We are going to discuss the fundamentals of yoga today. Remove your shoes and find a mat. Take a seat, either cross-legged or resting back on your heels. You can even take off your socks, if it makes you more comfortable. Relax. Now close your eyes and breathe. Let go of all of the rushing and busyness that surrounded your day on your way here. It is time to reconnect with you now.
WHAT IS YOGA?
Yoga is an ancient practice that incorporates breathing techniques, meditation and a system of stretching exercises to help heal and strengthen body, mind and soul. It hearkens from Ancient India and has been an integral part of Hindu and Buddhist teachings for over 5000 years. With a longevity like that, it is not surprising that yoga is still practiced all over the world today by people from all walks of life. It is therefore not surprising that different forms and styles of yoga have emerged, from Hatha yoga (a broad term, that usually refers to a slower style of yoga which focuses on purification of mind, body and “prana” or life force through the use of various “asanas” or postures), to Ashtanga yoga (a more powerful form of yoga based on the eight limbs of yoga that moves through a specific set of poses -it inspired power yoga). There is also Kundalini (main focus is breath control through poses), Iyengar yoga (extended holding of poses for body alignment), Anusara (heavy use of props with belief in intrinsic good in all ), and even the popular new form of Hot Yoga (based on Bikram model – done in room of 95-100 degrees to encourage sweating and cleansing). In fact, there are more yoga styles out there now than ever, with Moksha , Kripalu, Sivananda, Integral, Restorative and Forrest yoga available, as well as even laughter yoga for those needing more internal smiles.
A LITTLE ABOUT ASANAS AND SUTRAS
Rhyming off a list of styles of yoga is only a fraction of the picture though. Whether you do yoga in a hot room with lots of other sweaty bodies, alone on a mountain top, or chanting “ohm” before entering silent meditation with others, you will eventually get to the asanas. Before you worry about what an asana might be, breathe again. In yoga, the breathe is considered nourishing and the use of controlled breathing is called Pranayama. Now, Asanas are a series of postures that you move through in your yoga practice. While their sanskrit names might seem a little daunting, don’t be afraid of Vrikshasana (tree pose), Marjariasana (cat pose), or Balasana (child’s pose). They are all basic yogas positions. Even Adho Mukha Shvanasana (downward dog) is a relatively easy pose. In fact, with a little stretching, a focus on your breath and a concentrated effort to let go of the mind (or at least your stressors of the day), you might even find that you can eventually find your way to Bakasana (the crane).
If you noticed that the asanas often relate to animals or nature, then you are on the right path to learning about the sutras of yoga as well. Sutra literally means “the thread”. So while the asanas cover the physical aspect of yoga, and pranayama is the focus on the breath, the sutras are the philosophical teachings behind yoga that sew it all together. The eight limbs of yoga gives a brief highlight of the core tenets of yogic thought and is illustrated below.
THE EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA
- Yama (The five “abstentions”): non-violence, non-lying, non-covetousness, non-sensuality, and non-possessiveness.
- Niyama (The five “observances”): purity, contentment, austerity, study, and surrender to god.
- Asana: Literally means “seat”, and in Patanjali’s Sutras refers to the seated position used for meditation.
- Pranayama (“Suspending Breath”): Prāna, breath, “āyāma”, to restrain or stop. Also interpreted as control of the life force.
- Pratyahara (“Abstraction”): Withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects.
- Dharana (“Concentration”): Fixing the attention on a single object.
- Dhyana (“Meditation”): Intense contemplation of the nature of the object of meditation.
- Samādhi (“Liberation”): merging consciousness with the object of meditation.
BENEFITS OF YOGA
Whether you engage with the full philosophical tenets of yoga or not, the benefits to be had from this ancient form of exercise are numerous. It helps to decrease blood pressure, pulse rate, respiratory rate, pain levels and EMG activity. It also helps to increase cardiovascular efficiency, respiratory efficiency, range of motion, flexibility, strength, endurance and energy levels. Yoga improves dexterity, reaction time, balance, posture and depth perception. It also helps to normalize weight, stabilize the auto-immune system and improves the integrated functioning of the body as a whole. And those are just the physical perks! Participating in a regular yoga practice helps to reduce stress, promote mental calmness and stability, as well as giving you a better sense of body awareness. That can lead to better moods, improved sense of self, stronger social skills and and higher feeling of general well being. It is no wonder that yoga classes have been springing up all over the place! Yoga can be performed by people of any age or ability, with a wide range of modifications to support those with special needs.
So don’t pass it by because you are overweight. Try yoga for round bodies. If you haven’t seen your feet in years, let alone been able to reach down and touch them, why not try restorative yoga? If you want a real workout, maybe kundalini, moksha or hot yoga is for you. There is a yoga for every body out there. In fact, with the philosophy that every body is beautiful, Premier Fitness Camp cannot agree more, and that is why we offer it at our fitness boot camp. We think it is another valuable way that you can start to love who you are again, body, mind and soul.