What, exactly, is yoga, what is it not, and how can you benefit from the practice? If you’re looking for answers to some basic questions on the subject, read on.
What is yoga?
Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual system for living in harmony with the universe. You’ll likely come across many ideas about what yoga is and what it is not, but the general idea is that yoga is a holistic method for strengthening not only your body, but your mind and spirit as well. While we often think mostly of physical yoga poses and perhaps meditation when we think of yoga, there are actually eight limbs of the practice.
These eight limbs of practice are:
1. The Yamas – moral principles
2. The Niyamas – personal conduct
3. Asana – the physical exercises
4. Pranayama – breathing exercises
5. Pratyahara – control of the senses
6. Dharana – one-pointed focus or meditation
7. Dhyana – devotion
8. Samadhai – union with a higher power
Most weekly yoga classes focus on asana practice, as well as breathing exercises and meditation. In addition, many teachers give short talks or read excerpts from yoga texts that explore the yamas and the niyamas or concepts related to devotion and union with a higher power. Beyond the basics, yoga studios often offer in-depth workshops that give students a variety of opportunities to study yogic philosophy in more depth.
How is yoga different from working out at a gym?
While you’ll often find yoga classes in gyms, those classes usually stress only the physical aspect of the practice. In its fullness, yoga includes tools for the mind, emotions and spirit, including:
- Breathing exercises
- Chanting and mantras
- Philosophical studies
Why practice yoga?
The purpose of yoga is to connect the practitioner to her higher self. The word “yoga” means yoke. Practice yoga if you want to be any or all of the following (and more):
- Physically fit
- Free of anxiety, pain, or depression
- Emotionally grounded
- In the present moment
- At peace
Is yoga a religion?
No, yoga is not a religion. It does, however, have roots in the ancient Hindu culture of India. Many of the original yogis were Hindus, and sometimes the sacred texts of Hinduism are studied within the context of yoga. However, anyone of any religion can be a yogi. The practice can fit into the culture and religious background of people of all faiths as well as those who do not follow any formal religious tradition.
Do I have to be vegetarian to do yoga?
No, there are no dietary requirements for yogis. However, as you study yogic philosophy, particularly the concept known as “ahimsa” (non-harming), you may begin to eat a more humane diet which may or may not mean you will become a vegetarian.
No matter what your reason for beginning a yoga practice, you will find that the benefits go far beyond what you expected. Like life, yoga is a journey, and what you get out of it will depend on how committed you are to your practice and learning the little things along the way.