Is Yoga the perfect form of exercise and relaxation? Let’s make a list of what our ideal type of exercise would do. Firstly it would be simple enough that anyone could do it, but have enough variations and different methods that it would maintain the interest of someone who had been practising it for years. It would need to be easy to learn so that people could pick up the basics quickly and stat seeing the benefits as soon as possible. To be a perfect form of exercise it would need to be capable of keep our body in good shape all by itself. It would help with weight loss, circulation and increasing the strength of the muscles. It would stimulate the lymphatic system as well as the blood flow and help the body dispose of waste products, improving the overall immune response system. It would also have benefits that went beyond health – the sharpening of the mind and an increased sense of well being and contentment. Ideally it would be an exercise form that required no expensive equipment and that could be practiced practically anywhere, alone or in a group.
This is quite a demanding set of prerequisites for a perfect form of exercise. Let’s see if Yoga measures up to these standards.
Yoga is a discipline that has it’s routes in India. The documents that modern Yoga is based on are hundreds of years old, and the principles behind these documents were practiced long before that. It is a low impact form of exercise that has been tweaked and customized by literally thousands of different teachers and enthusiasts. The are numerous resulting ‘styles’ of Yoga, but they all have the same core background and beliefs. What we refer to as Yoga in the West is usually the physical component of an entire life philosophy that has it’s own beliefs and code of ethics built in.
The physical focus of Yoga is on poses and slow movements that are low impact and usually use nothing more than our own body. Sometimes props and supports are used to assist the body in achieving and holding a particular pose. The poses can vary greatly in their degree of difficulty and even the same pose can have many different stages or levels. The perfect example is a simple forward stretch. One person may be able to stretch out past their knees, another may be able to reach their ankles and somebody else may be able to touch the floor. This level of progression allows us to see a physical difference in our flexibility level as we practice Yoga more regularly. And because Yoga does not require any special equipment we are not refined to set class times and can practice Yoga anywhere and any time the fancy takes us. We can even do breathing exercises to clear the mind while sitting at a work desk.
Yoga has some incredible health benefits which stem from controlled breathing and increased blood flow. Our bodies organs simply do not operate at peak efficiency unless they are receiving the oxygen and nutrients that they need. The waste products from our muscles and organs are carried away by the lymphatic system. Both systems can develop chokepoints and blockages that different Yoga poses will address and correct. The result is a better more regular blood pressure, a more efficient immunity system and a optimal digestive process.
Because Yoga movements are slow and simple, the focus on correct breathing has a pronounced mental affect on the body. It provides us with an enhanced ability to focus, and to un-clutter our thoughts. This is a valuable edge in modern life and its importance should not be under estimated.
Finally many regular Yoga enthusiasts will tell you that there is a spiritual side to Yoga, how far this affects an individual will probably depend on their beliefs before they begin practicing Yoga, but it can perhaps be thought of most accurately with a greater comfort and connection with your own body. The increased acceptance of yourself, and comfort with your own being results directly in more happy people.
So, it looks like Yoga does indeed check all the boxes and can be thought of as a perfect exercise form.
One thing that the eagle eyed will no doubt have noticed about yoga is the prevalence of non-English words and their importance in the complex lexicon of yoga. It is used to refer to specific poses, to elements of the exercises, breathing techniques and in greetings, and even the word “yoga” itself comes from a Sanskrit term. Here are some helpful tips on the Sanskrit terminology used in yoga.
The word that you will hear repeated time and again separately from any exercise is namaste. Literally translated it means “I bow to you” and is used as a respectful, cheerful greeting. It can also be used to mean “thank you” and is usually accompanied by clasped palms over the heart and a small bow of the head. You may also hear at the start and finish of your classes a simple chant of “om”. This is to signify the union of body, mind and spirit in one, the whole universe in a single sound. It is pronounced more like “a-um”
The word “Yoga” itself similarly refers to a union of soul and spirit through yogic exercises. Different types of yoga referred to by their Sanskrit names include Ashtanga – a physically challenging form of yoga; Ananda – a more gentle, inward form of the practice; Iyengar – a form noted for its attention to detail and the frequent use of external props; Vinyasa is a word which represents the flow of interconnected yogic poses, linked together by breath work in one continuous motion.
When you take up yoga for the first time, you will want to think about equipment. The good news is that there is very little equipment required to make a beginning in yoga. In fact, you can turn up to a yoga class with a small bag containing a t-shirt and some tracksuit bottoms. If you want to be really sure, then you can bring along a yoga mat – they are not expensive – but that is it for your first lesson. The best thing about yoga for beginners is the fact that you can travel light and not spend much money.
Yoga is a very simple process – it has been practised since a long time ago when there were no sports supply stores. The simplicity of the process is such that you only really need to bring yourself. In most yoga studios, there will be mats available for loan or rent. They won’t cost much – if anything – and they permit you to get started at very short notice. If you don’t feel prepared without bringing along a few pieces of equipment, then you can always fork out some cash for a “mat bag” in which you can carry all your bits and pieces.
This is all you will need for your first yoga class. There are other props that can be used in more advanced stages of yoga, but you will find out more and more as you begin to learn the basics and see where you want to go with them. As a beginner, all you will really need is available for a couple of hours’ wages.