Unlike Pilates, there is no written record of the inventor of yoga. It is widely accepted that the practice began in India with the term itself being derived from the ancient language Sanskrit. In more recent times the term “yoga” has gone through a renaissance in modern culture, with many different schools being developed as the practiced widened in global reach and popularity. For those wanting to delve further into the history of yoga, the “Yoga Sutra”, a 2000 year old treatise on yogic philosophy by the Indian Sage Patanjali, is the earliest written account on the practice.
Although it is not the purpose of this article to drag you into a history lesson, it is worth noting what Mr Patanjali had to say as it helps establish some of the fundamental principles of yoga. In his writings, Patanjali gave guidance on how to master the mind and emotions through movement of the body. This early scripture provides the framework upon which all yoga that is practiced today is based.
Naturally, yoga has passed through many changes over the generations. However the fundamental philosophy has withstood the test of time. Yogic philosophy can be categorised into the following:
Hatha yoga – physical and mental branch – involves asana and pranayama practice – preparing the body and mind
Raja yoga – meditation and strict adherence to the “eight limbs of yoga”
Karma yoga – path of service to consciously create a future free from negativity and selfishness caused by our actions
Bhakti yoga – path of devotion – a positive way to channel emotions and cultivate acceptance and tolerance
Jnana yoga – wisdom, the path of the scholar and intellect through study
Tantra yoga – pathway of ritual, ceremony or consummation of a relationship.
This highlights the spiritual aspect of yoga practice. For thousands of years yoga has been used as a method of improving and maintaining a healthy mental state. This cannot be achieved however without activating motion in the body.
Modern forms of yoga have evolved into exercise focusing on strength, flexibility, and breathing to boost physical and mental well-being. There are many styles of yoga, and no style is more authentic or superior to another; the key is to choose a class appropriate for your fitness level.
Ashtanga yoga: based on ancient yoga teachings but popularised in the 1970s, each of the six established sequences of postures rapidly link every movement to breath.
Hatha yoga: a generic term for any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. When a class is labeled as “hatha,” it is usually a gentle introduction to the basic yoga postures.
Vinyasa: intended to be adaptable to any person, regardless of physical ability,
Yin: a quiet, meditative yoga practice. Yin yoga enables the release of tension in key joints: ankles, knees, hips, the whole back, neck, and shoulders. Yin poses are passive, meaning the muscles should be relaxed while gravity does the work.
Restorative yoga: a relaxing method of yoga, spending a class in four or five simple poses using props like blankets and bolsters to sink into deep relaxation without exerting any effort in holding the pose.
Prenatal yoga: yoga postures carefully adapted for people who are pregnant. Prenatal yoga is tailored to help people in all stages of pregnancy and can support people in getting back into shape after pregnancy.
The benefits of yoga are vast. It improves physical fitness by working on flexibility, strength and control of movement whilst maintaining a focus on correct breathing mechanics. This optimisation of the muscular and skeletal systems not only corrects postural dysfunctions but it also has a positive impact on the other systems of the body which are fundamental to good health, such as respiration, circulation and digestion etc. When keeping all of the above in check, the psychological benefits that one can achieve through regular yoga practice are profound and have been well documented across the world.