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What is Yoga?

What is Yoga, exactly? Is it just an exercise form? Is it a religion, a philosophy, an ideology? Or is it something else entirely?

The word “Yoga” essentially means, “that which brings you to reality”. Literally, it means “union.” Union means it brings you to the ultimate reality, where individual manifestations of life are surface bubbles in the process of creation. (Sadhguru)

Yoga originated in ancient India as a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines. It is also one of the six orthodox schools of Indian philosophical traditions.

There is a broad variety of yoga schools, practices within Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The practice of yoga backs to pre-vedic Indian traditions; possibly in the Indus valley civilization around 3000 BCE. Yoga is mentioned in the earliest Vedic Sanskrit texts of religious teaching and ideas like the Upanishads, though it most likely developed as a systematic study around the 5th and 6th centuries BCE.  

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali dates from the 2nd century BCE and gained prominence in the west in the 20th century after being first introduced by Swami Vivekananda. Hatha yoga texts began to emerge sometime between the 9th and 11th century with origins in tantra.

Yoga gurus from India later introduced Hatha yoga to the West, following the success of Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th and early 20th century with his adaptation of yoga tradition, excluding asanas.

The term "Yoga" in the Western world often denotes a modern form of hatha yoga and yoga as exercise, consisting largely of the postures or asanas.

Outside India, it has developed into a posture-based physical fitness, stress-relief and relaxation technique. Yoga in Indian traditions, however, is more than physical exercise; it has a meditative and spiritual core.

Ashtanga Yoga System
(the eight limbs of Yoga)

As part of the path Raja yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describe eight-fold path leading to liberation. Each limb has a moral aspect and offers guidance on how to live a balanced and purposeful life.

1. YAMA – Restraints, moral disciplines, or moral vows.

2. NIYAMA – Positive duties or observances towards the self and the outside world.

3. ASANA – The physical aspect of Yoga, poses and postures.

4. PRANAYAMA – Breathing Techniques, breath work.

5. PRATYAHARA – Sense withdrawal.

6. DHARANA – Focused Concentration

7. DHYANA – Meditative Absorption, Meditation

8. SAMADHI – Bliss or Enlightenment

Yoga styles offered at the Dhimahi Yoga Studio

Hatha Yoga text

Hatha Yoga 
(Asana practise)

Hatha Yoga is a style of yoga which uses asana techniques try to preserve and channel the vital force or energy. Hatha yoga focuses on static poses, slow flow, breathing techniques and meditation. Hata yoga classes are usually 45 minutes to 90 minutes.

Among the benefits of Hata Yoga are decreasing back and neck pain, strengthening core muscles, improving balance and stability. Hatha Yoga also helps with improving sleep quality, depression symptoms, and helping with stress, anxiety management.

Hatha yoga classes are usually 45 minutes to 90 minutes.

Gentle Hath Yoga text

Gentle Hatha Yoga 
(Asana practise)

In Sanskrit, the traditional language of yogic texts, the word Hatha means “force”. It is therefore a “forceful” form of Yoga. However, Gentle Hatha Yoga is a gentler Hatha Yoga style practiced at a slower pace that includes less intense poses and beginner poses modifications and options to allow students to gently develop their strength and flexibility into more advanced poses and options.

 

Gentle Hatha Yoga also usually includes longer Pranayama (Breath Work) and Meditation practise.

 

Gentle Hatha yoga classes are usually 45 minutes to 90 minutes.

Chair Yoga text

Chair Yoga 
(Asana practise)

Chair Yoga is a very gentle yoga style that is practised while sitting and using a chair for support in standing poses. Chair Yoga can help to improve flexibility of people with limited mobility and balance.

 

Like other Yoga styles, Chair Yoga can improve concentration, reduce joint and back pain and bring relaxation to the body and mind.

Chair yoga classes are usually 40 minutes to 60 minutes.

Yoga Mantra text

Yoga Mantra Chanting 
(Dhyana practise)

In Sanskrit, Mantra translates to “man”- mind or to think and “tra”- instrument or means. A mantra is a sacred word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation. Chanting mantra is an ancient tool for freeing the mind from the continuous and unconscious patterns of thoughts and actions imprinted in the subconscious.

 

Mantras, themselves, are sounds that, even before they are assigned a meaning, resonate in different parts of the body and mind, increasing sensory awareness and generating vibration across the energetic centres of the body. When spoken or chanted, Mantras can trigger the healing power of Prana (life force energy).

Yoga Mantras Chanting are usually 60 minutes.

Kirtan text

Kirtan 
(Dhyana practise)

The word ‘Sankirtana’, in Sanskrit, means ‘collective performance’ and the work ‘Kirtan’ or ‘Kirtana’, means ‘telling’ or ‘describing’. Kirtan originated in the India’s Bhakti traditions, with bhakti referring to devotion and love, and many of the chants focused upon the devotion and love towards a deity or the divine.

 

While Mantras chanting is often intended for personal practice kirtan is all about community and coming together to sing mantra songs that talk about the qualities of the Divine. Kirtan is an important aspect of yoga and one which holds so much potential for awakening and transformation.

Kirtan practices are usually 60 minutes to 90 minutes.

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Meditation text

Yoga Meditation
(Dhyana practise)

Yoga meditation is an ancient Yoga practice, related to the seventh limb of the Ashtanga Yoga System, to develop awareness of the present moment and connection to the inner self.

Meditation can lead to a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind by focusing the practitioner’s attention to eliminate the constant and excessive stream of thoughts. This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.

Benefits of meditation (mayoclinic.org)

Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that can benefit both your emotional well-being and your overall health. You can also use it to relax and cope with stress by refocusing your attention on something calming. Meditation can help you learn to stay cantered and keep inner peace.

And these benefits don't end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day. And meditation may help you manage symptoms of certain medical conditions.

Meditation and emotional and physical well-being

When you meditate, you may clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress.

The emotional and physical benefits of meditation can include:

  • Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations

  • Building skills to manage your stress

  • Increasing self-awareness

  • Focusing on the present

  • Reducing negative emotions

  • Increasing imagination and creativity

  • Increasing patience and tolerance

  • Lowering resting heart rate

  • Lowering resting blood pressure

  • Improving sleep quality

 

Meditation and illness

Meditation might also be useful if you have a medical condition, especially one that may be worsened by stress.

While a growing body of scientific research supports the health benefits of meditation, some researchers believe it's not yet possible to draw conclusions about the possible benefits of meditation.

With that in mind, some research suggests that meditation may help people manage symptoms of conditions such as:

  • Anxiety

  • Asthma

  • Cancer

  • Chronic pain

  • Depression

  • Heart disease

  • High blood pressure

  • Irritable bowel syndrome

  • Sleep problems

  • Tension headaches

 

Be sure to talk to your health care provider about the pros and cons of using meditation if you have any of these conditions or other health problems. In some rare cases, meditation might worsen symptoms associated with certain mental health conditions.

Meditation isn't a replacement for traditional medical treatment. But it may be a useful addition to your other treatment.

Meditation practises are usually 30 minutes to 60 minutes.

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