What is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient way of healthy living that promotes fitness of the body and mind by incorporating gentle exercise, breath control and relaxation. Now widely practiced in Australia, the word yoga means union in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India where yoga originated. Yoga is the union occurring between mind, body and spirit.
Yoga practices are designed to make you strong physically, mentally and emotionally and to increase vitality, balance and a sense of calm. Yoga is not only about exercising the body, but also uses physical postures to help you feel calmer and happier. Many people believe that yoga is stretching. But while stretching is involved, yoga is really about creating balance in the body through developing both strength and flexibility.
Key elements of yoga
Yoga classes differ in style, emphasis and content depending on the training and background of the teacher, but there are a few key things you should find in any yoga class:
- Awareness of breath – working with your breathing to calm the nervous system and to enhance self awareness.
- Physical postures – to build strength and flexibility and release tension stored in the muscles.
- Relaxation – taking the benefits of the physical practice into the mind, enabling your thoughts to become calm and clear, aiding a general feeling of wellbeing.
Yoga is suitable for people of all fitness and activity levels and all ages, shapes and sizes. Anyone, from the very young to the elderly, can benefit from the practice of yoga. It is important to choose a style of class and teacher appropriate to your needs.
What if I’ve never tried Yoga before?
Do some research to find out what yoga studios are in your area, call up and ask to speak to one of the teachers. Ask them about their style, approach and your suitability to their classes. Ask if you can watch a class to get an idea of what happens. Remember, there are many different styles of yoga, so it is a matter of finding one that feels right for you.
The style of yoga that is best for you depends on what you are wanting form your yoga practice. For people who are naturally fast-paced and driven, yoga ideally can be a time to slow down and learn to relax. For others feeling a little low on energy other forms of yoga can help increase motivation and get the body moving.
There are many different names and styles of yoga schools in Australia, most of which originate from Hatha Yoga. Hatha is the traditional umbrella term for styles of yoga that use the physical postures as a basis for practice. All other names identify styles which emphasise particular elements in their classes. Ask the teacher what his/her emphasis is.
Yoga and Women’s Health
Yoga helps us to learn more about our body, to understand the way we move, and the natural rhythm of our body. This understanding will help us feel more balanced and calm. The specific benefits of yoga for women’s health may include the following:
- Menstruation, premenstrual syndrome, endometriosis and other gynaecological conditions – practices designed to open the abdomen, alleviate cramps and lower back discomfort, facilitate deep relaxation and alleviate physical and emotional tension.
- Pregnancy – relieve back strain, strengthen and stretch the muscles that aid childbirth, calm body and mind. Please note, it is important to inform your teacher if you are pregnant and ask for appropriate alterations to the practice.
- Perimenopause and menopause – practices designed to stimulate the ovaries and pituitary gland to regulate hormone functioning, alleviate fatigue and restlessness and balance mood.
The way we feel physically has a profound effect on our state of mind or emotional wellbeing. Similarly, when we are emotionally agitated, our physical health and vitality are affected.
Consider the body’s natural response to threat or a sudden fright – the breath speeds up, muscles tense, heart rate increases, all in preparation to respond to a perceived threat. Over time this stress can accumulate in the body and mind causing physical and emotional symptoms, which can clearly be linked to anxiety, depression, and other mental health and emotional issues.
Specific yoga practices are designed to counter this accumulation of tension and create positive mental states. Creating openness in the body has a corresponding effect on the mind, calming the breath, slowing the thoughts and aiding general health and wellbeing.
When used along with other approaches such as psychological counselling, yoga practices can help to alleviate the symptoms of emotional health issues, such as depression and anxiety and may also assist the individual to find more clarity and calm to deal with life stressors which contribute to overall mental and physical health.
What to Look for in a Yoga Class
The points below provide a guide to help you choose a yoga class suitable for you:
- Qualifications – check your teacher has been formally trained in yoga teaching, either in a particular style of yoga, or as part of a government accredited training course.
- Awareness – look for a teacher who asks for an indication of your general health and wellbeing (particularly relevant injuries, illnesses and associated health factors, which may affect your yoga practice) and who offers suggestions to suit your personal needs.
- Personality – as when choosing any health practitioner, it is important that you feel comfortable with your yoga teacher and change classes, if necessary, to find a teacher you like.
- Approach – a good yoga teacher combines an awareness of the body, breath and mind in the yoga class, emphasising the benefits of yoga on many levels and the importance of integrating these elements.
- Style – find a style of yoga to suit your needs. Ask your teacher about the effort level of the class and the emphasis of the practice. The diversity of yoga styles reflects the diversity of approaches required to suit different types of people, so look for a style that you feel comfortable with.
- Most of all, yoga should be about you. Rather than feeling like you are being forced into a set of postures that may or may not be be right for you, look for a teacher who recommends a yoga practice to suit your needs and who helps you to feel happy, healthy and calm.
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