Nowadays, yoga raised through the ranks from ancient practices to the sport trend. Doctors and models, Canadian Prime Minister and the Mayor of Chicago, Julianne Moore and Katy Perry do yoga. Even Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson regularly practice yoga. To be sure, each of us have a friend who visited a yoga class at least once. Yoga studios are opening a dime a dozen, famous designers create special sportswear clothing collections, and the presence of yoga mat in your backpack attracts less and less attention from passers-by.
With the growing popularity of yoga, its reputation remains controversial. There are a lot of debates around the safety of this practice, however, the opponents mainly have only doubtful arguments.
“The primary meaning of yoga is a set of emotional, mental and physical practices”
The ancient origin of yoga and its direct connection with the Eastern religious practices act as an effective physical exercise and is beneficial to our health and mind. It is an exercise proven over time. The primary meaning of yoga does include a set of spiritual, mental and physical practices. It originated in different directions of Hinduism and Buddhism and focused on control over the mental and physiological functions of the organism to achieve the lofty spiritual and mental state. It is believed that yoga has evolved from ascetic practices of Vedic religion and its theory was first mentioned in Rig Veda - the oldest work of Indian literature, created around 1700-1100 years BC.
One of the first persons who began to study yoga in Europe was Arthur Schopenhauer. Ancient Indian treatises of the Upanishads served as inspiration for his philosophical beliefs. At the end of the XIX century on the West, a popular Indian guru Swami Vivekananda promoted yoga.
There was another surge of interest to yoga in the middle of the XX century in the United States and Europe, which has not ceased to present days. Marc Quinn has created the biggest modern sculpture made from gold. Its weight is 50 kg and it costs 1.5 million pounds. The golden sculpture portrays Kate Moss sitting in a complex yoga pose - Dvipãda Širãsana.
There are a lot of popular yoga directions on the West, mainly hatha yoga. One of the most popular - Ashtanga Vinyasa, modern syncretic direction of hatha yoga. It is a dynamic practice that includes a sequence of positions that are interconnected by different movements. They are performed along with breathing exercises (pranayama) and involve focus and concentration. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is popular among people who want to lose weight: one-hour workout burns approximately 300 calories and considerably accelerates the metabolism.
Bikram Yoga is popular among fitness-lovers. It is practiced in a heated room (38-40 °C) at a certain humidity (40-50%). An Indian Bikram Choudhury, the famous champion of yoga, founded this direction. It is said that he managed to recover from the bad knee injury thanks to the practicing in a heated room. Bikram says that Hatha yoga gives maximum effect in hot Indian climate that is why local yoga studios have to create this temperature artificially.
There is an acroyoga based on the retention of balance and weight distribution in interaction with a partner. At the same time, Kundalini Yoga is based in the awakening of the kundalini energy by means of meditation, chanting mantra, pranayama and yoga asana. Perhaps it is closer to meditation than to physical activity. It has its roots in the Tantric Yoga traditions.
In general, there is a number of yoga directions to choose from: intensive, dynamic or contented. Each type of yoga is practiced at different levels of complexity, developing skills from an entry level to the advanced. The most convinced yogi practice to achieve moksha - full spiritual enlightenment and liberation, while the majority of people do yoga to improve their health and achieve mental balance.
Yoga does not necessarily comes along with meditation; it may perfectly function as fitness.
The most important yoga teaching is to possess your own body. You will be able to keep the balance in asana and feel comfortable in this pose only is you feel your body and muscles. Thus, it requires constant mental determination and concentration on an exercise. These skills are called Drishti and Dhyāna.
Doing yoga, we gradually learn conscious relaxation of the body. To fix in the position of the simplest asana or to stretch in position that is more complicated, you need to relax all body parts and muscles that even do not participate in the exercise. Flexing the neck when you try to touch your toes or clenching the toes in a position where only the abdominal muscles are involved may be useless and even harmful. An acquired practice of muscle relaxation is not only useful for the effective and safe exercises performance in yoga, but also an excellent prevention of muscle contraction and easy way to relieve muscle spasms from fatigue. When you sit a whole hour at the computer, a thought about how wonderfully your body feels during and after yoga classes and how it is stressed now makes you immediately straighten your back, relax your neck, shoulders and hips.
Yoga teaches us to relax not only muscles, but also our mind. This is primarily achieved through concentration and deep breathing. Pranayama breathing exercise that accompanies yoga relaxes the body, changes the concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body, produces a massage of the internal organs and stimulates the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system by reflex action on them.
Yoga techniques of mental concentration and unique approach to breathing is usually associated with meditation. Its goal is to achieve the internal concentration. Meditation becomes more and more popular in the USA and Europe thanks to its beneficial effect on the psyche. Meditative concentration on the breath and own body helps to cope with stress, since it contributes to a decrease in the level of cortisol secretion. In addition, such practices stimulate the neuroplasticity of the brain, i.e. the ability to build new cells and connections. Research shows that yoga can have a positive impact on the functioning of internal organs, gastrointestinal disorders, stomach-ache and irritable bowel syndrome. Yoga is a great tool in the struggle against chronic insomnia. It is proved that regular practice helps to weaken the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and reduce the cognitive and somatic arousal. Yoga is useful for articulations and spine bone. At the same time yoga can be harmful for those who have problems with displacement of the intervertebral discs. That is why it is necessary to do yoga under the guidance of an experienced and qualified coach.
An experienced yoga trainer is the main guarantee of a successful practice. If you are healthy, know your body well and confident in your abilities, you can practice yoga on your own. However, to begin with you should take at least a few classes with a trainer, because there is no video on YouTube that is able to check the exercise technique and turn your attention to the most frequent mistakes. The first thing to do is to decide what result you want to achieve to lose weight, to improve your health or to get rid of stress symptoms. After this, you will be able to choose the direction of yoga.
At the beginning of practice, do not try to learn everything at once. More than likely you do not succeed if only you are not a professional gymnast. Each human body has its own characteristics. It is important not to think about everyday problems during the lessons. Do not be in a hurry, rely on your own feelings, do not compare yourself with the other members of the group and don’t get nervous without any reason.