‘Yoga’ is a Sanskrit term meaning ‘to join, unite or yoke together’, and the essential purpose of yoga is to bring together body, mind and spirit into a harmonious whole.
The central methods of yoga are physical postures or ‘asanas’ and movement, breathing techniques or ‘pranayama’ and meditation. Yoga includes guidance on healthy lifestyle, eating habits, mental attitude, and Ayurvedic medicine is also part of the Yogic path to health and balance.
Hatha yoga is the path of physical yoga, which is the most popular branch of yoga in the West. ‘HA’ means ‘SUN’, and ‘THA’, ’MOON’, so Hatha Yoga is the joining, or the yoking together of these different energies in harmonious equilibrium, positive and negative, active and receptive.
The body in yoga is the vehicle for the development of wisdom, of spiritual awakening, and as such the body is held to be sacred and mastery of our body is considered the foundation for spiritual progress. In yoga we learn a discipline of the body which comes out of awareness and attentiveness, tuning in to our body’s subtle energy flows and the life-giving rhythm of our breathing.
The idea is that through entering more deeply and subtly into our physical experience, we can become more connected with ourselves, more grounded, and less swayed by anxieties or neurotic cravings for things that will not truly satisfy us. This can be a very positive influence on our approach to life, offering an antidote to the alienated rushing and disconnection from ourselves that characterizes much of our modern world.
There are many of different types of yoga and Iyengar, Astanga and Shadow yoga are three of the most well known and widely practiced traditional forms.
All the different types of yoga usually include a basis of postures common to all, but they vary in the style of movement, pace, and the kind of approach. It’s a good idea to start with a well-established style like Iyengar yoga to get a sense of the basics of yoga, so that you can build a foundation of experience from which to explore the many possibilities out there.
However, if you feel particularly drawn to a certain form, try a beginners’ level class and see how you like it! It’s helpful to have a sense of what you want to get out of learning yoga to start with, and then you can check out whether you feel what you’re learning is helping you with that. For example, one person might want yoga that helps release stress and tension, another might want to work with a symptom like backache or stiff shoulders, another might wish for a dynamic workout type class.