Yoga is not just a form of exercise or a way to relax, although it can be used for both those purposes, it is an ancient science of life, say its practitioners. Archaeologists believe it was developed by the people of the Indus Valley in Asia some 3000-2000 BC as a spiritual way of life based on ideas about the universe and how the mind can free itself from the limits of the body. It is steeped in Hindu culture.
Today, you don’t have to be a Hindu to practice and some people ignore the more mystical aspects, and practice yoga simply for relaxation and exercise. There are two main forms you might come across in the UK – Hatha and Iyengar.
Yoga, especially the common Hatha yoga, involves gentle stretches, strength- building exercises, breathing techniques. It is best known for its postures – the asanas – such as the crow, the lotus position and the crab. The asanas can exercise every part of the body and tone muscles and joints. Some postures are harder to do than others but most are possible with practice and some expert guidance as long as you are fairly fit. A session can last one or two hours and usually begins with a period of relaxation, some warm-up exercises leading into a series of asanas and then several minutes of final relaxation.
Practitioners believe that the asanas work on the whole body. They benefit not only your frame, but also the internal organs and can generally improve all-round health.
There is also a third form that is becoming popular called ‘power’ yoga. This type of yoga is very energetic and combines Western aerobic exercise with the more traditional techniques of yoga.
Anyone can practice yoga – you don’t need any special equipment or clothes. There are lots of teachers around who hold classes in local schools, health centres and even in the privacy of your own home. There are also some excellent books around showing the different postures with good advice on how to get started. All you need is a soft mat and a quiet space in which to stretch out. Check with your GP before you start if you suffer from hypertension, diabetes, heart disease or other long-term illness.
The British Wheel of Yoga can be contacted on Tel. 01529 306851 or by post at 1 Hamilton Place, Boston Road, Sleaford, Lincs NG34 7ES.