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What is Yoga? A Beginner’s Guide

Yoga is one of the most popular group fitness class there is and has seen a huge rise in popularity over the last two decades. Rather than being a discipline that pushes your cardiovascular system to the limit, Yoga instead relies on improving your strength, flexibility and breathing through a series of increasingly difficult stretches. It’s designed to help you think more clearly and improve your mental wellness, as well as helping with your overall health and fitness.

What is Yoga?

The word Yoga translates as ‘union’ and refers to the experience of oneness with the universe and is referred to as Samadhi; and therefore it follows the belief that the mind and body is one. If the mind is unwell it will be evident in the body and vice versa. The union is attained by any one or a combination of different practices – of which there are several – all based on philosophy and ethics and spirituality.

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Hatha Yoga

Recent history of Hatha Yoga in the West stems from Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who was from a long lineage of Vedic scholars in India. Interested Westerners sought out the best Indian practitioners and took their first training in India, then invited them to back to Europe and America.

Krishnamacharya never left India, however, among many of his students, three are attributed to bringing the Hatha discipline to the West and America and each developed a style, now known as Viniyoga, Iyengar and Ashtanga Yoga respectively.

Most beginners start practising in order to improve their health, namely daily personal hygiene rituals, exercise regime and a healthy diet. In the West, the majority of us have our first experience at a gym class, with glimpses into Pranayama (breathing techniques), and meditation.

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What are The Health and Fitness Benefits of Yoga?

The benefits are broad and often not obvious, as much of it is about preventative measures from the yogic lifestyle, which includes cleansing, detoxification, breath control and a clean diet (such as minimising or avoiding processed food). The obvious benefits are cardio styles that help weight management and the isometric styles will develop strength all over your body.

Many also experience indirect weight loss, which improves mobility and reduces the feeling of tiredness and helps you feel more energetic. The increased flexibility with yoga improves athletic performance and the addition of regular breathing exercises and meditation promotes positive mental well-being.

Start with loose clothing and a yoga mat (if one is not provided at the class), as well as a willingness to try what may seem strange at first. Yoga is very much about tuning into the sensations inside the body. Some people are not comfortable with this and sometimes are frightened by the new experiences, which is why an open mind is probably the most important thing you could take with you.

What are the Different Styles of Yoga you can try?

Over the last 70 years, yoga styles have developed in many ways each with its own focus. However, all yoga in gym settings is rooted in Hatha Yoga, from Krishnamacharya.

Yoga is a broad subject matter, spanning across every aspect of human existence to promote individual and social health and well-being. The breadth of yoga practices resulted in many combinations, as each generation of teachers discovered and developed in a myriad of directions hence the ‘styles’. Some draw on the selected philosophical and spiritual elements, whilst others are heavily influenced by anatomy and movement from western therapeutic approaches. For example, Joseph Pilates included research of Eastern mind-body practices and developed Pilates. The Pilates method now influences yoga, hence a cycle of research development is evident.

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Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga focuses on the correct alignment of each of the joint areas for maximum stability, so that a pose can be held. The isometric aspect strengthens and tones the muscles and joint tissue, it also activates the lymphatic system therefore it has a detoxifying effect on the vascular system. Hatha yoga often uses portable personal props, such as a yoga mat or belt, to strengthen the poses.

Location: Gyms, studio and community
Difficulty Level: Suitable for all levels

Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar Yoga still holds a strong identity from its original form, which uses props, fixtures, specially designed therapy furniture, bolsters and blankets, these can often be found in purpose designed studios. The purpose props gently and repeatedly coerce the body into optimal alignment. The emphasis is on precise alignment in the pose, holding the position and building on strength and flexibility. It also has a therapeutic nature. People with exceptional strength sometimes practice Iyengar yoga to overcome stubborn muscular problems and misalignments.

Location: Mainly studios, or with basic equipment in gyms
Difficulty Level: Suitable for all levels

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga is a repetitive practice of a carefully constructed series of poses to develop strength, flexibility and agility. It does not consider props, instead intense daily practice is prescribed. The assumption is that the body will excel with enough dedicated practice and through the will of the mind, it is seen as a demanding routine with athletic qualities.

Location: Gyms and studios
Difficulty Level: Suitable for advanced level

Viniyoga

Viniyoga is a personalised approach to yoga. It can be seen as similar to personal training, as it’s tailor-made to suit the individual’s needs, with regards to their age, gender, physical form, mental health and occupation. Its main objective is to assistant individuals to build on their practice and maximise on their potential. Viniyoga is a traditional approach developed by Desikacher, in the style of his father, Krishnamacharya, and includes chanting, pranayama and meditation. This equips the individual to manage and live with any personal challenges they may be facing, such as living with debilitating health conditions.

Location: Delivered by specialist teachers
Level: Particularly suitable for those living with challenging health problems

Vinyasa Yoga (Flow Yoga)

In Vinyasa Yoga, the practitioner goes through a series of poses, carefully flowing from one into another, the flow has a meditative effect, but it is also part of an energetic and graceful cardio routine.

Location: Gyms, studio and community
Difficulty Level: Suitable for all levels

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Hot Yoga

Hot Yoga is carried out in heated rooms. The raised temperatures of up to 42 degrees, aid with flexibility and detoxification. Immediate weight loss can be a common misconception as it is more likely to have resulted from dehydration.

Location: Studio only
Difficulty Level: Suitable for all levels

Acroyoga

Acroyoga is influenced by acrobatics and gymnastics, it requires an athletic body or a body and mind with athletic potential. Regardless of whether or not you have the skills of an elite gymnast or expert acrobat, you’ll still be able to establish the foundations of new skills, which should allow you to push your body and physical capabilities to new limits.

Location: Studio only
Difficulty Level: Suitable for all levels

Pranayama

Pranayama combines the words ‘Prana’, referred to as the ‘life force’ and ‘Ayama’ which is outlined as ‘to lengthen or to work on it’. Your breathing and breathing techniques, play a pivotal part in maintaining and regulating your ‘Prana’, it enhances a person’s mindfulness, emotional wellbeing and mental health. Put simply, our mental health and the way we perceive things can be heavily influenced by our breathing techniques.

Location: Anywhere that is safe, quiet and warm
Difficulty Level: Suitable for all levels

What to Wear to your Yoga Class

Start with loose clothing and a yoga mat (if one is not provided at the class), as well as a willingness to try what may seem strange at first. Yoga is very much about tuning into the sensations inside the body. Some people are not comfortable with this and sometimes are frightened by the new experiences, which is why an open mind is probably the most important thing you could take with you. Once you’ve got comfortable, then you can start thinking about investing in some more advanced Yoga kit.

Active wear and sports intimates have come a long way since the days of wearing a loose oversized cotton t-shirt and shorts with more than two conventional holes to put your legs through. Today, particularly yoga equipment, comes in a range of colours and designs, with some high-end brands offering fabrics that possess multi-stretch and sweat-wicking properties allowing you to stay comfortable and dry during practice.

However, not all textiles perform the same way. Owing to their structure, many have unique properties and behave completely differently to others. When choosing certain clothes to work out in, you to bear in mind that it is the type of fibre, fabric structure and weight that are the most important parameters when wearing them for their intended purpose.

New Materials for Yoga Equipment

Modern technical fibres, such as polyester, have lightweight properties although some come with a rougher hand-feel. Originally designed with the intention to replace heavier natural fibres, polyester can improve breatheability. Much of the yoga equipment you’ll currently find on the market is made from polyester to provide adequate moisture management, which is essential during an hour’s worth of vinyasas.

Other synthetic fibres, such as polyamide (also known as nylon), have greater moisture loving properties than polyester. This is because many polyester fabrics are hydrophobic by nature, meaning they are resistant to liquid and therefore dry faster.

There are also some other differences. While polyamide fabrics tend to dry less quickly, the flip side is they are much softer to the touch and pliable. These properties exist because polyamide fabrics were initially intended as an alternative for silk – magnificently smooth and cool to wear.


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