To many people, the word yoga conjures up the image of a long-haired, bearded Indian man sitting in the lotus position and chanting. Yet, yoga has been increasingly in the public eye, mainly due to celebrities such as Madonna, Geri Halliwell and Gwyneth Paltrow singing its praises.
Reported improvements such as toned upper arms, trim stomach and firm thighs and bums have encouraged them to take up yoga classes, but for the uninitiated and uninformed, what is it all about? Yoga originated in India around 6000 years ago. The practice sometimes seems to have an air of mystery about it, which perhaps prevents many people from trying a class. It can be seen as new-age, 'alternative' or a bit of a fad in the exercise world. In reality, it is a holistic practise that benefits body, mind and spirit.
People take up yoga for a surprisingly wide range of reasons: to gain flexibility, to tone-up or lose weight, to improve their ability to relax or to prepare their body for a physical event such as childbirth. Regular practice of yoga will improve your general fitness and body shape, make you stronger, calmer and more able to cope with the stresses and strains of life. Types of yoga Hatha (or physical) yoga is broken down into eight stages or limbs.
Traditionally these are followed progressively to reach Samadhi, the last stage, where the spirit is liberated and becomes 'at one' with the universe. Yoga practised in the west mainly encapsulates stages three and four. Stage three (Asana) is the practise of the postures or poses and stage four (Pranayama) is rhythmic control of the breath.
There are many styles of Hatha yoga currently being taught, all of which have slightly different emphases.
What to look for in a yoga class
Yoga includes elements such as stretching, balancing and posturing - the combination of which can seem like a contortionist act to the newcomer. However, a good yoga teacher will tailor the postures to suit the different abilities within a class. Some classes will focus heavily on meditation and visualisation, but for others, meditation simply refers to the period of cool-down or relaxation at the end of the session. Controlled breathing is a hugely important part of the practice.
Yoga is suitable for both men and women and can be enjoyed by the full range of fitness abilities. Even if you have trouble touching your toes, yoga can still be open to you. Classes can be found by looking in the telephone book or by recommendation from friends or work colleagues.
There are numerous teachers in the larger cities and a few are listed below. Try out one or two sessions before committing yourself to a lengthy course, as your relationship with your yoga teacher is one of the most important factors in your enjoyment and progress of yoga.
Where to take yogaA.E.A.S.I. Asbl
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