Yoga has a wide range of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits. In fact, yoga is a pathway to holistic health, helping you achieve and live a happier, healthier life. But what is yoga and why should you do yoga? These are great questions that, hopefully, this page will answer for you.
Defining yoga can be an unexpected challenge because there are differing definitions and interpretations of yoga depending on where you look. And none of them really do this wonderful practice justice. What most definitions and interpretations are trying to tell you though is that yoga is a journey — a very personal, life journey — with twists and turns, highs and lows, a few dead ends and many lessons to be learnt and tests to pass along the way.
With each definition and interpretation, you soon come to realise that yoga is much, much more than just exercise.
When you decide to start practicing yoga, your yoga journey will be unique to you. It won’t and can’t be the same as anyone else’s because you will be starting from a different place (in mind, body and spirit), and the path you take will be based on where you started, what you learn along the way and where you’re going. You can’t even practice yoga the same way twice because every time you practice, you will have changed and thus your yoga practice will be different. Heraclitus summed this up nicely when he said:
“You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.”
With that in mind, here’s a brief history of yoga and the Yogagrin® definition and interpretation of what yoga is.
In ancient times, yoga was a way of life. Yoga was sacred, and adults practiced one-on-one with a guru teacher. Traditionally, a practitioner undertook 12 years of formal education studying the Vedas and then a further nine to 36 years living with a guru teacher before being qualified to teach. A guru teacher only accepted you if he felt you were on the right path and if you were dedicated enough. Only since it has been Westernised has yoga been taught in groups and the study requirements reduced.
Yoga was born in the Himalayan region and has its foundation in the Vedas. The Vedas are the earliest and most comprehensive sources of learning ever found in the history of mankind and they date back to circa 5000BC. They’re considered to be the seeds of all knowledge and contain over 20,000 mantras (verses) written in Sanskrit. This knowledge was passed on from generation to generation through rote learning of the mantras using chanting.
Maharishi Patanjali is considered to be the original receiver of knowledge from the Vedas. In approximately 147BC, an unknown author took the knowledge of yoga from the Vedas and created the Yogasutra, which have become known as Patañjali’s Yogasutra.
The Yogasutra contain 195 aphorisms (statements) which are also written in Sanskrit. Hundreds of translations into various languages have since been published. But, as with any other language, it’s hard to find an exact translation of the Sanskrit aphorisms that retains the original meaning. As a result, not all translations of the Yogasutra are the same and this helps to explain why there are so many different definitions and interpretations of what yoga is.
T. Krishnamacharya (often referred to as Tirumalai Krishnamacharya), was a scholar, Ayurvedic healer and experienced yoga teacher who had a huge influence on the way yoga is defined and practiced. In fact, he’s often referred to as ‘the father of modern yoga’. Yogagrin® follows in the lineage of T. Krishnamacharya so if you’d like to learn more about this interpretation of yoga, you might like to visit the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM) website. A copy of Patanjali’s Yogasutra (A Chanting Guide) in this tradition may be available by contacting the team at KYM.
Patañjali’s Yogasutra outline 8 guiding principles that teach how to live a contented life in harmony with nature and all sentient beings. These principles are as true today as they were when they were first written all those thousands of years ago. The beauty of these principles is that they can be practiced by just about anyone, anywhere, anytime regardless of gender, race, age, religious belief or physical ability.
The 8 guiding principles of Patañjali’s yoga sutras in order are:
- Yama (social code — attitudes and behaviours towards nature and all sentient beings)
- Niyama (personal code — attitudes and behaviours towards oneself)
- Asana (postures — state of being)
- Pranayama (control of prana, life-force, cosmic energy, breath)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (transcendental consciousness)
Yoga asanas, pranayama and meditation help bring the mind and body into stillness, providing the space to become more aware, heal and tune into knowledge you don’t realise you already have. (The way yoga works is very subtle.)
The list of proven yoga benefits is a long one but here are some of the greatest. When practiced regularly and correctly, yoga can:
- provide relaxation
- improve fitness
- strengthen muscles
- increase flexibility
- lower blood pressure
- increase pain tolerance
- relieve pain associated with arthritis, muscle injury, migraine and many other chronic pain conditions
- decrease back pain; in fact, the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society recommend yoga as a non-pharmacological treatment for chronic or subacute, lower back pain
- improve memory and concentration
- decrease stress
- alleviate anxiety
- reduce symptoms of depression and/or help suffers cope with depression
- help sufferers manage post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- help sufferers control their asthma
- help improve lung capacity and stamina
- reduce inflammation
- improve your natural immune system
This list might seem too good to be true but if you visit the links above, you’ll see there’s a lot of scientific evidence to support the benefits of yoga.
Yoga classes vary widely between instructors and studios depending on the type of class and its goal. At Yogagrin®, a general class includes:
- an introduction that will often incorporate breath awareness and/or relaxation, and sometimes some theory and discussion depending on the type of class
- a gentle warm-up
- asanas — Hatha postures working from easy to more difficult based on the type and purpose of the class, and the ability and need of the participants
- a gentle wind down
- breathing exercises and/or meditation, which may include discussion and activities designed to encourage mental focus and relaxation
During a yoga class, participants usually sit on a yoga mat, a cushion or in a chair. Depending on the type of class, asanas can be static or dynamic and a combination of one or more seated, standing, prone or supine poses, with various props being used based on need. For example, yoga blocks, bolsters, pillows, blankets, a chair or a wall might be used as a yoga prop/s.
So, given all this, why should you practice yoga? It seems pretty clear that almost anyone can benefit from practicing yoga. If you want to become fitter and healthier and improve your state of mind, then yoga is a great activity to take up.
Some people will, however, benefit more from yoga than others. Here are the top five reasons why people practice yoga. If one or more reasons resonate with you, then I highly recommend you consider adding yoga to your regular schedule.
The top 5 reasons you should practice yoga
- Your body hurts. If you’ve got sore joints, lower back pain or your body just hurts then yoga is a great way to alleviate the pain, increase your tolerance to pain and help you attack the root causes of your pain.
- You’re stressed or anxious. If you’re always stressed or suffer from anxiety, you know how debilitating those conditions can be. They take a toll on your mental health but they also make your body produce high levels of cortisol which can cause real physical damage as well. Yoga is a fantastic way to reduce stress and anxiety and help you identify the causes of these feelings so you can prevent them from getting a foothold in the future.
- You’re a carer and/or have a family member with a health challenge. If someone in your family is struggling with a health challenge or you care for someone in this situation, then you probably experience periods of stress and anxiety. Practicing yoga could be the perfect way to help alleviate those negative feelings so you can be happier and healthier and have a clearer mind to support the person you care for.
- You suffer from depression. Depression can be a debilitating condition and a frustrating one to treat. Medication doesn’t always work and many people would prefer not to take such medication anyway. Research shows that yoga can really help sufferers manage and alleviate their depression. If you’re looking to start a new treatment for your depression, yoga could be exactly what you need.
- You suffer from PTSD. PTSD can manifest in many different ways as a result of a variety of traumas, yet yoga can help with most of the physical, mental and emotional symptoms of this debilitating condition. If you suffer from PTSD, why not talk to your medical team about trialing yoga therapy as part of your treatment and then book a Holistic Therapy program with Yogagrin®.
- You feel old. If you’ve ever woken up stiff and sore or tried to do something energetic but found you couldn’t keep up with a younger person, then you probably know what it’s like to ‘feel old’. Whether you’re 35 or 85, you deserve to feel young and yoga can help you do just that.
Unlike some modern yoga studios, Yogagrin®’s classes incorporate knowledge of modern science, Ayurveda and the eight limbs of yoga so you can realise the full benefits of yoga, not just the fitness ones. When you choose one of our classes or programs, you’ll learn to connect your mind with your body so you can become more aware of everything you do, every moment, every day, and experience more ‘nowness’ moments.
In the tradition of T. Krishnamacharya and his son, T.K.V. Desikachar, Yogagrin® classes focus on the individual, not the group as a whole. Movements are slow and gentle so you can learn to practice yoga safely and you’ll be able to keep up. Each class is slightly different but include the same core components, and asanas are adapted to suit individual needs and abilities so you will be in charge of your own level of challenge.
You do what feels right for you. No pressure, no mirrors and no sweaty workouts. No production line thinking.
Does it sound like yoga is the best solution for your health challenge?is