The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root "yuj" which means to connect, join or balance. Patañjali, the author of the classical Yoga text, The Yoga Sutras, defines Yoga as, "complete control over patterns of the mind, which only happens when we are able to quiet all the noise in our lives and find peace." Another classical writer defines the goal of yoga is to lead us from distraction to direction. Neither mention six-pack abs or touching your toes.
Yoga is different from other forms of exercise which only operate on a physical level. Yoga does use physical practices, including postures called “asanas” and breathing techniques called “pranayama”, to strengthen and heal the body. But the actions of a yoga practice go further and are intended to enrich the mind and even the spirit, bringing balance and peace to the person who practices diligently.
It’s not magic and it is not religion. It does not ask you to believe in anything except yourself and your ability to be your unique best. Yoga is a science which has discovered, by researchers over the last 5,000 years, techniques to make all of us stronger, healthier, and happier; regardless of our condition or age or when we start. You can start yoga as a baby or at 90 years old.
Yoga is not a competition and there is not a single “perfect” way to do any of the poses. Yoga is about YOU, and so each pose is perfected when your body, mind and spirit say so. In any yoga class we may all be doing the same pose (and doing it well!) but look quite different because our bones, our muscles, and our bodies are different.
In a typical yoga practice we will begin with our breath and slowly introduce physical movement. The classes move at a mindful pace through a series of postures which are intended to touch every part of your body, exploring strengths and weaknesses. Balance is tested and reinforced through specific poses; and we will even use inversions (getting your hips above your head) to modify your mood and fight depression. No pose should cause actual pain. If it does; stop and skip that pose. If you get tired during the practice, take a break; you don’t lose any points. It is YOUR practice, not the teachers or the other students, and you are responsible for taking care of yourself.
By tradition, a good yoga teacher will guide you through this process of discovering your yoga practice. They will help you learn to understand what your body is telling you as you work our way through the series of poses. Then it becomes your job to listen to your body (mind and spirit); and in the end become your own best teacher.