New York based Celebrity Yoga Instructor Kristin Mcgee answers a question that many yoga newbies often have: What is Yoga?
Itâ€™s funny every now and then I still get asked that question from someone who is brand new to the practice. Iâ€™ve been doing yoga for so many years that I sometimes forget there are still many people out there who havenâ€™t tried yoga and arenâ€™t quite sure exactly what it is. â€œIs it exercise?â€, â€œIs it spiritual?â€, â€œIs it difficult?â€ â€œDo I just lie there and relax?â€ â€Do I have to be a pretzel?â€ are some of the phrases I might hear from a beginner or outsider.
I can define it in a very simple way by saying â€œyoga means to unite or joinâ€. In the practice we are uniting our mind and our body through our breath. There are so many different forms and styles of yoga and some classical forms of yoga donâ€™t involve any asana or postures but at the base of each one of them is the sense of union. We practice to bring our mind, body and soul together to achieve a state of balance and inner peace.
Hatha yoga is the umbrella term for all of the physical yoga practice and in Sanskrit translates to ha â€œsunâ€ and tha â€œmoonâ€. We can think of it as joining the yin and yang aspects of our mind and body through postures and breathing. After Hatha yoga was introduced in the West in the early 20th century, it became known as the physical exercise we call Yoga. Tons of other styles and forms of physical yoga have branched out of it and depending on your preference you may end up in a Bikram class, Astanga class, Kundalini class, Iyengar class, etc. etc.
I personally like to practice and teach hatha vinyasa style classes. Vinyasa, â€œbreath-synchronized movementâ€ is a flowing style of yoga where we move from posture to posture as we follow our breath. I think of it like a moving meditation or like swimming on land. Every teacher is different in Vinyasa and some play music, some donâ€™t. I tend to like an alignment based flow with good information and to hold certain poses during the flows. I also like to lead up to a fun challenging pose as well as make sure to get some great hip and shoulder opening in a class.
Astanga is a form of vinyasa but itâ€™s the same set series of flow every single time. Bikram sticks to the same postures as well but you donâ€™t flow from pose to pose, you perform static poses in a 110 degree heated room. Kundalini focuses on mantras and different breathing exercises throughout class and can be more spiritual than other yoga classes. In an Iyengar class, you will hold postures for long periods of time and use many props to help you attain proper alignment. There are still many other styles and these are just to name a few.
It may take experimenting with a few different classes and/or teachers or DVDs until you find the style or form that is right for you. Yoga is different than stretching, it takes you to a whole new level because of the element of the breath, concentration, focus, balance, strength and meditation. Yoga can help you sleep better, play sports more skillfully, concentrate at work or in school, treat your family and friends with more patience and kindness, listen to your own body with more compassion and become the captain of your own ship.
If you have any questions while navigating your boat through the yoga ocean, donâ€™t hesitate to ask me any and all questions. I am constantly figuring things out as I go; and I love to share what I can. One of my amazing students (who is a school teacher) from afar sent me an email with one of the best pieces of information in it and I wanted to share it:
When a conflict comes up, I always try to remember to ask myself, is this â€œinside my boat or outside of my boat?â€ I tell my students that things in your boat are under your control: do you have life preservers, paddles, fuel, motor in working order? Things outside of your boat are the weather, water conditions, wildlifeâ€¦canâ€™t control those things!
I think overall, Yoga helps us constantly figure out what is inside our boat and how to do the best we can with what we have. When outside circumstances arise we understand we canâ€™t control them; but we sure can control how we handle them. Jump in and ride the waves!