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What is Yoga?

Yoga is a discipline that over 300 million people practice around the world. The word "yoga", literally means "union" referring to an inner state of experience. It is often mistaken as a form of physical exercise. However, the whole system of yoga is a set of tools for self-transformation and to allow a person to find this state of union. 

Yoga on Deck

What is Hatha Yoga?

The word ‘Hatha’, is a combination of two words: ‘Ha’ and ‘tha’. ‘Ha’ represents the esoteric sun, the masculine energy; while ‘tha’ represents the moon energy, the feminine. The word ‘yoga’ means to join, to yoke or to unite. A hatha yoga practice aims to join or balance these two energies, which are inherent in all of us, no matter the gender. 

 

The practice of hatha yoga can be seen as asana (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), mantra (chanting), mudra (hand gestures), shatkriyas (cleansing techniques) and meditation. It is generally a physical practice to prepare the body for a higher possibility.

 

The word ‘hatha’ can also be translated as ‘force’, but this does not mean you have to contort your body into complex postures or stand on your head. It simply means that consistency and discipline are needed to attain the benefits of practicing hatha yoga or leading a yogic lifestyle. Practicing hatha yoga with a sense of humility and practicing in a way that suits your individual body can be a fantastic and fulfilling process.

What is Ashtanga Yoga?

A style of yoga popularised by Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, who learnt the system from his teacher T. Krishnamacharya.  It is a dynamic and energetic style of yoga in which you synchronise breath with movements.  The word ashtanga has two roots - ‘ashta’ and ‘anga’. Ashta refers to the number 8 and anga means limb. Therefore, ashtanga refers to the union of the 8 limbs of yoga into one complete holistic system. This system was conceived specially for house-holders (grihasta). A householder is somebody who has a job, a family and lives and works in society, as opposed to a monk, hermit or sannyasi, who have no social responsibility and can therefore engage in these techniques all day long. 

The Bhagavad Gita explains:

"One who outwardly performs his social duties but inwardly stays free as a yogi"

 

These 8 limbs in yoga philosophy are Yamas (ethical precepts), Niyamas (observances of the body and mind), Asana (body posture/ condition), pranayama (breath control/ extension), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (state of pure being).

In the Ashtanga Yoga sequence we can see these 8 limbs being practiced. Here is a very brief explanation on each.

  • The Yamas and Niyamas are initially implemented from the outside. Once yoga practice is established, they become our second nature; they will arise naturally. 

  • Through the practice of asanas the body is made "strong and light like the body of a lion", as stated by Shri K. Pattabhi Jois.

  • Pranayama is practiced through applying Ujjayi Pranayama. 

  • Pratyahara is practiced through drishti.

  • Dharana can be practiced in many ways through the ashtanga system. Firstly, it can apply when learning the sequence. Then it can be applied by focusing on Ujjayi pranayama, drishti and bandhas.

  • Dhyana happens when we shift from a position of 'doing' the practice, to a point where we are 'being done' or 'moved'. It can become a moving meditation as we meditate on the flowing and ever changing forms of the practice. 

  • In the physical disciplines of this practice, samadhi can be reached by suspending the extremes of the solar and lunar mind. 

What is restorative yoga?

Restorative yoga allows the practitioner to deeply relax as poses are mostly passive, held for longer periods of time with the aid of props to give complete support. 

The main focus of restorative yoga is relaxation. Relaxing in a pose with as many props as needed, without any strain, it allows for physical, mental and emotional relaxation. 

Benefits of restorative yoga:

  • Deeply relaxes the body

  • Allows the mind to find stillness

  • Improves capacity for healing

  • Balances the nervous system

  • Enhances mood

  • Can aid in better sleeping patterns

What are the benefits of practicing yoga regularly?

Some science-based benefits of a wholesome regular yoga practice:

  • Improves strength and flexibility

  • Helps to relieve stress

  • Improves mental health and a sense of wellbeing

  • Some studies have indicated that yoga can help reduce inflammatory biomarkers

  • Helps to reduce anxiety

  • Can help to improve relationships with others through study of philosophies

  • Improves balance and coordination

  • Can improve cardiovascular functioning

  • May help improve sleep hygiene

  • May improve self esteem

  • Can improve bone health

  • Promotes better posture and body awareness

  • Can improve brain functioning and memory

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