What is yoga?
Yoga is probably the oldest system of exercise. Some elements of it can be dated back almost 5000 years ago, to the Indus Valley in what is now Pakistan and northern India.
Yoga is a system which includes physical, mental and spiritual aspects. Today in the West most yoga classes focus on the physical and mental elements through asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing), and concentration, meditation and relaxation. Yoga is not a religion and is compatible with all faiths.
What does yoga mean?
The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj which means ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’. This ‘joining’ or ‘uniting’ refers to the union between body, mind and spirit which occurs whilst practising yoga. According to the ancient texts, this union occurs when the body has been calmed (through the asanas), the mind has been calmed (from pranayama and meditation) and then the spirit within is awakened.
What is the difference between all the different types of yoga?
You may see yoga classes advertised as Hatha, Ashtanga, Jivamukti, Dru, Iyengar, Sivananda, Kundalini yoga etc. Whilst each will have a different approach and style, they are ultimately all similar, with the same goal. Hatha yoga is the most common and most ‘general’ style. Ashtanga yoga is fast-paced and suitable for those with a good level of fitness and those less interested in other aspects of yoga. Iyengar yoga uses more props and emphasises alignment in the postures. Kundalini yoga is more esoteric and focuses on things such as the chakras. (Chakras are thought to be energy centres in the body, representing different organs and part of the body.)
I sometimes like to explain the different types of yoga with an analogy to cars. Cars are the basic ‘thing’ like yoga, and there are then different makes of cars (different company brands), and then lots of different models. With yoga there’s different types (Iyengar, Ashtanga) and then each teacher will inevitably bring their own style and approach. Unless you go to a very strictly controlled brand of yoga, like Bikram or Iyengar, there will always be differences between yoga classes as there is no fixed ‘yoga’ regime.
You can read a very interesting article about the myth of ‘styles’ of yoga here.
There is also a nice overview of yoga available on YouTube called Yoga: Aligning to the source, which has been directed by Raja Choudhury. It’s 26 minutes long and worth watching. It covers the myths, origins, historical and current practice of yoga.