Developed in India, Yoga is a psycho-physical discipline with roots going back about 5,000 years. Today, most Yoga practices in the West focuses on the physical postures called "asanas," breathing exercises called "pranayama," and meditation. However, there's more to it than that, and the deeper you go the richer and more diverse the tradition becomes. The word "Yoga" means union. Linguistically, it is related to the Old English "yoke." Traditionally, the goal of Yoga is union with the Absolute, known as Brahman, or with Atman, the true self. These days the the focus is often on the more down-to-earth benefits of Yoga, including improved physical fitness, mental clarity, greater self-understanding, stress control and general well-being. Spirituality, however, is a strong underlying theme to most practices. The beauty of Yoga is in its versatility, allowing practitioners to focus on the physical, psychological or spiritual, or a combination of all three.
What's the best way to get started, especially if I'm out of shape?
There is no better way than personal interaction with a qualified yoga instructor. It is also possible to try yoga being guided by a book and/or video but we recommend this as part of your home practice and supplemented with group or private classes. Remember, there is a Yoga level and style for everyone, regardless of physical condition.
What if I'm not flexible?
This is the most common misconception that prevents people from attending a yoga class. Yoga is not about how flexible you are; it is about stretching your body and spine. The more inflexible you are, the more you need yoga. You become flexible by doing yoga.
Is Yoga aerobic exercise?
Yes and...maybe. Aerobic exercise is simply exercise that improves oxygenization of the blood through an increased heart rate and deeper breathing. Yoga can do that, expecially those styles such as Astanga and ViniYoga that have a strong focus on the flow of one posture to another.
What's the difference between Yoga and just plain stretching and normal exercise?
Traditional exercise is goal oriented: How many push ups can I do? Can I touch my toes? I'm going to do 10 more crunches today than I did yesterday. Yoga, by contrast, is a process. The idea is to focus your awareness on what you are doing and how you feel as you perform the postures. In exercise, you fail if you miss your goal. In Yoga, you succeed by trying. There's also a difference on the physical level. Weight training, for example, makes you stronger by breaking down and rebuilding muscle tissue. It's this breaking down and rebuilding that results in the bulky muscle look. Yoga increases strength by toning the muscles.