Alternative medicines and fitness regimens have become more popular and mainstream recently. One of the longest running, and most popular of these is the practice of Yoga. The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word Yuj meaning to yoke or bind and is often interpreted as “union” or a method of discipline.

Often the practices of Yoga is thought of as a religion, but on the contrary, Yoga is a philosophy that began in India an estimated 5,000 years ago. The father of classical (ashtanga) yoga is said to be Patanjali, who wrote the Yoga Sutra nearly 2000 years ago. These writings provide a framework for spiritual growth and mastery over the physical and mental body.

The Sutra is a collection of 195 statements that serves as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today. It outlines eight limbs of yoga: the Yamas (restraints), ni ya mas (observances), Asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), Dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). Through these eight limbs, participants refine their behavior in the outer world and start focusing inwardly until you reach samadhi (liberation, enlightenment).

Today most people practicing yoga are engaged in the third limb, asana, which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide physical strength and stamina. Unlike other stretching or fitness regimens, yoga is more than just a physical workout. The awareness that is gained during Yoga is what makes it a practice, rather than a task or a goal to be completed. Yoga is unique because it connects the movement of the body and the mind, to the rhythm of breathing. This connection of the mind, body, and breath helps to direct our attentions inward. Through this process of inward attention, we can learn more about our own habitual thought patterns without trying to label them, judge them, or trying to change them which allows us to have a greater sense of clarity.

Many think that they need to be very flexible to practice yoga, but that’s a little bit like thinking that you need to be able to be a great golfer in order to take golf lessons. People are encouraged to come to classes as they are, and most find that in practicing yoga the body does become more flexible, along with the mind.

No special equipment is needed for Yoga, just a pair of sweat pants, leggings, or shorts, and a t-shirt that’s not too baggy. No special footgear is required because you will be barefoot for class. As your practice develops you might want to buy your own yoga mat, but most studios will have mats and other props available for participants to use.

All you really need to begin practicing Yoga is your body, your mind, and a bit of curiosity. The newfound agility that you will find will be balanced with a new strength, coordination, and enhanced cardiovascular health, as well as a sense of physical confidence and overall well-being.

Laurel Walther
Owner & Integrative Health Coach