People practice yoga for all sorts of reasons: to stay fit and trim, to achieve a sense of inner calm and well-being, to gain increased flexibility and coordination, and to improve their posture. But to the uninitiated, the practice of yoga remains a mystery. What exactly is yoga – and why do we care?

Yoga can benefit the mind, body and soul.

The word “yoga” means union in Sanskrit, and it aims to create a basic union behind mind, body and spirit. This is achieved through a combination of flexibility and strength, which usually is carried out by a striving to create and perfect a series of poses, known as asanas, or postures exercises.

While creating the same exercises day after day may sound repetitive and mind-numbingly dull – at least to the uninitiated – to adherents of yoga the case is exactly the opposite. In theory, at least, people bring a varied and different approach to the postures each time they do them, often with the help of a teacher, or guru, who teaches and guides them along the way.

In addition, chanting, meditation and breathing exercises are taught concurrently alongside the postures, so people should feel varied benefits which affect them both inside and out. But as yoga can be tricky and is physically very demanding, many people give up at the onset. Others, however, try it a few times and become converts for life.

Types of Yoga

The practice of yoga is a varied one, which is why there are so many types of yoga being taught and practiced all over the world. Many people have heard of Hatha yoga, which is actually an all-encompassing word for all types of yoga. Other actual types, in alphabetical order, include:

Ashtanga yoga. Literally means “eight-limbed yoga”, as the path of internal purification contains eight spiritual practices which followers are advised to follow. They are: moral codes; self-purification and study; posture; breath control; sense control; concentration; meditation and contemplation. There are strict sets of poses which should, in an ideal world, be followed to the letter. This type of yoga is both athletic and requires a strict sense of order and is also referred to as “power yoga”.

Bhakti yoga. Achieves calm by visualizing, thinking about and feeling a Divine Being. Sometimes referred to as the Yoga of Love or Yoga of God. Requires one to want their own oneness to become a “twoness” with a higher power.

Bikram yoga. Started by Bikram Choudhury, this type of “Hot Yoga” is practiced only in a very warm room. It is though that the heat helps flush nasty toxins from the body and thus assists in making the limbs more flexible. Helps you sweat out your problems as well as become stronger and more coordinated.

Iyengar yoga. This type of yoga concentrates on the use of props (no, not that kind) to achieve yoga poses. Wooden belts, blocks, ropes etc help those practicing Iyengar yoga achieve the various asanas, or poses, and thus help their body, and eventually their mind, become stronger.

Mantra yoga. People practice yoga techniques coupled with the repetition of certain monosyllabic sounds, or mantras, such as “um”, “oh” and “ah”. The idea is that once a person chants a specific sound endlessly, it will enter their consciousness until the subconscious is revealed. A bit tricky, that one…

Raja yoga. Helps increase meditation techniques by directing your life force towards the object upon which you are meditating. Translates as a “kingly” type of yoga.

Viniyoga. Incorporates regular breathing techniques to help practitioners practice yoga poses that are suited to them as individuals. Gives credence to the idea that as we grow and develop so must our yoga techniques, the way in which we achieve specific poses, and the poses themselves.

Popular Yoga Postures

Here are some of the very basic yoga postures, suitable for beginners:

Cat. Basic stretch on all fours designed ideally to stretch out the spine. Get down on hands and knees, then lift back and arch gently like an angry or surprised cat. Some practitioners advise hissing loudly like a cat as well, to get full benefit from this pose (yeah, right!).

Cobra. Lie on floor on stomach then raise up and place hands on floor, near the shoulders. Inhale then raise yourself from the floor, raising your chest with your back arched (don’t lift belly-button from floor). Exhale as you lower yourself to the floor and repeat as many as seven times.

Upward Facing Dog. Much like the Cobra (above) but your arms remain straight while your stomach is lifted from the floor. Stretches many parts of the body, including the lungs, back and abdomen. Is thought to help alleviate symptoms of depression.

Cow. Start by getting into position on your hands and knees. Gently push your stomach toward the floor, while you try to arch your tailbone and chin upwards in the direction of the ceiling.

Yoga for Children and Moms-to-Be

Yoga for kids is not about losing weight, it’s about becoming more flexible and more centered. Kids these days often feel unduly stressed, with an overload of homework and after-school activities and pressure to perform well at exams. Practicing yoga on a regular basis can help them not only get in better physical shape, but also help them to relax their minds and learn how to concentrate and focus.

Expectant mothers can also benefit from practicing yoga, under the advice of a qualified instructor. Studies have shown that women who routinely practice yoga while they are pregnant have faster births that are significantly easier than those who don’t. Practicing yoga while pregnant is also a great way for many women to connect with their babies and take time out to concentrate on themselves.

Proponents of yoga says this age-old practice can benefit virtually everyone, from small children up to people of the geriatric set. It can help individuals not only become more aware of their bodies and minds, but also increase their flexibility and coordination and make them feel happier and healthier. It also reduces tension and stress, and boosts our energy levels. Now that can’t be a bad thing.


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