Is yoga for me?
Yoga has become a popular form of exercise. More and more people are practicing yoga and enjoying some of the many benefits of Yoga.
We live in a day and age where everything has become accessible to everyone through the internet, yet people do not always understand what it entails. We have become disconnected and are always searching for our purpose and a connection.
First we need to understand the history and origin of yoga, once we have the strong foundation, we can build a powerful practice. Beginner yoga is laying the foundation for creating a powerful practice.
Yoga is an ancient practice that was developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. It is believed that yoga was developed with the focus on bringing harmony between the heart and soul. The path to finding divine enlightenment.
Yoga was developed with the focus on an 8 limbed path. Today most people are only focusing on a few of these and that is why we do not fully understand yoga as it was originally meant.
The 8 limbs
We will look at the 8 limbs (or elements) of yoga. The names are in Sanskrit (the language in which Yoga originated)
YAMA is the first limb, meaning: restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows. It can in turn be divided into 5 parts :
Aparigraha (non-coveting), Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing) and Brachmacharya (Fidelity or chastity – the correct use of energy).
NIYAMA is the second limb: positive duties or observances. It can be described as: Saucha (purity of body and mind), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (Self-discipline) – no, not the little snacks, Svadhyaya (self-study), Ishvara pranidhana (surrender to god/the divine)
ASANA – Posture. This is the limb most yoga practices focus on today and it has become of utmost importance. Achieving the perfect pose, but this is only one limb of yoga.
PRANAYAMA – Breathing techniques. All my yoga teachers focus heavily on breathing techniques in their classes. I find this a great way to focus and turn my mind inward. Having full control over breathing can pose a lot of benefits.
PRATYAHARA – External stimuli withdrawal. Training the mind in stillness just for 10 minutes at first – a form of meditation. The focus is to see beyond yourself by quieting your senses.
DHARANA – The focus of intense concentration. Usually this means bringing your focus to one thing, a good way of practicing this is by bringing all your attention to the flame of a candle.
DHYANA – Meditative absorption. A profound meditation which is the penultimate stage of yoga.
SAMADHI – Bliss or enlightenment
Types of yoga
As a beginner of yoga it can be a difficult task to choose the right type of yoga for you. My approach was: try them all! I signed up at a yoga studio and attended all the classes I could. I learned a lot, especially about the differences, benefits and what I like. No-one can really tell you what you will be into and you don’t have to choose just one. See what works for you and what helps you achieve your goals. There are many types of yoga, I have narrowed it down to 8 main categories.
1. Vinyasa Yoga – vinyasa means linking your breath with your movement. This is a flowing sequence almost like a dance.
2. Ashtanga Yoga – means eight limbs. Most people consider ashtanga as traditional yoga and this is a very dynamic practice.
3. Iyengar Yoga – is named after a famous yoga practitioner and is also based on the eight limbs. The emphasis is on alignment in the asanas. Usually a slower pace – in order to get deeper into the postures.
4. Bikram yoga – named after it’s creator. Many people know it as “hot yoga”. Consists of the same twenty-six postures and two breathing exercises. Ninety minutes long and in a room with a controlled temperature of 40 degrees Celsius and humidity of 40%. Get your sweat on!
5. Jivamukti Yoga – meaning “liberated being”. It incorporates: chanting, breathing exercises and movement – with a theme.
6. Power Yoga – It is a very active approach to hatha or vinyasa. The poses are performed quickly and you will most definitely break a sweat.
7. Sivananda Yoga – Is based on five yogic principles: proper breathing, relaxation, exercise, diet and a positive mindset. Usually twelve basic postures.
8. Yin yoga – Is known to be a meditative practice, a passive practice. It focuses on lengthening the connective tissue. Sounds easy right? It’s not! Very rewarding nonetheless.
This is just to give you a general idea of the different types you can choose from. I intend to do a more in-depth article on the types of yoga at a later stage.
Beginner yoga poses
It is important to know where to start! It can seem very intimidating, there are over 300 poses!
When I first started out, I had no idea of anything yoga related. All of my teachers were really good at instructing me what to do, but for me the purpose of the pose made it easier to understand the “why” of the pose. Understanding the purpose of a pose can really help you to do the pose as intended and get the most out of it. It is not just what the pose looks like, but what you gain from the pose – What can you do to make the pose work for you. This is a good foundation for your practice.
Here are the poses I would suggest you understand and practice on your own to ease you into your yoga practice (I included the names in Sanskrit) and an underlined word that sums the pose up for me:
1. Mountain pose (Tadasana) Tall
This is the foundation of all standing poses. The purpose of this pose is to strengthen and engage the whole body. Feel yourself grow tall. Remember to keep your shoulders back and down, big toes together, knees together and tail-bone tucked under.
2. Plank (Kumbhakasana) Core
The focus here is to engage your core muscles and to strengthen your arms, wrists and shoulders. As well as the muscles surrounding the spine.
3. Four-limbed staff pose (Chaturanga dandasana) Strength
This is the pose I found extremely difficult, but once I understood the purpose and what to focus on, it has become less challenging. If you struggle with core and arm strength, you can lower to your knees. This asana tones and strengthens the arms, wrists, lower back, and the abdominal muscles. Focus on strong shoulders – don’t collapse, keep your elbows tucked and remember that you are moving forward from your plank. Your elbows should be directly above your wrists – you want a ninety degree angle in your elbows. Strong core!!
4. Upward-facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) Open
The focus here is stretching the chest and spine – open your heart, while also strengthening your arms, wrists and shoulders.
5. Downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha svanasana) Stretch
This is both a stretching and strengthening pose. I have found that the purpose of this pose is very important in order to get the most out of it. The lengthening of the spine is key here. Even though ideally, you want your knees straight and heels down, this is not the purpose. To get the most out of it, you should focus on pointing your tailbone up to the sky, even if your knees are slightly bent and heels are not touching the floor.
6. Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I) Ready
This pose focuses on arm, shoulder, leg and back strength. Your hips should be squared to the front, when your back foot is at 45 degrees, this will be much easier. Strong body and open chest
7. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) Fight
This pose focuses on stretching the legs and chest. With your back foot at 90 degrees, it also helps you to open those hips and sink down. Strong arms – you are a warrior after all.
Remember that with warrior I and II, the front leg’s knee should not cross the ankle.
8. Child’s pose (Balasana) Focus
This is a resting pose, it relaxes the muscles on the front of the body, while stretching the muscles of the back torso. The focus here is to rest, but also a reminder to come back to your breathing – so easy to lose focus of your breathing.
Savasana (corpse pose), is known as the final resting pose. (And also the end of my article)
It is an important part of your practice and don’t underestimate it.
I posed a question in the beginning of my article, I believe the answer should and could be: Yes -Yes for everyone!
I hope that everyone has found this helpful in some way. These are things I wish I knew when I first started out. I have been able to make yoga an inside job and not just an outside one! Connecting body, mind and spirit.
If you have any questions or thoughts, please feel to leave a comment.