What is Yoga?
Yoga has been around for more than 5,000 years, with its roots in ancient India. The word yoga means ‘union’ originating from Sanskrit. The practice of Yoga can help unite the body and mind through postural and breathing exercises resulting in harmony (or union) and a sense of peace and well being.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s yoga masters travelled to the West, teaching their methodology and it gradually became recognised as a form of exercise through which to achieve stillness and equilibrium. It is now hugely popular and practiced by people from all walks of life.
The main components of yoga are:
Postures - asanas - a series of movements designed to increase strength and flexibility,
Breathing - pranayama – allowing mental clarity and a general feeling of calmness and relaxation.
There are many different styles of yoga, such as Ashtanga, Iyengar and Sivananda. Some of these are more vigorous than others and some may have a different area of emphasis, such as posture or breathing.
The exercises lead to increased flexibility and can improve posture and tone muscles as well as have a stimulating effect on internal organs. They can improve the efficiency of the heart and lungs, improve strength, concentration and sleep and also reduce anxiety and depression.
Within yoga lies the paradox of ‘movement leads to stillness’, many spiritual truths contain paradoxes and through yoga practice one can see how it allows us to be more aware of ourselves and at the same time feel connected.
Yogic study and practice can unfold our dormant potential. As such, yoga is a process of self-discovery and can lead us to self-mastery and self-realisation.
Why is it so popular?
Yoga is a wonderful way to stay fit, keep trim and calm the mind. But more than that, yoga is a way of thinking and being that brings greater meaning to life.
Where once it was associated with the alternative lifestyle, yoga has now become recognised as a discipline to combat stress and induce well being. In an ever increasing frenetic world it can create a union of the bodily self to the spiritual self.
Even the NHS now recommends mindfulness as a way to combat stress and, as relaxation is a large part of yogic exercise, it is seen as a safe way to relieve symptoms. It can be safely used alongside other forms of stress release without complication. The NHS states that there is “evidence that regular yoga practice is beneficial for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, aches and pains – including lower back pain – depression and stress.”
Though it has a connection to the spiritual, yoga is not associated with any religion and is practised by many in the western world, from the ordinary person in the street to A-list celebrities.