You’ve come across yoga and heard that it’s good for you. But with so many different styles of yoga emerging every day, it can be confusing for a beginner. Where do you begin? Today, we’ll give you an overview of the origins of yoga and the key difference between traditional yoga and modern-day variants.
Yoga can be seen as a complete well-being system or as a set of exercises. Traditional yoga encompasses many aspects of life: philosophy, exercises, meditation and nutrition. In recent years many people create a set of exercises and add the word ‘yoga’ at the end.
Once you understand the basic principles of yoga, you can decide which one suits you best. We’ll cover your options and do some practical exercises to set your intention.
Things to know before starting yoga
What is Yoga?
Yoga has become very popular nowadays. There are classes everywhere, people talk about yoga in TV shows, celebrities are doing it, there are posters ads even in children’s schools, we all know someone that is taking a yoga class.
Yoga almost seems mystical and not for the everyday person, as if we need to be hippies, have a certain kind of beliefs or be super flexible before we can consider trying it.
But really, what is Yoga? To answer this question, let’s learnt a bit of history first.
Some Yoga History
Yoga is a practice that has been around for thousands of years. I am calling it practice because it is more than just physical postures, which are what people are more familiar with.
It was developed in India over 5000 thousand years ago, according to the oldest written records known “The Yoga Sutras” by Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita. Both books explain the nature and obstacles to reach a higher state of awareness and fulfilment, including methods to achieve consciousness and enlightenment.
The practice itself may be a lot older than that as before this writing the tradition was passed orally from Guru to disciple.
The disciple started learning at an early age, experience, practice and at some point, after many years it would reach a level of consciousness and wisdom to become a master and carry out with the tradition. To become a student you would be selected, so not everybody would be able to join it.
Sadhguru, a Guru of Our Time
Sadhguru, a modern guru, talks about the first yogi being Shiva (a God creator and destructor of the Universe within the Indian mythology) who brought the yoga practice to humankind 15000 years ago. So, it’s a very old practice!!!. Yoga is a practice that can’t be learnt through texts, it needs to be practised, it has to be experienced.
What is the actual meaning of yoga?
The term ‘Yoga’ comes from the Sanskrit word Yuke which means to unite. Yoga is a holistic practice and more than that it’s a lifestyle. It includes all aspects of our life: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Yoga means to connect our mind, our body and our spirit. It helps us to connect to others, to connect us with ourselves.
At a physical level, it helps us to accept ourselves the way we are. It brings awareness to our body so that we give ourselves what we need. For example, it helps us to recognise when we need rest, food, sleep, love and to then take action to give it to ourselves instead of neglecting our needs.
3 Aspects of Yoga
Yoga is a union of body, mind and spirit. It helps to train each of these parts. The physical aspect trains the body to perform asanas or body postures, bringing strength and flexibility to the body. Meditation trains the mind, it helps to keep the mind quiet, bring clarity, calmness and awareness of ourselves and our lives. The last aspect is spirituality, it helps to connect us with ourselves and the universe as a whole.
This spiritual aspect intends to help us transcend from our own limitations into the universal consciousness of being and recognise ourselves as one with every living creature and inanimate object in the planet and in the universe. It teaches us to go beyond the boundaries of our minds and the limitations of our language. It can help us to love ourselves as limitless beings able to love and be compassionate with ourselves and others, so a more harmonious and peaceful environment can be created.
In modern times yoga has branched out in many directions. There are differences between the yoga practised in the East and the one in the West. There are different styles of yoga which have been developed from the different lineages, or gurus teachings ad many of them are named after the guru. There are also more modern practices that have been created by people that have studied a particular style and modified it, then this style variation is given a new name.
With more and more styles appearing all the time, it may seem as if yoga can be many different things. However, for a practice to be called Yoga must include all aspects of a person’s well being.
Traditional Yoga Styles
Hatha yoga is the oldest style known, which can be considered the original style. From Hatha yoga there have been many types of yoga asanas developed. There have so many variations such as Vinyasa yoga, Ashtanga yoga, Isha yoga, Nidra yoga, Kundalini yoga, Bakti yoga, Karma yoga, Jhana yoga, Kriya yoga, Raja yoga, Yin yoga, Yang yoga, Iyengar yoga, Jivamukti yoga, Sinavanda yoga, Anasura yoga, Hot yoga, Shaman yoga, Dog yoga, and probably some others I haven’t heard of yet. The styles keep growing as the practice becomes more popular, and people decide to create their own style and name them after them.
Starting Yoga Classes
A class can last anything from 30 min to 2 hours. Workshops can run to up to 5 hours for a day or run over a course of several days. You can practice Yoga at home or in a class, each of them has some pros and cons check out this article for more info.
Yoga as a Way of Life
The yogic lifestyle considers the way one lives, the food one eats, the emotions one experiences, the reactions one makes, and the decisions one takes.
The food is one of the most important parts of a yogi. A yogi is a person that does yoga as a holistic practice and as a lifestyle. A yogi eats food that provides the right energy to the body and nourishes the mind so that the body has the energy to perform the physical practice and keeps the mind sharp, clear and calm to bring awareness to oneself and the surroundings.
Yoga food can be considered vegetarian in nature. It consists of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and pulses in a balanced way. This food is known as Sattvic in the Ayurveda tradition. There are three types of food, food that gives prana to the body, food that takes away prana and food that is neutral, it does not give not take energy from it.
Basically the food needs to give energy to the body for the practice and body functions. This food is known as pranic food (from Prana- energy), so that the body can function to its best. The food that instead of giving takes energy from the body is known as non-pranic or negative pranic food. Food that doesn’t bring nor take anything from the body.
Stimulant food is considered Negative pranic food, it should be avoided unless needed for a medicinal purpose and for a short period of time. This type of food includes chilli, garlic, coffee, tea, asafoetida, eggplant (aubergine) and intoxicating substances like alcohol and drugs.
Neutral foods: potatoes and tomatoes. These foods make us sleepy, brings inertia to the body, so it is harder to move. They are not recommended for people with arthritis. Positive pranic food is fruits, vegetables, nuts, dried fruits, honey, coconut, ash gourd, sprouted grains.
How to choose the right style of yoga?
The style of yoga that you choose will depend on what you want to achieve by practising it. Here are some questions that will help you decide:
- Do you want to get fit or do you want a lifestyle change?
- Are you looking to change your direction in life or do you want to look good in yoga pants?
Benefits of Yoga
Yoga has become a popular practice in the western world. Traditional yoga is a holistic practice towards inner-development, it’s a lifestyle. Modern yoga can give a strong sense of belonging. If you don’t know what to do, starting yoga can open you to social connections as well as keeping healthy.
While it seems that it’s an all-encompassing practice and doing it is just good for everything, I’d like us to pause a second. While it may seem like an overall great idea, without getting clear on your goals and expectations it won’t be sustainable. For example, if your intention is social, then doing meditation to discover your inner-self may be unnecessarily challenging for you. On the other hand, if you want a life change, then getting to know yourself by facing your feelings and thoughts is an essential part of your journey.
Why it’s important to set realistic expectations?
Like with any practice, it takes time to get to know yoga and a lifetime to get to know yourself. Knowing what you want, will allow you to set realistic expectations and will help you avoid disappointments. It can make a difference between you sticking with it and reaching your goals and giving up the moment it gets hard.
What is the best type of yoga for beginners?
Safe way to start yoga
Doing yoga properly should be your first priority. Maybe it’s the chiropractor in me speaking, but good posture is a must in any practice. A lot of poses require flexibility in the hips. This can be hard, particularly for people who lead a sedentary lifestyle.
Doing exercises and holding poses with hip restriction can put extra strain on your low back and your knees. One thing you can do is to consult a manual therapist in your area and ask them for some basic stretches and releasing techniques.
Until you reach a certain degree of flexibility, use support like blocks to relieve the pressure from your joints. Now, let’s have a look at some simple and safe poses to begin with…
Hatha Yoga Poses
Choose 5 exercises that you can do with relevant ease. Set aside the time you are happy to spend on this new practice ( 10 – 30 mins).
Yoga sequences are composed of a transition between specific yoga poses. Yoga poses can be divided into 5 types: standing, sitting, laying, bending and inversion.
You can repeat this sequence as many times as you want, play some soft music, bring awareness to each posture, stay there for as long as you feel comfortable and move to the next pose. Experience how your body feels in each pose.
For beginner yoga poses check out this article that walks you through the 5 Yoga Poses for Beginners.
I hope that by now you have a better idea of what yoga really is. You’ve seen different styles and what they are good for. Now, depending on why you want to start yoga, you can select the style that suits your needs.
As a rule of thumb, the quality of your practice greatly outweighs the variety. It can be challenging to implement this new practice into your current lifestyle, so begin with something simple and remember to stay safe.
While safety is certainly an important part of yoga practice, remember to have fun with it.
If you have any questions or need some extra pointers, feel free to drop me a line.