What is Yoga?

I sense that if you stopped most people in the street and asked them what they think yoga is, a lot would say it is a form of exercise that focuses on flexibility, strength and breathing to promote physical and mental wellbeing. With a bit of spiritual stuff mixed in.

Of course most of us know that yoga is an ancient spiritual practice (originating in India about 5,000 years ago) which over the centuries has been adapted throughout the world in a variety of ways. And we also know that it focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body. Indeed, the word 'Yoga' is derived from the Sanskrit root 'Yuj', meaning 'to join' or 'to yoke' or 'to unite'.

The main components of a yoga practice include postures or poses - “asanas”, a series of movements designed to increase strength and flexibility, together with breathing – “pranayama” to focus and calm the mind. Both the poses and the breathing can be adjusted to restore balance, strength, peace, focus, all to a greater or lesser degree depending on the intention for the practice.

Why is yoga so popular now?

Yoga is now commonplace throughout the western world; indeed it seems there is a plethora of classes and lessons on offer, privately, in leisure centres, health clubs, schools, hospitals and surgeries.

Most people, at some stage in their life, decide they’d like to take up some form of exercise - maybe to gain flexibility, strength, good posture or to help with an underlying physical injury or issue. There is also a growing interest in finding an activity which helps promote calm, balance and peace of mind. I think this is particularly relevant today in light of the pandemic this year with more and more people, of all ages, struggling with anxiety and depression.

Yoga is widely regarded as a safe and effective way to increase physical activity, and find balance in both body and mind. Yoga is also highly regarded for the extensive list of health benefits that it can offer.

As well as recognising that Yoga can help improve flexibility, build muscle strength and improve posture, it can also help keep your joints supple – helping prevent cartilage breakdown, protect the spine by keeping the disks supple, and build bone strength helping to ward off osteoporosis.

There's some evidence that regular yoga practice is beneficial for people with high blood pressure. It can help with circulation, your immune system, aches and pains – including lower back pain – depression and stress. It has been reported that yoga can reduce hypertension and its precursors – factors linked to stroke and cardiovascular disease. Scientists have reported that yoga can ease trauma from rheumatoid arthritis. According to several studies yoga reduced pain suffered by people with osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel and other chronic conditions. It maintains your nervous system, helps you sleep deeper, can help with or even prevent IBS and other digestive problems. And yes, it can also help prevent falls. The list is endless.

And, of course, if you’re looking for more, there is the philosophy of Yoga, the subtle body, the mythology. Adding on colour and interest – all of which makes Yoga unique and so special.