Yoga began in India about 5000 years ago. It emerged from the practice of meditation and prayer, as a way to center the mind for meditation and stretch the body out after sitting for long periods of time. Yoga is an art, a science and a philosophy, not a religion. When put into practice, it creates a positive and spiritual way to live life. It is an accessible system of health and well-being for all human beings regardless of age, sex, religion or background. The word “yoga” literally means “to yoke” or to unite. Therefore, yoga seeks to balance the total person. It brings stillness to the mind, equilibrium to the emotions, fitness to the body, and enlightenment to the spirit.
Most people know yoga for its movements called “asanas”. These yoga positions offer the physical body flexibility, strength, endurance and balance. Some postures are easy and relaxing, others are extremely complicated and mind-boggling. Can you believe that there are over 14,000 yoga postures on record? Research confirms that yoga tones the endocrine system, lubricates the spine and joints, increases energy flow through the nerves, cleanses the circulatory system and heart, stimulates the digestive cycle, brings strength and flexibility to muscles, releases tension and promotes healing, reduces or eliminates the pain associated with arthritis, helps with asthma, treats back pain and works remarkably well for sleeplessness, fatigue, hypertension and nervousness. Whew!! And the list goes on and on…
There are also many styles of yoga, based on the techniques and studies of several yoga masters. Some names you may hear are Hatha, Iyengar, Viniyoga, Ashtanga, Kundalini, and Kripalu. There are many, many more. The most important part about choosing a class is not so much the style, but your comfort with who is teaching and the pace of the class. Depending on where you go, a yoga class can range from restorative to dynamic. Many students start in a class too physically demanding and get scared off. Some people walk in expecting to just get a physical workout, but find a lot more — like chanting, hand symbols, meditation, and guided relaxation.
A true and complete yoga experience involves the use of many techniques to bring us to a heightened state of awareness. Besides the use of movement, yoga involves at least a little chanting (called “mantra”), a few hand gestures (called “mudras”), several minutes of meditation (to calm the mind) and guided relaxation (called “savasana”). Bells, chimes and soft music are often played in the background. Sometimes incense or aromatherapy oils are used. This is all to create a sacred atmosphere for introspection.
Through the practice of Yoga, one begins to let go of worries and concerns in life, and come to a place of contentment and inner peace. Yoga will build a strong, healthy, and harmonized body, mind and spirit.