Yoga

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Yoga is a mind and body practice with origins in ancient Indian philosophy. Derived from the Sankrit word "yuj" which is often interpreted as “union”, yoga is about balancing the mind, body and breath through various physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques and meditation. This section provides you with a guideline about yoga, including information about its history and philosophy.

Learn more about the many health benefits of yoga, including overall physical fitness, improved back health, and its ability to alleviate chronic conditions such as anxiety, depression and insomnia.

This section also contains an overview of the most common types of yoga, such as Bikram, hatha and kundalini. To help you on your yoga journey, check out our page "The Right Yoga Style". If you want to know what new and hip, check out our expert post from Elaine Kelly on Yoga Trends

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Yoga is a mind and body practice with origins in ancient Indian philosophy. Derived from the Sankrit word "yuj" which is often interpreted as “union”, yoga is about balancing the mind, body and breath through various physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques and meditation.

According to Yoga Journal , the Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra an estimated 2,000 years ago. The Sutra outlines eight steps – known as the eight limbs of yoga – that act as philosophical guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. These are:

  • Yamas, which emphasises one's ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behaviour.
  • Niyamas, which has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances.
  • Asanas, which are a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.
  • Pranayama, which are techniques designed to control breathing while recognising the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions.
  • Pratayahara, which focuses on drawing our awareness away from our senses and the external world and directing our attention internally.
  • Dharana, which is the practice of one-pointed concentration to help deal with the distractions of the mind.
  • Dhyani, known as meditation or contemplation, which is about ultimately achieving a state of being keenly aware without focus.
  • Samadhi, which is a state of ecstasy and enlightenment where the meditator merges with his or her point of focus and transcends the Self altogether.

Today most people practicing yoga are engaged in the third limb, asana. The poses can be done quickly in succession, creating heat in the body through movement or more slowly to increase stamina and perfect the alignment of the pose. There are numerous schools of yoga; however hatha yoga is the most commonly practiced in the west. Some of the major styles of hatha yoga are iyengar, ashtanga, and Bikram yoga. Studios offering Hatta Yoga are Zen Yoga and Yoyoga in Dubai or the Hot House in Abu Dhabi. 

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Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines physical postures with controlled breathing and meditation. As there are many types of yoga, it’s a practice that almost anyone can participate in. Yoga has a variety of potential health benefits including:

  • Improved overall physical fitness: Practicing yoga can lead to improved balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength. This also means you're less likely to injure yourself during other physical activities.
  • Stress reduction: A number of studies have shown that yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety. It can also enhance your mood and overall sense of well-being.
  • Emotional relief: According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine , yoga is linked to alleviating depression, anxiety and insomnia.
  • Improved heart health: Yoga can help lower blood pressure and heart rate, and reduce risk factors for chronic diseases such as heart disease. Yoga has also been linked to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Boost in sexual performance: Experts say that yoga helps reduce anxiety, increase body awareness and even speeds the release of hormones that lead to arousal. This translates to a boost in libido, lubrication and ability to achieve orgasm.
  • Improved back health: Current research suggests that a carefully adapted set of yoga poses may reduce low-back pain and improve function. Most standing and sitting poses in yoga also develop core strength, which means your posture will improve.
  • Immunity booster: A recent Norwegian study found that yoga practice results in changes in gene expression that boost immunity at a cellular level.
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Yoga has many styles, forms and intensities. Most people can benefit from any yoga approach – it’s all about your personal preferences. To help you find the right type of yoga for you, here is a guide to some of the most popular styles of yoga being taught today:

  • Anusara: Founded in 1997 by John Friend, anusara is a playful style of yoga based on the belief that we are all filled with an intrinsic goodness. Postures can be challenging, but the real message of anusara is to open your heart and strive to connect with the divine in yourself and others.
  • Ashtanga: Ashtanga is based on ancient yoga teachings, but it was popularised and brought to the west by Pattabhi Jois in the 1970s. It's an athletic and vigorous style of yoga that follows a specific sequence of postures linking every movement to a breath. This is definitely a physically demanding practice.
  • Bikram: This school of yoga was developed approximately 30 years ago by Bikram Choudhury. Classes are held in artificially heated studios as you work your way through a series of 26 poses. Like ashtanga, a Bikram class always follows the same sequence. It is wildly popular, making it one of the easiest types of classes to find.
  • Hatha: Hatha yoga is a generic term that describes any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. Nearly all types of yoga taught in the west are a form of hatha yoga. However, when a class is marketed as hatha, it likely means that you will get a slow and gentle introduction to the most basic yoga postures.
  • Hot: Like Bikram, hot yoga classes are carried out in heated rooms. It is said that adding artificial heat will help you lose weight, loosen your muscles and improve your cardiovascular system. It differs from Bikram yoga in that the series of postures are not always in any particular order and modifications are often offered.
  • Iyengar: Iyengar yoga was developed and popularised by B.K.S. Iyengar. It is a very meticulous style of yoga, with a lot of focus on finding the proper alignment in a pose. Expect lots of props with this type of yoga such as blocks, harnesses, straps, and even cushions.
  • Kundalini: This practice concentrates on awakening the energy at the base of the spine and drawing it upward. In addition to postures, a typical class will also include chanting, meditation, and breathing exercises.
  • Restorative: Restorative yoga is a great way to relax. In a restorative class you'll spend long periods of time lying on blocks, blankets and yoga bolsters – passively allowing muscles to relax.
  • Vinyasa/flow: Vinyasa, also called flow, classes are known for their fluid, movement-intensive practices, in which students are guided to smoothly transition from pose to pose. The intensity of the practice is similar to ashtanga, but unlike ashtanga, no two vinyasa classes are the same. 

 

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Finding the right yoga style for you depends on your physical state, health goals, as well as your personality. And choosing the ideal yoga class can be overwhelming with all the different styles available. From gentle hatha classes ranging to more physically demanding practices like ashtanga – below is a brief description of what you can expect from some of the most common forms of yoga.

  • Anusara: An anusara yoga class is often lighthearted and playful with a strong focus on proper alignment and Tantric yoga philosophy. A key element in an anusara class is a heart theme, so expect many "heart-opening" poses like backbends. The theme aims to cultivate the connection between the physical yoga poses and the greater spiritual purposes of yogic practices.
  • Ashtanga: Ashtanga is a challenging and physically demanding form of yoga. The practice is made up of six vigorous series of postures, where students flow from one pose to the next without rest. This makes it a good option for those looking to combine a strong cardio session with the regular benefits of yoga. Ashtanga is not recommended for beginners, and is probably best suited for an ex-athlete or someone looking to really push their body.
  • Bikram: In a Bikram class, you do a sequence of 26 yoga poses in a very hot room (approx. 40.6 degrees Celsius or 105 degrees Fahrenheit). Be prepared to sweat in a Bikram class, more than you ever thought was possible. The heat can be intense, especially during your first few classes. Bikram is a challenging form of yoga, but can be a great style for beginners who like to push themselves. Just remember to stay hydrated before and during class.
  • Hatha: When a class is marketed as hatha, it likely means that you will get a slow and gentle introduction to the most basic yoga postures. Poses are straightforward and the pace unhurried, making it an excellent style for beginners. It's also a great type of yoga to wind down with at night.
  • Iyengar: Iyengar is a detail-oriented and slow-paced form of yoga with a lot of focus on finding the proper alignment in a pose. It’s perfect for people who love technical intricacies, and is also great for those who are new to yoga or have any issues with their health.
  • Kundalini: Kundalini yoga is more spiritual and philosophical in approach than other styles of yoga. Kundalini yoga classes include meditation, breathing techniques, and chanting as well as yoga postures.
  • Restorative: In a restorative yoga class you'll spend long periods of time lying on blocks, blankets and yoga bolsters – passively allowing muscles to relax. If you’re looking to wind down after a long day of work or want a yoga practice to quiet your mind, restorative yoga might be the answer.
  • Vinyasa/flow: Derived from ashtanga yoga, be prepared for a class full of rhythmical flow (often combined with music), moving from one pose to the next. The intensity of the practice is similar to ashtanga, but no two vinyasa classes are the same. If you hate routine and love to test your physical limits, vinyasa is a good match for you. 
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