What is Yoga?
The roots of yoga can be traced back to the earliest civilisations, the first recorded image of a yoga practice was found on clay stamps in the Indus valley dating back to 3000 BCE, suggesting that the practice of yoga has been going on for 5000 years.
Aye, ok, so it’s old but what is it?
Ok. So what we would now call yoga is only a part of what yoga is all about. The breathing techniques we use (pranayama -controlling the energy) and the positions (asanas) and movements (vinyasa) that we practice are all mentioned in the original “guide” to yoga:the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This is a book made up of 196 aphorisms, or wee statements, on the theory and practice of yoga. They date back to around 500BCE and form the basis of modern yoga. There was a lot of toing and froing in the 12th to 19th centuries about which text provided was most relevant to yoga, the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Vasistha as well as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika were thought to be more relevant.
You’re not really explaining this?
Shut up and listen, then.
What we call yoga is a mixture of the sutras and Hatha yoga, the sutras are a guide to the more spiritual side of yoga and the Hatha puts more emphasis on breathing and movement. Since we don’t really sit about and chat about the relevance if Shiva in our classes we’re really closer to Hatha yoga nowadays.
Controlling the breath (prana - energy, yama - control)is at the very heart of yoga, we don’t control a lot of the basic functions of our bodies, the sympathetic nervous system does all that for us - the body’s operating system, you don’t consciously tell your stomach to digest food or your liver to store some of the products as fat, they do it themselves. We can, however control our breath, considered the energy source in eastern medicine, we need the oxygen and other fuels contained in the air to make all the thousands of chemical reactions that are happening in you every second.
The positions or asanas that we make have been refined over centuries to strengthen muscles, tendons and fascia (the other bits) keeping them lubricated with synovial fluid and lengthening them to aid us in our balance and movement.
So, yoga is breathing and movement, then?
Well aye, and no, it’s breathing and movement and being conscious of who are, it’s shutting off that annoying inner voice that keeps giving us negative feedback, it’s taking back control of the mind, quieting the distractions, allowing us to concentrate on who we are, and it’s stretching our hamstrings, opening the spaces between the vertebrae,touching our foreheads to our shin. It’s all these things, and more. But it’s what you make of it for yourself, it’s all good, whether you dip in a toe or dive straight in, you’re going to get wet,whether you like it or not.