Yoga is a therapy that aims to unite the mind, soul and body. Most yoga styles are derived from hatha yoga, a type of yoga that focuses on the body and breath and aims to develop control the body through poses (or asanas). Hatha represents the two sides of life – the yin and the yang, the dark and the light – and aims to bring these two sides into harmony and balance. All styles of yoga balance the body, mind and spirit but how they do so may differ. Some styles focus on the poses, while others may focus on breathwork, alignment or the flow of movement.
Breathing is very important in yoga as the breath signifies your vital energy. In yoga, being able to control your breath can help you to control your body and your mind. No matter which style of yoga you choose there are many classes available and the health benefits are many.
Benefits of Yoga
The benefits of yoga are far ranging and plentiful. Following is just some of the things that yoga can help you with:
- increased flexibility
- increased strength and vitality
- strengthening of the immune system
- improving of circulatory system
- stimulating of endocrine system
- stretching and toning of muscles
- weight loss
- management of chronic health conditions such as asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, back pain, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis
- improved concentration and focus
- reduction of stress and anxiety
- encourages the connection of our physical, mental and spiritual selves
The great thing about yoga is that anyone can practice it, as there is a style to suit everybody.
Main Styles of Yoga
There are several different styles of yoga, indeed too many to list here. However, there are some common styles and these are outlined below:
- Hatha - When people refer to “yoga” in general, this is actually Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga was introduced in the 15th century in India and it is the most popular yoga style. It can also be thought of as one of the “parents” of yoga as many other styles have originated from Hatha yoga, including power yoga, Bikram yoga, Ashtanga yoga, and Kundalini yoga. The word “Hatha” is Sanskrit, with “ha” meaning “sun”, and “tha” meaning “moon”
- Ashtanga – is the “workout” form of yoga. It is a series of poses performed sequentially and beginning with sun salutations. Movements are linked to the breath and the poses move continually. It is an aerobic form of yoga and moves quickly.
- Bikram – developed by Bikram Choudhury, this style of yoga is performed in a heated room. Bikram yoga is sees students performing 26 poses that are designed to cleanse the body and enhance physical strength and balance. It is good for detoxification.
- Kundalini – this form of yoga awakens the Kundalini energy at the base of the spine and mixes chanting, breathing and yoga poses. The focus is on chanting and breathing more so than getting the poses absolutely right. This is a powerful form of yoga and should only be taught by an experienced teacher.
- Iyengar – is a precise style of yoga and one of the most popular in the world. It places much focus on attention to detail and getting the alignment of the poses absolutely right. Iyengar also uses props such as blocks and belts. It is a great style of yoga for the fitness conscious.
- Viniyoga – places emphasis on healing and is gentler than other styles. The breath and movement of the spine is carefully integrated and the intensity of the poses is subject to the health of the person practicing the yoga. Viniyoga may also involve meditation and reflection.
Finding a Yoga School or Yoga Teacher
There are several different ways of finding a suitable yoga teacher or class, depending on your needs. If you are a beginner, it may be best to take formal classes or tuition for a while, so that you can get the feel for the poses and the breathwork, and so that the teacher can correct any errors in your posture. Many gyms offer yoga classes, and classes are also advertised in your local paper. It is merely a matter of finding a class that appeals to you.
Ask questions of your potential teacher and ensure that you will be comfortable with them. Some questions that you ask may include what their qualifications are, how long they have been teaching for, what experience they have in teaching people with special needs (such as injuries or health concerns), what level the class is (beginner’s, intermediate, or advanced), what equipment you require and how much the classes will cost.
You may also opt to learn from a yoga book or a video but you will be on your own. It may be better to take some classes first in order to gain an idea of how to correctly perform the basic poses before moving on to a book or video. This way, you may prevent injury.
When taking a yoga class, dress comfortably in clothing that fits snugly but not tightly. You should have plenty of room to move without being distracted by loose fabric. Shoes are not required as yoga is practised barefoot. You may also need a yoga mat, which provides cushioning and friction to allow you to attain the various poses.