What is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient, Indian discipline that combines the physical, mental and spritual centers of the body. Yoga has been known to improve health and mindful awareness and increase strength and flexibility in the body. The word 'Yoga' means "union" in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India where yoga originated. We can think of the union occuring betwen the mind, body and spirit. What is commonly referred to as "yoga" can be more accurately described by the Sanskrit word "asana", which refers to the practice of physical postures and poses.
There are many types of Yoga and in the United States, there has been a big surge in yoga classes in recent years that use Hatha Yoga as their practice of choice. Hatha Yoga is all physical Yoga--it renews, invigorates, and heals the body--stretching and strengthening the muscles, joints and spine and directing blood and oxygen to the internal organs. In a Hatha Yoga class we will incorporate different styles (depending on the focus of that class) that could include Vinyasa (which means breath=synchoronized movement), and includes flowing movements based on a series of poses called "Sun Salutations" in which movement is matched to the breath. As well as other poses that are held for a certian length of time and encourage strength and flexibility.
Poses and Classes
Many people think that yoga is just stretching. But while stretching is certainly involved, yoga is really about creating balance in the body through developing both strength and flexibility. Through the performance of poses and postures, (which have certain specific physical benefits), we build heat in the body, increase stamina and perfect the alignment of poses. In additional to the poses, most yoga classes include instruction on breathing, modifications for beginners or students with specific injuries or disabilities as well as time for meditation and relaxation at the end of class. One of the most difficult, but ultimately most libertating things about yoga, is letting go of the ego and accepting that no one is better than anyone else. Everyone is just doing their best on any given day.
The amazing thing about yoga, is that your 'practice' is always evolving and changing, so it never gets boring. Although the poses themselves do not change, your relationship to them, will. Anyone can start a yoga practice, even if they don't feel "strong" or particularly "flexibile" -- these things will improve the longer you practice. The different styles of yoga (ie "Ashtanga" - a faster paced set series of poses that might increase heart rate, breath and blood flow to the body, - or "Iyengar" a style most concerned with bodily alignment, or even "restorative" that uses props and slower moves to relax and de-stress the body) will give you a variety of wonderful, low-impact moves that make you feel great.
Yoga Class Etiquette
Wear comfortable clothing, remove your shoes before entering your area, bring a water bottle, mat and towels (The YMCA and most studios have mats and props available). Switch off cell phones and arrive a little early to class if you have questions and concerns, especially if you are new to Yoga. It's best to eat at least 2 hours or more before class. Most classes include a time for practice breathing and alignment, a time for warming and "work" as well as a time of reflection and meditation, we call this "Final Relaxation". (The lights are turned down low and we close our eyes and focus on breathing.). Leave the heavy & loose jewelry at home and really 'be present' for your class.