Understanding Yoga

Understanding Yoga


Yoga is an ancient Indian philosophy that dates back thousands of years. It was designed as a path to spiritual enlightenment, but in modern times, the physical aspects of Hatha yoga have found huge popularity as a gentle form of exercise and stress management. There are many different varieties of yoga, but each one essentially relies on structured poses (asanas) practiced with breath awareness.

Yoga brings the body and mind together and is built on three main elements – exercise, breathing and meditation. Both yoga and Pilates improve muscular and postural strength.

The word yoga means ‘to join or yoke together’. It brings your body and mind together, and is built on three main elements – exercise, breathing and meditation.

The exercises of yoga are designed to put pressure on the glandular systems of your body, increasing your body’s efficiency and total health. Breathing techniques increase breath control to improve the health and function of body and mind.

The two systems of exercise and breathing prepare the body and mind for meditation, with an approach to a quiet mind that allows silence and healing from everyday stress. When practiced regularly, yoga can become a powerful and sophisticated discipline for achieving physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.


Types of yoga


There are many different varieties of yoga, each with a slightly different slant. The most popular are Hatha, Bikram, Iyengar and Vinyasa yoga.


Asanas or yoga postures


Each yoga posture, or asana, is held for a period of time and linked with breathing. Generally, a yoga session begins with gentle asanas and works up to more vigorous or challenging postures. A full yoga session should exercise every part of your body and should include pranayama (breath control practices), relaxation and meditation.


The different postures or asanas include:

  • lying postures
  • sitting postures
  • standing postures
  • inverted or upside-down postures.

What happens during a typical yoga class?


Yoga classes usually have 10 to 20 people, allowing for individual attention.


A common yoga class typically includes:


  • An introduction, possibly including some breathing exercises and/or relaxation
  • A Physical warm up
  • Yoga postures, movements and stretches
  • Relaxation and/or meditation.


Meditation is usually an integral part of yoga and many yoga teachers may offer classes dedicated to the practice of meditation. Participants usually practise either on cushions on the floor, or seated on chairs. A dedicated meditation class typically includes:


  • An introduction possibly including breathing exercises, relaxation and some inspirational readings
  • A number of mental focusing and meditation practices
  • Returning to an outward focus and brief discussion

Classes generally span 1 – 1½ hours.


Suggestions for getting the most out of your yoga class include:


  • Wear comfortable clothes and take a blanket or mat, since many poses are performed sitting or lying down.
  • Allow at least three or four hours since your last meal.
  • Always tell your yoga teacher if you have a specific complaint, so they can advise against any asanas that may aggravate your problem.
  • Always tell your yoga teacher if you are pregnant, have had a recent injury, illness, surgery, high blood pressure, heart problems or osteoporosis.
  • Don’t talk during the class because it will disturb your own quiet focus and that of others in the class.


Health benefits of yoga

develops strength and flexibility

soothes your nerves and calms your mind.

improves cardiovascular fitness and circulation.

speeds up the digestive system

encourages mobility and eases pressure on joints.

improved blood circulation

eases muscle tension

reduced stress, anxiety and fatigue

better concentration and energy levels.