What is Yoga?
The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word yuj, means to yoke or bind and is often interpreted as “union” or a method of discipline.
The Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra an estimated 2,000 years ago. The Sutra is a collection of statements that serves as a philosophical guidebook for most yoga practiced today. It also outlines the eight limbs of yoga.
Most people practicing yoga now, especially in the Western world, are engaged in the third limb, asana. This is a program of physical postures, originally designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for periods of meditation.
There are now very many different forms of yoga – from physically challenging dynamic styles, to more mindful practices with a focus on alignment and holding postures. Yoga postures have also been incorporated into several other fitness classes. Try experimenting with different types of yoga – and you will almost certainly find the right one for you.
What are the benefits of Yoga?
Yoga is an excellent form of weight-bearing exercise, building strength, flexibility and improving balance and posture. In addition, practitioners tend to find it helps to calm the mind, through the focus on movement, breath and the present moment.
Yoga Journal outline many further reported benefits including for circulatory system and bone health, immunity, managing stress and improving mood – click on the logo to read more.
There is also growing scientific evidence of the benefits of yoga across a broad range of health conditions. Yoga Alliance has an excellent index of the research.
Do I have to be flexible to practise Yoga?
Many people have told me they can’t do yoga because they are not flexible, so they don’t try it! Nobody wakes up one morning and starts running marathons and, just like many other physical activities, yoga requires practice in order to progress.
Yoga is not really about being able to bend yourself into crazy shapes for Instagram – an optimal balance for your body between strength, stability and flexibility should be the real aim.
Crucially, yoga is not competitive and there is no requirement to be able to do any particular pose in any class. Yoga is about starting from where you are, and doing what you can for your own benefit, not anyone else’s.
I do other sports – how does Yoga fit in?
Yoga is an excellent complement to other sports. Indeed, a range of professional athletes, from fields as diverse as rugby to basketball, have been using yoga for years to support strength, flexibility and to help prevent or recover from injury.
How Many Times Per Week Should I Practice?
Even if you only practice for one hour a week, you will experience the benefits of the practice. If you can though, ideally start with two or three times a week, for at least an hour each time. However, if you can only do 20 minutes per session, that’s fine too!
Don’t let time constraints or unrealistic goals be a hurdle — just do what you can and don’t worry about it. You will likely find that your desire to practice grows naturally.
What do I need to start?
Just some space and a mat! Its important though to attend classes with a qualified teacher, to learn the poses and breathing techniques correctly and avoid injuries.
Any light, comfortable clothing is fine, you don’t need to spend lots of money on special leggings and whatnot unless you want to! Practice should be undertaken barefoot (unless you have socks specifically designed for grip) to mitigate the risk of slipping.
It can be useful to have a warm jumper, blanket or socks for example to hand to keep you warm during relaxation at the end of the class.
You may want to explore purchasing props such as belts and blocks (provided in Black Cat Yoga Classes) or books, DVDs and so on to support your practice and understanding.
Check out my blog for reviews, or feel free to email me at email@example.com for advice.
How long should I leave after eating before a class?
Its best to avoid eating a heavy meal less than 2 hours before practising. This is because classes will likely involve rotations of the spine, turning upside down, and bending forward and backward. If you have not digested your last meal, this may feel uncomfortable. However, a light snack about 30 minutes to an hour before class is usually fine.