit and attain a toned body that would not be akin to those of bodies you see in front of magazines and advertisements – there’s something for everyone!
Going Yoga: Behind The Scenes
Before jumping into the physical techniques and poses that modern yoga takes form a little dossier on the behind-the-scenes may help you understand why many who engage in yoga are hooked.
A tree has a trunk, roots, branches, blossoms, and fruits. This is how many of the messages and spiritual meanings of yoga are conveyed from teacher to student. There are six of these different ‘branches’ and they represent the different types of yoga and characteristics that go along with the particular style. These are:
Hatha Yoga: A term used for any yoga discipline that teaches you the physical posture. Characterised by mind and body connection strengthening physical and mental aspects of the user. This peaceful style is good for beginners to yoga as it gently teaches you the basic poses and techniques of yoga. Usually you hold one pose at a time concentrating on it, rest, and then move on to the next pose.
Raja Yoga: Teaches control of the mental and physical abilties of someone through thorough commitment to the eight-limbs which are yama (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption).
Karma Yoga: Training oneself to a future free of negativity and selfishness by living by the philosophy of yoga. This can be done by not expecting anything, doing your best, and not thinking of yourself through all you do.
Bhakti Yoga: Bringing forth acceptance and tolerance by the creation of devotion and positive channeling of emotions it concentrates on loving oneself and adoring a higher power.
Jnana Yoga: The development of insight, inner wisdom, and the path of the scholar through study. Described by some as the most arduous branch the end-result of it is to attain knowledge of the ‘true nature of reality’.
Tantra Yoga: The establmishment of ritual or ceremony for a relationship the goal is to go beyond the ‘limitations’ of the yogic pratice and to conciously act towards intimacy instead of unconciously reacting.
If this sounds like your cup of tea then you will be happy to know that a whole other part of yoga exists: Chakras.
Going Yoga: The Turning Wheel
Meaning ‘spinning wheel’ chakras are, in Yoga, focal points of energy, thoughts, emotions, and the physical body. Chakras are how we percieve reality and the blocking of these is what causes physical and emotional symptoms; realising they exist and training them means being able to redirect the energy within them at will instead of them going haywire. Through yoga the chakras are ‘opened’ and you may experience a plethora of positive effects. The different chakra are:
Muladhara (Root Chakra): Located at the base of your spine (the coccygeal region) it is connected to survival, belonging, family ties, basic needs, and your earliest memories. When this chakra is blocked you may experience fear, avoidance, being needy, self-destructive tendencies, and have low self-esteem. Having the Muladhara Chakra under control means that you are self-sufficient, able to stand for yourself, and feeling strong and confident.
Sahasrara (Crown Chakra): Concerned with beauty and the spiritual realm it allows your spiritual self to show itself to your physical manisfestation. At the crown of your head having the Sahasrara Chakra open instead of closed means that you are ‘open’ to any situation and able to assess it calmy instead of avoiding it or waiting for a solution to come along.
Ajna (The Third-Eye Chakra): The sixth-sense and/or intuition is mediated with the Anja chakra as well as every other chakra. Found at the pituitary gland a closed Anja Chakra results in narrow-mindedness, unreceptive towards emotions, and general cynicism. An open Anja Chakra can reveal that your own wisdom is enough to handle life’s challenges and crossroads.
Vishuddha (Throat Chakra): The center of speech, hearing, and metabolism it also goes by the name of the Heart Chakra. If you’re speaking way too much, not listening to others, and judging others your Vishuddha Chakra may be blocked. On the other side if it’s open you’ll find that you’re communicating well and your intended message comes across, plus you’re actually listening to others.
Anahata (Heart Chakra): Loving unconditionally without fear or rejection, having compassion, and having healthhy bonds is what happens when the Anahata Chakra is open within you. When you become possessive, co-dependant, and form dysfunctional bonds with other people your Heart Chakra is probably closed.
Manipura (Navel Chakra): Located at the navel it is concerned with introvertedness, personal power, and developing opinions. Opening the Manipura Chakra lets you feel that you can take action decisively, be productive, and work despite the fears you may be experiencing. The Manipura Chakra being closed results in feelings of stagnacy, low self-esteem, and having little to no courage.
Svadhisthana (Pelvic Chakra): If you’ve ever felt that you are in the ‘flow’ of things where events are taking place in your life that can only be described by others as ‘lucky’ or ‘things falling in place’ then your Svadhisthana Chakra is open. While it is concerned with the reproductive and sexual organs it can also represent creativity, abundance, and whether you’re allowed a life full of postivity. If closed it shows itself as you feeling out-of-balance, emotionally unstable, and guilty.
With all of these in mind it’s time to move onto the physical parts of yoga: the pranayama, asanas, and dhyana.
Going Yoga: Posture, Breathing, and Meditation
If you’re watching a yoga class unfold and know nothing of its inner workings and yogic philosophy it looks pretty crazy. But there is method to the (apparent) madness, and it is very far from madness if you’ve read everything previously mentioned. With different postures, breathing, and meditation you are able to achieve a lot more than you think possible.
Pranayama: Coming from the combination of Sanskrit words ‘prana’ (meaning breath) and ‘ayama’ (meaning restraint) it is achieved through various combinations of inhalation, exhalation, and pauses. An example would be inhaling and then pausing the exhalation for a specified amount of time before exhaling; another would be how fast or slow the inhalations and exhalations are combined with pauses. In this you can determine what kind of session you want.
Asanas: The physical postures one may use to open up the chakras and free up energy. The literal translation is ‘ To sit close (to the teacher)’. Each posture should be executed steadily, relaxed, and should not be uncomfortable. It is important that if you cannot do the designated posture then it should be modified or not done at all as this goes against what Yoga is.
Dhyana: Literally translated as ‘contemplation, reflection’ and ‘profound, abstract meditation’ it is described as an uninterrupted and continous train of thought with no hindrance. For example you may think of the sun and only be aware of one aspect of it. Connected with another concept that is ‘Dharana’ which is when you think of something and all its attributing factors and aspects are in focus.
While it may seem your mind is going to implode with all these ideas and concepts it’s time to bring it up a notch with basic yoga poses.
Going Yoga: 6 Basic Poses
Downward-Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana
- Starting on your hands and knees, hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Spread hands wide and slowly force your index finger and thumb into the mat.
- Lift your tailbone and move your hips up towards the ceiling.
- Hold for 5 – 10 breaths.
Mountain Pose - Tadasana
- Start with toes together and heels slighlty apart
- Spread toes and place weight evenly through both feet. Engage core and tuck hips so that your tailbone is pointing down. Relax shoulders and roll them back and down
- While inhaling and pressing your feet down raise both your arms straight up. You may also put your hands in prayer in front of your chest, rest them by your side, put them in reverse prayer behind your back, or have them join behind you while being outstretched. The teacher will let you know a perform specific action or let you choose.
- Exhale and inhale long, deep breaths from your nose
- Hold for 3-5 breaths
Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II
- Taking a large step forward with your right foot so that your feet are nearly the length of your mat
- Straighten arms out until they are parallel to the floor
- Bending your right knee until it nearly forms a 90-degree angle and your thigh is either at or almost parallel to the floor
- Point your right toes forward and your left foot to your left. The heel of your left feet should be in line with your right heel
- Twist your torso to the left so that your right hip is facing the front and your left hip is facing the back. Your head and right arm should be pointing forward with your left arm pointing to the back.
- Hold for 1 5 breaths.
Plank Pose - Kumbhakasana
- With both hands and feet on the floor have your knees under your hips and hands flat on floor under your shoulders
- Lift knees off floor and stretch your legs out behind you. On your toes and hands your body should be straight
- With the shoulder above your wrists, core engaged, look downwards to the floor to keep your neck and spine in a neutral position.
- Hold position for 3 – 5 breaths.
Low Plank - Chaturanga Dadasana
- Starting with Plank Pose slowly lower your upper body by bending your elbows and keeping them close to your body until your upper arm is perpendicular to the floor
- Hold for 1 breath.
Upward-Facing Dog - Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
- Starting from Low Plank – Chaturanga, lower your hips towards the floor and flip your toes so the top of your feet are touching the floor
- Engage your core, straighten your arms, and push your chest up. Pull your shoulders back, squeeze your shoulder blades and tilt your head up to the ceiling.
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