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What Is Yoga?

Before answering this question, we have to look back at the origin of the word “yoga” itself. Thought to be a derivative of “yuj” from the ancient East Indian Sanskrit language, the root word translates to yoking - as in hitching a team of oxen to a yoke. Yoking further suggests a union of two animals connected together as one. Read also our article about the History of Yoga.

So in essence, yoga is the union, or connecting together, of the mind, body and spirit. But, how does yoga connect the two non-physical elements to the physical one? Generally through a series of poses or postures, breathing and meditation, although some styles also include chanting and the reading of inspirational passages.

The Physical Side of Yoga

Yoga develops strength, flexibility, and stamina through its poses. If done in quick succession, as with Ashtanga, Bikram, and Mosha, yoga can be a mild low-impact type of exercise that builds stamina. If done more slowly, as in the styles of Anusara, Iyengar, and Viniyoga, the focus is on doing the pose correctly.  Most of the styles use the same poses or postures. You should choose the style according to the physical aspect you want to get out of the practice. It also depends on the training of your yoga instructor.

The Mental/Spiritual Side of Yoga

Yoga styles, such as Jivamukti and Kundalini include call and response chanting. Other styles may include meditation, a focus on breathing or the reading of inspirational passages called aphorisms. Many that practice yoga find the performance of poses first provides an easier transition to the meditation portion of the experience

Yoga is non-competitive and highly personal, making it a good sport for those liking individual sports and wanting to get in touch with themselves. It is a way to shut out the outside world and focus on just oneself; during your yoga practice, you are disconnected from the real world. No cell phones ringing, no distractions from people, no mind wandering and losing focus. It is all about just you.

Yoga Equipment

Yoga requires very little equipment. In fact, the only real piece of equipment that you need is a yoga mat. Look for a non-­slip mat that will prevent you from sliding during poses. If you are earth friendly you may consider an eco-friendly yoga mat. Most yoga is performed barefoot so there are no shoes required, but you may consider non-slip yoga socks. You will want to wear loose fitting clothing.

If you’re doing Bikram then you’ll want to wear as little clothing as possible because 105 degrees is quite warm. If you’re planning on taking an Iyengar class then you may want to purchase your own blocks, straps and bolsters. However, most studios do provide those items, especially for your first class.

You might also consider purchasing a few yoga DVDs to help learn the poses or to practice at home.

Advice for Beginners

When first starting out practicing yoga, join a class first to learn the technique of the postures and whatever else that is part of that style yoga. Also, do not be afraid to try other styles as the first one you choose may not provide what you are trying to get out of it. In this fast and connected world that we live in, making time for the introspection of oneself can be difficult; practicing yoga on a regular basis is one technique to get back in touch with yourself.