What comes to mind for most people when they think of yoga is flexible people twisting and bending into pretzel-like shapes. Mainly, they think of the physical practice of yoga offered at a myriad of gyms and studios across the globe. But yoga is so much more than this physical exercise!
The word ‘Yoga’ comes from the Sankrit word ‘yuj,’ meaning ‘to unite or integrate.’ Yoga is about yoking the body, the mind, and spirit through various breathing techniques, meditation, and movement.
Modern yoga practices are based off of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written around 400 CE. The Yoga Sutras are essentially a series of aphorisms from which the basis for yogic philosophies were developed. In this text, asana practice or the physical postures of yoga, is considered just one part of the eight “limbs” of yoga. The other limbs focus on mental and spiritual wellbeing.
The following table breaks down the other components of Yoga: Yama (restraint), Niyama (observance), Asana (physical posture), Pranayama (regulation of breath), Pratyahara (sense of withdrawal), Dharana (focus/concentration), Dhyana (meditation), & Samadhi (total absorption).
Yoga is truly about creating balance in the body and mind through developing physical and mental strength and flexibility. Each physical posture has its’ benefits- from aiding in digestion or riding away negativity. But when combined with breathing instruction and meditation, the mental benefits become more apparent. Whether it is learning to listen to your body, adopting principles of non-judgment, or beginning to recognize and let go of the ego, the lessons are many.
I often call the physical practice of yoga the gateway into spiritual exploration. For some people the low-impact workout is enough and that is fine- after all, it does make us feel great! But for others wanting more, I recommend visiting a yoga center that explores the other 7 limbs of yoga. Classes at gyms help introduce people to yoga through asana instruction, and yoga studios delve deeper into the spiritual components. Whatever your preference, there is sure to be a style of yoga that appeals most to you and your lifestyle.
It is also important to note that there are several different forms of yoga from different schools of practice. Some of which include, Ashtanga, Hatha, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Kundalini, Yin, Bikram, and many more. This, coupled with the different styles of each individual teacher, surely makes every encounter with yoga a unique experience. Even when practicing with the same teacher from one day to the next, it is never the same! It is always in the present. I encourage anyone trying yoga for the first time to give it multiple chances before making any conclusions. Find what works for you and explore it deeper. And if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me!