What is Yoga?
Yoga is a tradition that originates in India. There are different kinds of Yoga such as Hatha Yoga (Yoga of the body), Bhakti Yoga (devotional Yoga), and Raja Yoga (“royal” yoga of mediation).
Around 2000 years ago the Indian scholar Patanjali compiled the teachings and traditions in the Yoga Sutras. Yoga, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is an eight-fold life path. This life path is called Ashtanga Yoga—Ashtanga means eight-limbed. The limbs are basically steps that one follows to lead a righteous and meaningful life. The steps build on one another and each one prepares you for the next.
The first four steps—yama, niyama, asana, and pranayama—are external methods that focus on developing the body and mind in order to build a foundation for a spiritual life. The fifth step, pratyahara, involves withdrawing the mind from the external world and concentrating on the Self. Pratyahara occurs when we practice the first four steps and acts as a bridge between the external and internal. The last three limbs, or steps—dharana, dyana, and samadhi—lead the aspirant to the ultimate goal of Yoga which is enlightenment and the realization of oneness with the Divine Self.
In most yoga classes we focus on asana and pranayama as well as pratyahara. The asanas are the physical postures of yoga. Pranayama is breath control, or breathing exercises. Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses and the focusing of the mind inward. Pratyahara occurs when we practice the asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation.
Practicing the other limbs of yoga such as the yama (moral disciplines or restraints) and niyama (observances) are strongly encouraged outside of class.
What are the different “styles” of yoga?
Two very influential teachers of yoga in the west have been B.K.S. Iyengar and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Both of these men studied with Guru Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early part of the 20th century.
B.K.S. Iyengar taught us about alignment in postures and classes taught in his style hold poses for several minutes and incorporate the use of props.
Sri K. Patthabhi Jois brought us the style known as Ashtanga Yoga. These classes hold poses for five breaths and focus on Vinyasa. Vinyasa is the coordination of movements between postures with the breath.
The practice of Hatha yoga, or yoga of postures (asana), has many branches. Basically, when one goes to a yoga class you will either hold poses for several minutes, for only five breaths, or in combination. The emphasis, or type of class, depends on the instructor.
The path of yoga is full of depth and richness and there are many great teachers within this path. My purpose here is to provide a basic overview of Yoga to support people in developing knowledge that can inspire a mindful and fulfilling life.
Mixed Level Vinyasa Class Description
I like to begin class with a short mediation and/or pranayama (breathing exercise). Next, we will move through a series of Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutations) and then onto standing postures and floor postures. You can expect a class based on vinyasa, or coordinating the movement between postures with the breath, and most poses are held for five breaths. The challenge level of the class is based on the people in class. Since it is a mixed level class I try to be most sensitive to those new to yoga but I can also provide more advanced variations of asanas.