Yoga is an ancient practice that is thought to date back thousands of years, although there is much debate about when and how exactly it originated. Today in the West, yoga means different things to different people. Some use the practice simply as a way to work out, though many argue that yoga should always incorporate some form of spirituality, meditation or mindfulness.
Whatever your goals, fitness level and age, you should be able to find a style of yoga, and a class that is right for you. Sometimes that might mean experimenting with several different styles and teachers, so don’t be put off if you don’t ‘get’ the appeal of yoga straight away.
Yoga has many health benefits, including improved posture, flexibility, balance, reduced risk of hypertension and Type 2 diabetes, and improved wellbeing. It can also be useful in those already suffering from some conditions, such as arthritis.
The styles of yoga are all based around yoga’s asanas – postures. Some forms of yoga, such as ashtanga, focus on moving through these asanas in a dynamic sequence, while others, like yin, involve staying in each posture for longer periods of time.
These days there are many different forms of ‘yoga fusion’, for example, some that blend aspects of pilates to make ‘yogalites’ and aerial yoga, which is a mixture of acrobatics and yoga.
Yoga classes often end with a final relaxation, which usually involves focusing on your breath and perhaps some form of meditation. Both mindfulness and meditation are associated with yoga.
Some yoga classes involve chanting, incense or discourse around love, happiness and improving your life.
What exactly it means to live a ‘yogic lifestyle’ is much debated, but Patanjali, who is considered the father of modern yoga, describes the eight aspects or eight limbs of yoga. This includes being truthful and non-violent, being clean on the inside and out, practicing asanas, learning to control the breath, concentrate and focus through meditation. Living by these ‘limbs’ or stages of yoga leads to samandhi – a state of ecstasy, enlightenment and transcendence.
Many also believe that a yogic lifestyle involves eating fresh, nutritious food and vegetarianism.