Yoga is probably the single most popular activity when it comes to wellness. Yoga, in all its various styles and poses, is renowned the world over for its wide range of benefits. The attraction in part is also down to the fact that you don’t have to be a yogi or expert to reap the benefits, all you need is a bit of space and the right attitude. Yoga is for everyone.
The history of yoga can be traced back to over 5000 years ago in Northern India. Yoga was first mentioned in ancient sacred texts known as the rig Veda, although the exact meaning and definition yoga wasn’t quite clear back then.
The first systematic presentation of yoga was defined by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutras. This text led the way for the practice of yoga to be split into eight parts also known as the “eight limbed path”, a guide to the steps and stages to obtaining Samadhi or enlightenment. Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra influence is still present today in most modern styles of yoga and many credit Patanjali as the father of modern Yoga.
Centuries later yoga was further developed to focus more on the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment. This led to the creation of Tantra yoga, a sort of revamping of the ancient Vedic spiritual practices. Tantra yoga uses techniques to cleanse the mind and body. The techniques are what we primarily think of when it comes to yoga known as Hatha yoga.
In the first half of the 20th Century Yoga schools began to open all over India and the works of yogis T. Krishnamacharya and Swami Sivananda was strongly promoted. Krishnamacharya is considered by many to be one of the most influential yoga teachers of the 20th century and a pioneer of modern Hatha yoga. Yoga began it’s rise in global popularity in the latter half of the 20th century when Indra Devi opened a yoga studio in Hollywood in the late 1940’s.
The goal of yoga is spiritual enlightenment, awareness and liberation. On the way to achieving this however one can enjoy numerous physical and mental health benefits. These include;
- Stress Reduction – Research has shown that regularly practicing yoga can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the hormone primarily responsible for stress.
- Positive Mood – On the flip side to reducing stress, doing yoga can result in increased levels of serotonin, the hormone responsible for putting you in a happier state of mind. It is said that just 15 minutes of yoga a day can change your brain chemistry and put you in a better mood.
- Increased Energy – Regular yoga practice will awaken the main energy centres (Chakras) in your body and certain poses encourage effective energy circulation
- Improved Flexibility and Core Strength – Regular yoga practice will stretch, strengthen and tone your muscles.
- Better Breathing – Deep calm breaths are an essential part of yoga practice. Techniques (called Pranayama) focus on breathing slowly from the pit of your stomach to the top of your lungs. The result is increased lung capacity and more tidal volume.
- Improved Heart Health – Studies have shown that regular yoga sessions may lower blood pressure, slow the progression of heart disease, lower cholesterol and reduce several risk factors for heart disease. Stress is one of the contributors to heart disease and as mentioned above yoga can reduce stress. We recommend taking up yoga in combination with other healthy lifestyle factors such diet to really benefit from improved heart health.
There are different types of yoga out there and there is no right or wrong one. It’s about finding what works for you. As mentioned above Hatha yoga is popularised all over the world, it’s not the only form and simply refers to all other styles of yoga that have are grounded in physical practice such as Ashtanga, Iyenger, Bikram and Yin.
Ashtanga is a highly physical style that follows a series of specific poses taught in order. Iyengar yoga on the other hand is a meticulous style in which the focus is to find proper alignment in a pose, props such as blocks, blanks and chairs are all common. In Bikram yoga the sessions are held in artificially heated rooms as you work through a series of 26 sequences. Yin Yoga is a much easier slower paced style in which seated postures are held for prolonged period, yin can also be extremely meditative. There are so many more style, we urge you to research and find one that suits you.
There are other branches of yoga distinct from Hatha such as Raja, Karma, Jnana and Bhakti. The branches are separate from physical based yoga practice.
Raja yoga is focused on meditation and dedicated to the “eight limbed path” laid out by Patanjali. Karma yoga as you’d expect is rooted in the notion that what we experience today is a result of our actions in the past and we should act in the present in such a way that creates a future free from negativity and selfishness. Jnana yoga requires development and understanding of yoga through the dedication of studying scriptures and texts from yogic tradition. Finally, Bhakti yoga (the path of devotion) describes seeing the divinity in all of creation, to positively channel any emotions and to cultivate acceptance and tolerance for everyone or thing.