Yoga has been around for centuries, with its initial origins being traced to over 5,000 years ago in northern India, as stated in the sacred scripture the ‘rig Veda’. As western societies’ have adopted certain yoga techniques it is easy to get lost in the details and lose sight of what yoga really is, as well as its benefits, below I will give a beginner’s guide to the practice.
So, what is yoga? According to the Bhagavad Gita (ancient Hindu scripture) the lord Krishna defines yoga as a three-piece practice: the balanced state of emotions, thought/ intellect and behaviour i.e. the balance of the body, mind and soul. The original purpose of practicing yoga, per Hindu belief, was to encourage awareness and strengthen the possibility of a higher consciousness in the practising individual, however in more recent times it is widely acknowledged for its health benefits.
Due to the flowing movements yoga helps to circulate blood around the body, therefore those who partake in the activity have greater protection from injury, improved respiration and maintain a balanced metabolism, it is said that yogis have an average of 30% more active enzyme telomerase than those who don’t practice yoga, leading to a longer, healthier life. As well as lowering the blood sugar and increasing strength, yoga has been proven to lower stress hormones in the body alongside actively increasing GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid and endorphins which decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Yoga is important as it is a true practice of self-care, it promotes healing on all grounds, with its literal definition being ‘unite’. The practice enables us to slow down amid a busy and chaotic world, enabling us to appreciate the earth and the things we attain.
Many yogis have claimed the practice to have ‘changed their lives’, despite initially having a cynical viewpoint, I too would agree: yoga breaks down emotional, physical and psychological bridges, permitting us to thrive wholly and reshape the mind. Likewise, the so called ‘yoga high’ is real, I challenged myself to practice yoga daily for the entire month of august, not only did I feel restored and more comfortable in my body with less aches and pains, I had a euphoric mood, especially straight after completion. The science behind this feeling is believed to be due to the release of chemicals in the brain.
Nowadays there are many different forms of yoga, from hot yoga to vinyasa yoga, each have a different purpose: the five major types are Ashtanga, Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Anusara Yoga whilst the three minor include power yoga, restorative yoga and hot yoga.
The first five focus mainly on diverse parts of the body and its systems whilst the latter three take on a modern perspective of the traditional practices, appealing to the western world through weight loss purposes. At the same time, there are four broad categories to yoga: karma yoga, usage of the body; bhakti yoga, usage of emotions; gyana yoga, use of the mind and intellect; and kriya yoga, where we use energy.
The most popularised version of yoga is vinyasa yoga, as it combines the movements with breathing techniques allowing a smooth and flowing movements, this is the type where salutations are most used. A salutation is a sequence of movements, typically consisting of twelve acts, the most common being the sun salutation.
Each type of yoga appeals to diverse people and their bodies, ensure to research which type is best for you before attempting.
For a newcomer to yoga, I would recommend starting with a 30-minute morning flow twice weekly, directions can be found via YouTube apps like ‘Gaia’ or in person classes, this will ease the body into the practice without putting too much stress on it too soon.
Alongside this I would highly recommend practising yoga nidra nightly, yoga nidra is, by definition, a state of conscious sleep which is directed by a guided meditation; the practice is referenced by lord Krishna and is thought to be as old as yoga itself. Yoga nidra has a similar mental affect to yoga, however is more powerful, reducing anxiety and teaching mental calmness yoga nidra is said to release emotions and detox the brain. Not to be confused with meditation yoga nidra is practiced whilst in a state of conscious sleep, helping the brain to work positively throughout the night and increasing awareness throughout.