The word yoga means "union" in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India where yoga originated. We can think of it as the union occurring between mind, body, and spirit. Yoga is not a religion, but it is a philosophy that has endured 5,000 years.
Yoga refers to the practice of physical postures or poses called "asana's". Asana is only one type of yoga.
Today, however, the words 'asana' and 'yoga' have become almost synonymous. With increased awareness, the poses become meditation-in-action with awareness of the breath flowing through the body.
Each of the poses has specific physical benefits. Physical tension and imbalances are brought to attention and begin to release. The poses can be done quickly in succession, creating heat in the body through movement or more slowly to increase stamina and perfect the alignment of the pose. There is an ideal way that each pose should be performed.
Many people think that yoga is stretching. But while stretching is certainly involved, yoga is really about creating balance in the body through developing both strength and flexibility. Most types of yoga are more concerned with mental and spiritual well-being than physical activity.
Yoga teachers will often refer to "your practice," which means your individual experience with yoga as it develops over time. Yoga, first and foremost, must be approached in accordance to your comfort zone. No pose, technique, or instructor behavior will instill any benefit if you are at all uncomfortable.
Because yoga is so diverse, there is plenty of room for interpretation from one person to the next, even within the same classroom. You need to work at your own pace; not mine, not the neighbor's, not even your own of a week ago.
Don't ever let anyone physically push your body into a position beyond that which you are able to assume by yourself; don't let anyone coax you to go further than you wish to go.
This is your practice; only you have the wisdom to dictate where your practice goes. Although the poses themselves do not change, your relationship to them will.
Anyone can start a yoga practice, even if you don't feel like you are very flexible or very strong. These things will develop over time.
Another great thing about thinking of yoga as "your practice" is that it encourages the noncompetitive spirit of yoga. One of the most difficult, but ultimately most liberating things about yoga is letting go of the ego and accepting that no one is better than anyone else.
Everyone is just doing their best on any given day. The amazing thing about yoga is that your practice is always evolving and changing so it never gets boring.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF YOGA
- You'll feel more relaxed and learn to stay relaxed.
- Your overall muscle tone improves as well as alignment.
- You'll add vitality to your spine, improving all systems of the body, especially the glands and nerves.
- Digestion improves; gas and bloating lessens.
- Your lungs expand, increasing oxygen intake.
- You'll sleep better.
- You'll be less tired during the day with higher energy.
- Your immune system will strengthen.
- You'll learn to set aside time for yourself.
- You'll learn to trust yourself more.