Yoga's huge cannon of tradition, history and philosophy means this ancient practice can sometimes seem mysterious. We look at the nuts-and-bolts of yoga, and present fifteen keen yoga facts.
What is yoga?
Yoga is an ancient form of meditation; an awareness practice that synchronises body, mind and breath. The practice has numerous physical and psychological benefit, including: improved strength, muscle tone, flexibility and joint mobility; better sleep, enhanced feelings of wellbeing, and relief from stress, anxiety and depression.
What does the word 'yoga' mean? The word is derived from the Sanskrit word 'yuj', which means 'to unify' or 'to yoke'.
What is the difference between yoga and pilates? A commonly-asked question that is often answered incorrectly. In essence, yoga ia an ancient mind-body system of wellbeing that ultimately aims to still the mind. Pilates is a series of exercises aimed at strengthening the core.
Who was Patanjali? Patanjali is known as ‘the father of Yoga'. He wrote a series of verses, or scriptures, known as The Yoga Sutras, that are the core of all yoga practices. For more on Patanjali, we recommend this Yoga Journal piece.
The Ultimate goal of yoga is Citta Vritti Nirodhah: Cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. This one Sutra holds the key and the goal to all yoga practice. The entire science of yoga is based on this one Sutra: 'If you can control the fluctuations of the mind you will experience Yoga'.
What the ‘eight limbs'? The eight limbs of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras are a set of lifestyle and philosophical guidelines: Yama - abstinence, Niyama - observance, Asana - posture, Pranayama - breath control, Pratyahara - sense withdrawal, Dharana - concentration, Dhyana - meditation, Samadhi - contemplation or absorption.
Why yogis sometimes do not practice on Full or New Moon days. This is because the moon has a direct effect on our bodies by affecting the water within us, as it does on tides. And Moons effect our emotions. Full moons bring ‘things to the full' (projects, relationships, agreements, emotions). New Moons are ‘empty' so re-newing, re-thinking (ideas, projects, relationships and commitments). It is also a good time to fast.
What is a 'nadi'?. A Nadi is an energy channel, of which there are said to be 72,000 in the body. The main three are: the Susumna (spinal column) and Ida and Pingala (criss-cross up the spine). They all meet at the Ajna Chakra between the eyebrows.
Why yogis traditionally do not eat meat. This is not only because of the vow of Ahimsa (non violence), but because meat is dead, so there is no Pranic Value (life force) within it. As yoga practice is designed to increase your Prana (life force), meat does little to enhance it.
The importance of Ujjayi Breath. Ujjayi breath energises the body. When done correctly it comes from the back of your throat and sounds rather like ‘Dath Vader'!
Why there are three Bandhas (energy ‘locks) that you keep held during asana. One at the throat (Jalandhara Bandha), the other below the belly button (Uddiyana Bandha), and one near the pelvic floor (Moola Bandha). And yes, do keep these held all throughout your yoga practice!
The value of Savasana - ‘Corpse Pose' is done at the end of every yoga class, and is arguably the most important (and challenging) pose of all. Savasana invites total surrender and relaxation. Savasana removes fatigue, calms the mind, and creates an anabolic state in which your cells and tissues repair and rejuvenate.
Should I do yoga when menstruating? There is conflicting advice. The best thing to do is do what you feel is comfortable for you personally. Many people practice during a period and do inversions such as headstands shoulder stands, and are not troubled. But it is up to the individual. The best advice is to leave yoga asana out on the first two or three days of your period, many people do not. Be aware the apana (energy/blood flow) goes down during inversions. As inversions increases general apana, they not be appropriate during menstruation.
Why do teachers sometimes use adjustments? Adjustments are when a teacher helps you into a position (posture/asana) and holds you there while you breathe. Adjustments are there for muscle memory. Yoga asana ‘squeezes' bad memory/emotions out of muscle fibers and adjustments give the muscles better and correct memories. If a student needs a little help in memorizing an asana or getting into an asana adjustments are there to give the muscle a ‘correct' memory of that pose.
How many chakras are there? There are eight! From the base of the spine up to the crown they are...Mooladhara, Swadhisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddhi, Ajna, Bindu, and Sashara. When these are purified through yoga practice the yogi is able to retain Prana (life force).