What exactly is yoga?

The new year is here and as they say, out with the old and in with the new! We see yoga everywhere and hear of its many benefits, therefore there is no better time to start a yoga practice than the present moment. If you are considering the practice or wondering if yoga is something for you, you might be wondering about the different styles of classes and which one(s) is right for you.

Yoga is defined as the union between body, mind, and soul. Physical postures, breathing exercises and quieting the mind (also known as meditation) are practiced together with the purpose of understanding ourselves on a deeper and more spiritual level. It is through the practice that we learn what causes discomfort like pain, anxiety and stress. The practice teaches us how to develop the life skills needed to lessen our suffering. To put it simply, yoga is for everyone and can benefit us all on different levels. The yoga that you practice will be much different than that of the person next to you because no two people are alike. The most wonderfully relieving aspect of yoga is that you do not have to be a certain color, sex, gender, weight, height, body type or religion to practice. There is something for everyone if you so choose to explore the vast amount of styles and techniques that are out there.

As a teacher, I have had many of my students ask, what is the difference between Hatha Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga? The two styles share many similar qualities so it is common to have this question. Here are the big differences between the two that I believe will bring awareness to what each practice is for and how it can help you.

Hatha Yoga commonly referred to as Sun-Moon yoga. “Ha” = Lifeforce. “Tha” = mental of the human form. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, an ancient Sanskrit text, outlines how to practice 33 physical postures called asana and also breath work called pranayama. Through regular practice of these postures and breathing exercises, the student will learn how to bring harmony and balance to the physical body and the energetic body. It teaches you how to access your inner energy and use it safely to control the fluctuations of the mind. Taking Hatha class will help you to refine your postures and your breath work because the pace tends to be slow and depending on the teacher, a lot of information and cues are given.

Vinyasa means “to place in a special way” and connects two or more postures together with breath. Vinyasa yoga places more emphasis on creating breath-body links to create a more vigorous practice. It flows like a dance and demands an understanding of ujjayi breath (victorious breath). A master Vinyasa teacher carefully and intentionally takes the student through a series of postures linked together with breath to intelligently warm parts of the body and to prepare the student mentally for what is to come next. Vinyasa yoga teachers create artful and creative sequences that will often lead you to a peak pose! There is now over 1,300 yoga poses so teaching vinyasa yoga gives the teacher an opportunity to incorporate many different postures into a sequence. Taking vinyasa class will help you to build the strength and stamina to advance your practice so it is important to first have a thorough understanding of the foundations of basic asanas.

I too had this question when I wanted to deepen my understanding of yoga. This helpful diagram shows other styles of yoga and outlines their differences very well! It even gives you a bit of a timeline for when each style was developed.

More recently, I have discovered the profound effects of therapeutic and restorative yoga. These styles of yoga are ideal for those who are looking for relaxation, stress relief, injury management and a slow meditative class pace. These practices invite you to drop into a restful state, allowing the nervous system to soften and restore to a place of harmonious balance.

In general, all yoga comes from Hatha Yoga and all are meant to prepare your body for deep meditation. Through meditation, we understand our true selves. When we understand our true self, we become more connected with the divine, source, the universe and thus, our suffering lessens.

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May the new year bring contentment

The tradition goes, when the New Year rolls around we are awarded a clean slate and the chance to start over by dreaming up fresh ideas and intentions. We get to plant the seeds of personal development and growth. We get to set our declarations to make the necessary changes in order to live the best life we can envision for ourselves.

I do like this tradition because it is a positive and motivating practice and as the saying goes, “thoughts are things, so choose good ones!” How I perceive the world around me affects the outcomes of my endeavors. Each year, I take time to make a vision board for myself and as the year goes by, I enjoy having this visual to record and see my achievements as they unfold. There is one problem though. After giving the New Year Resolution thing some deeper thought, I realized that in the efforts of setting intentions to make “necessary” changes to my life each year, I am also implying that I am not satisfied with how my life already is! Some might argue that I am subconsciously and simultaneously planting seeds of dissatisfaction and emptiness. I’ve decided that instead of resolving to change things about my life that I don’t approve of, I will give thanks that my life is just as it is. All year long I have been taking steps towards the things that make my heart and mind happy. This has been huge for me and so my plan is to simply continue to trust in my process and follow the path I have forged with compassion, unconditional love, and JOY. New Years is time to celebrate everything that I already AM.

In yoga philosophy, the word Santosha means contentment. Santosha is one of the 5 Niyamas; Niyamas are 5 principals for observing our internal behaviors. To practice Santosha, one chooses to view their reality from a place of non-judgment in order to see life just as it is through uncolored lenses. We see where we are along our path and where we would like to go. We then take mindful steps towards the goals and aspirations we wish to attain and in the process, resolve to be happy with whatever outcome the Universe has in store. The magical bonus feeling that comes from this practice is JOY — The ability to simply be happy with life exactly as it is. What an interesting phenomenon!

I’d like to share a quote from Buddhist teacher Michael Stone – I think what he had to say about mindfulness encompasses what I am hoping to express about Santosha and how it applies to the way we can choose to enter into 2018.

“When we accept what is in this very moment, without pushing or pulling, when there is no running after or running away from, we find in our practice a level of deep acceptance and peace.”

Happy New Year!!! May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you be free of suffering and may you continue to walk down the path that leads to the greatest and truest version of yourself. Namaste friends — the light within me, sees and acknowledges the light that is within you.