What is Yoga?
Yoga, whose roots lie in Hinduism, is defined as balance. It is the attempt to walk in balance mentally, physically, and spiritually so that one can understand the lessons of the past, fully experience the present, and see all the potential of the future. At its core, Yoga is the attempt to transcend the ego and become pure self or bliss. Yoga teaches guidelines and values to follow, as well as practices for purification of the mind, body and spirit.
What began as a spiritual path of purification over 3,000 years ago has recently become a mainstream phenomenon. Perhaps it is because of all the benefits yoga has to offer. According to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in November 1998, a simple yoga program significantly reduced pain and increased the hand strength of patients with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. In another study conducted by the Vivekananda Kendra Yoga Research Foundation in Bangalore, India, yoga breathing was shown to vastly improve scores on tests of spatial memory, a right-brain function. And finally, in a stress-reduction program offered by a community health program in Meriden, Conneticut, the combination of mindful-meditation and yoga significantly improved physical and mental health, as well as the self-esteem of inner-city patients.
(Nurse Practitioner, March 22, 1997) Clinical studies have also shown that yoga (exercises, meditation, and breathing) reduces stress, pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, chemical dependency, depression, and anxiety. Yoga increases body strength and flexibility, improves posture, muscle tone, and circulation, and promotes greater mental clarity.
Yoga Terminology and Styles
There are four key words you need to know relating to Yoga: asanas, pranayama, meditation, and mantra. Asanas are the exercises or poses yoga is known for and pranayama is the practice of breath control in conjunction with these exercises. Meditation (mind focus) is also practiced during yoga and may or may not include the use of a mantra (sound) or chant.
The most popular style of yoga is Hatha (physical) yoga. It is based on the principle that a strong body is needed on the journey to enlightenment. This style practices concentration, breathing, endurance, flexibility, stretching, aligning, and strengthening the body, quieting the mind, and awakening the spirit.
Another popular branch of yoga is Astanga (a style of Hatha yoga). The focus here is on the coordination of asanas (exercises) with breathing. Practice is divided into 6 sets of postures and each set is done sequentially.
If you are looking for a gentle style with extra personal attention to individual needs, them Viniyoga is for you. Viniyoga uses flowing movements (vinyasa) to strengthen, balance, and heal from an anatomic point of view. This is great for beginners, seniors, chronic pain sufferers, and for those recovering from injury or disease.
Yoga is physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging but you don’t have to be flexible and in shape before you start. Also keep in mind that yoga is not goal-oriented. Accomplishing complicated poses is not the focus at all. Rather the focus is on the process and on learning about your self. Look for a beginner’s class where you can learn the basic postures and breathing exercises. Listen to your body and go at your own pace. This is your journey, no one
Copyright (c) 1999 by Edel Jarboe. All Rights Reserved.