A Beginners Guide to Yoga, we hope you enjoy this mini course:
Part 1 – Yoga and Physical Health
If you’ve come to A Beginners Guide to Yoga looking to understand yoga as a means to help your body heal or improve, then please don’t worry; you have come to the right place!
Yoga does not see a distinction between the body and the mind; and this is an understanding that western psychology has also concluded for many years now (the link between mental health and physical health, and vice versa).
Yoga is indeed a process that involves releasing blocked tension and energy in the body, and helping make the muscles, tendons, joints, ligaments, and all other components work to their utmost potential.
Yoga believes that human beings are optimally designed, by nature, to be flexible and agile; and stiffness and lack of mobility only arrive when the body is unhealthy or out of alignment.
Therefore, countless people have found themselves in a yoga class, or on a yoga mat at home in front of a Yoga video or DVD, in the hopes of improving their physical health; and perhaps you may be one of them. If that’s the case, then keep reading!
There are proven physical benefits of yoga, which include:
* increased flexibility and range of motion
* reduced pain in joints and muscles
* stronger immune system
* stronger lung capacity and therefore higher quality respiration
* increased metabolism (which can lead to weight loss!)
* higher quality of sleep (especially due to improved breathing and a more oxygenated body)
Given that certain yoga practices require postures to be mastered, yoga has always helped promote the body’s flexibility; it also helps in lubricating the joints, ligaments and tendons. Yoga detoxifies by increasing the flow of blood to various parts of the body. It helps tone and invigorates muscles that have grown flaccid and weak.
So please do keep in mind that, while yoga is often discussed in terms of its mental approach, there are clear and proven physical benefits that are a part of this approach.
Therefore, if weight loss is your goal, or the ability to shovel the snow in winter without having your back ache for days, then yoga is as viable an option to you as it is for the stressed-out corporate executive who needs to find a strategy for coping with the craziness if her busy life!
For more information about this part of Yoga and Physical Health, please refer to the Beginners Guide to Yoga website.
Part 2 – Why is Yoga Beneficial?
As we’ve repeatedly pointed out in this article (and probably started to bore you with; sorry!), yoga is not a religion. It can be religious if one wants it to be, and it can co-exist with an existing religious belief. But yoga itself is not religious in the sense that it focuses on belief or faith.
Yoga is a science; and indeed, in many places in the world (such as India), it is referred to as a science. This is not mere playing with words; it truly is approached as a science, which means that it is understood in terms of the scientific method.
Yogic science seeks to verify cause and effect, and build principles based upon objective observations. Indeed, in many places in the world, to be a yogic master of any credibility, one must be highly educated in the sciences, including physics and the biological sciences.
This discussion on yoga as science is important for us to have here, because it allows us to sensible ask the question: what are the benefits of yoga? After all, if yoga is a faith or a belief, then asking this question isn’t fair; because it’s one that yoga cannot answer in terms that we can objectively understand.
Yet (again…sorry!) yoga is a science; as empirical and pragmatic as kinesiology, or exercise science, which seeks to understand how the body acts and reacts to changes in the internal physical environment. And even more simply than any of this: each of us has a right to ask the basic question why should I bother doing this yoga thing? before we should be asked to consider experiencing it for ourselves.
Indeed, while the experience of yoga cannot be reduced to words – just as reading a book on preparing for a marathon isn’t going to actually physically prepare you to run a marathon – the goals and principles of yoga can easily be discussed.
For more information about this part of Why is Yoga Beneficial, please refer to my Beginners Guide to Yoga website.
Part 3 – Supporting a Healthy Lifestyle
There is some very interesting psychology behind this that students of western thinkers (e.g. Freud, Jung, Fromm, etc.) will find familiar and, indeed, quite rational.
When an individual decides to be happy, something within that person activates; a kind of will or awareness emerges. This awareness begins to observe the jungle of negative thoughts that are swimming constantly through the mind.
Rather than attacking each of these thoughts – because that would be an unending struggle! – yoga simply advises the individual to watch that struggle; and through that watching, the stress will diminish (because it becomes exposed and thus unfed by the unconscious, unobserving mind!).
At the same time, as an individual begins to reduce their level of internal negativity, subsequent external negative behaviors begin to fall of their own accord; habits such as excessive drinking, emotional overeating, and engaging in behaviors that, ultimately, lead to unhappiness and suffering.
With this being said, it would be an overstatement to imply that practicing yoga is the easy way to, say, quit smoking, or to start exercising regularly. If that were the case, yoga would be ideal! Yoga simply says that, based on rational and scientific cause and effect relationships that have been observed for centuries, that when a person begins to feel good inside, they naturally tend to behave in ways that enhance and promote this feeling of inner wellness.
As such, while smoking (for example) is an addiction and the body will react to the lessening of addictive ingredients such as tar and tobacco (just to name two of many!), yoga will help the process. It will help provide the individual with the strength and logic that they need in order to discover that smoking actually doesn’t make them feel good.
In fact, once they start observing how they feel, they’ll notice without doubt that instead of feeling good, smoking actually makes one feel quite bad inside; it’s harder to breathe, for one.
Now, this book isn’t an anti-smoking book, and if you’ve struggled with quitting smoking then please don’t be offended by any of this; there is no attempt here at all to imply that quitting smoking is easy, or just a matter of willpower.
Scientists have proven that there is a true physical addiction that is in place, alongside an emotional addiction that can be just as strong; perhaps even stronger.
For more information about this part of Supporting a Healthy Lifestyle, please refer to my Beginners Guide to Yoga website.
Part 4 – Different Kinds of Yoga
It’s funny to look at it this way, but one of the things that has promoted the spread of yoga in the west, is the same thing that can sometimes prevent someone from truly exploring it and therefore experiencing its health benefits. This thing is variety.
Sometimes when there is only one of something – such as one idea, or one language, or one anything – it’s hard for that thing to spread outside of those who abide by it, agree with it, or simply want it to continue existing.
Yet when there are multiple ideas and concepts, the chances of it spreading increase; there are just more people out there who will be able to access it, talk about it, and indeed, make it a part of their lives.
What does this have to do with yoga? Well, there are many different types of yoga; and the reason for this, as we initially discussed, is that yoga isn’t a religion; it’s an approach to being alive. As such, it’s very agile and flexible (no pun intended!) and carries well across cultural, country, and religious boundaries.
Thanks to its diversity and different facets and types, yoga has spread very swiftly through the western world over last 110 years or so; and is spreading faster now than ever before (many western companies will now pay for yoga classes as part of an enhanced health benefits program).
Yet this very diversity has led to some confusion; and people who have been exposed to one kind of yoga might accidentally think that they’ve seen it all. This is more worrisome, of course, when one has been exposed to a kind of yoga that – for whatever reason – they did not like, or perhaps, weren’t quite ready for (just as how some people might turn away from a fitness program if they aren’t in the right frame of mind to see it through).
So if you’ve experienced yoga, or seen it on television, read about it in a newspaper, or overheard a friend or colleague talk about it, then please be aware that there’s a very good chance that you haven’t been exposed to all that there is (which is wonderful, because it means that this next section will be very interesting and informative for you!).
Six Major Types of Yoga
Yogic scholars Feuerstein and Bodian note seven major types of yoga. In no particular order, they are:
* hatha yoga
* raja yoga
* karma yoga
* bhakti yoga
* jnana yoga
* tantra yoga
For more information about this part of Different Kinds of Yoga, please refer to the Beginners Guide to Yoga website.
Part 5 – Advice for Beginners
As you now know (if you didn’t know it when you started reading, that is!), yoga is a very interesting and ancient approach of uniting the body and the mind. It has proven health benefits, including emotional and physical improvements.
The chances therefore are, if you’re on the verge of starting a yoga program (perhaps at a local center or you’ve purchased a video or DVD and want to try it at home), you’re excited, optimistic, and anxious to get going!
Yet it’s wise to note that, before going into yoga practice, you should ask yourself some important questions. These questions don’t have a right or wrong answer.
They are merely meant to stimulate your own thoughts and give you the mindset that you need in order to succeed as a student of yoga for the long term.
Here are the basic questions that you should ask before starting any yoga program:
* what are my reasons for starting a yoga program? Are they realistic?
* If my yoga program involves some degree of physical strain, such as certain postures in hatha yoga, have I received medical clearance from a qualified and certified health professional to ensure that I don’t injure myself?
* Are my goals for pursuing a yoga program (or programs) clear and positive? Do I know what I want to achieve?
* Am I prepared to commit the time necessary to really get the most of out of my yoga experience?
* Are there people around me who might negatively try and talk me out (or mock me out) of pursuing this path of personal development? Should I either avoid such people, or ask them to respect what I’m choosing to do?
Please note that these are just basic questions; and this isn’t an exhaustive list. The point here is really that you should be clear and confident about your choice of experiencing yoga.
This concludes our 5 part mini course on “A Beginners Guide to Yoga“
Please visit the Beginners Guide to Yoga website to discover the rest of the information you’ve been searching for to get started with Yoga.
A Beginners Guide to Yoga