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What Is Yoga?

Yoga is now. That’s it. That’s all there is to know. Good night and thank you.
Okay, it’s far more than that. But that sentence, Yoga is now, is the whole thing boiled down to three words.
The problem is that “now” is a pretty hard concept to put into practice in our daily lives. Have you ever tried to live in
the moment, right here, right now, with no distractions and
no other thoughts in your head? It’s difficult. That’s why a man named Patanjali, who lived during the second century
BC , wrote the Yoga Sutras as a guide to yoga. “Yoga is now” is the first of his 196 sutras. But it’s only the beginning of
his teachings.
Patanjali, who is considered to be the founder of the philosophy of yoga, defines yoga as the ability to cease
identification with the movements of the mind—in other words, to “live in the now.” The literal translation of yoga is
“to yoke” or “union” or “to join.” Modern yogis translate this as the union of the mind and the body. This is why when
most of us think of yoga, we think of Down Dog or fancy balancing poses. Much of the work that we do in the physical
practice of yoga is meant to carry over into our mental states. For example, if we hold a pose and work through some discomfort in our thighs or our arms, then we learn to
understand that when we are faced with the pain that comes from the difficult times in our lives, we have the strength to get through it. The physical helps the mental and vice versa; therefore, one cannot exist without the other, and that is why we have yoga

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

YAMAS
self-control
NIYAMAS
methods of discipline
ASANAS
physical postures
PRANAYAMA
breath work
PRATYAHARA
assistance with withdrawing from the senses
DHARANA
concentration
DHYANA
meditation
SAMADHI
absorption or liberation from the mind and the body

 

A Brief History of Yoga

We’ve touched on some of the history of yoga with Patanjali’s sutras and the eight principles, but there is still so much to be known. How did this thing we call yoga come to be? The history of yoga can be broken down into five periods:
1. Vedic
2. Pre-Classical
3. Classical
4. Post-Classical
5. Modern

Styles of Yoga

While these styles of yoga all stem from the same historical roots, they are distinct in their focus and beliefs. Here are
seven of the most popular styles:
✦ Ashtanga
✦ Kundalini
✦ Hatha
✦ Bikram
✦ Kriya
✦ Raja
✦ Iyengar

 

What Yoga Can Bring to Your Life

According to the latest Yoga in America study conducted by Sports Marketing Surveys USA on behalf of Yoga Journal in 2012, there are 20.4 million Americans who practice yoga,
and 44.8 percent of them consider themselves to be beginners. When asked in the survey why people are doing yoga,
the top five reasons for starting were as follows:
1. Flexibility (78.3 percent)
2. General conditioning (62.2 percent)
3. Stress relief (59.6 percent)
4. To improve overall health (58.5 percent)
5. Physical fitness (55.1 percent)


The Essential Yoga Poses

Corpse Pose
Savasana
EFFECT: A GROUNDING POSE FOR THE BEGINNING OF PRACTICE AND A RELAXING POSE AT THE END • PROPS: BLANKET OR BOLSTER

 

1. Lie on your back. Place your arms alongside you, palms face up. Stretch out your legs, slightly spread
apart so that you’re comfortable, straight in front of you on the ground.
2. Let your feet flop out to the side naturally.
3. Let your body be heavy. Relax completely.

GAZE: Close your eyes.
PRECEDING POSES: At the beginning of practice, none. At the end of practice, everything.
COUNTERPOSES: All poses
PRECAUTIONS: To modify to avoid lower back pain, you can place a blanket or bolster underneath your knees.
TIP: Relax your jaw and let your tongue fall away from the roof of your mouth to help settle deeper into the pose.


Standing Forward Fold
Uttanasana
EFFECT: STRETCHES HAMSTRINGS, CENTERS • PROPS: NONE

1. From Extended Mountain pose, reach your arms out to the side like a “T.”Fold at your hips with a flat back.
2. Keep leading with your chest as you continue to fold. When you cannot go any further, release your
hands toward the ground.
3. Relax your neck. Shift your weight from your heels to the middle of your feet.

GAZE: Eyes closed or toward knees
PRECEDING POSES: Mountain pose, Seated Forward Fold
COUNTERPOSES: Cobra, Sphinx
PRECAUTIONS: If you have any lower back issues, bend your knees.
TIP: Do not worry if your hands don’t reach the ground. Keep practicing, and one day they will touch.


Half Forward Fold
Ardha Uttanasana
EFFECT: STRETCHES HAMSTRINGS, OPENS CHEST, ENERGIZES • PROPS: NONE

1. From Standing Forward Fold, inhale and lift your torso. Imagine doing Cow pose here. Let your belly drop and your heart lift.
2. If this is difficult to achieve with your hands on the ground, let them slide up your legs until you can open your chest and take any rounding out of your back.
3. Keep the neck and spine long.

GAZE: Forward to a spot in front of your mat
PRECEDING POSES: Standing Forward Fold, Seated Forward Fold, Cobra, Up Dog
COUNTERPOSES: Standing Forward Fold, Plank
PRECAUTIONS: If there is tightness in the hamstrings or this bothers your lower back, bend your knees.
TIP: Do not just lift your head here; work to find a tiny back bend in your upper back. Imagine pulling your spine through your chest.


Four-Limbed Staff Pose
Chaturanga
EFFECT: STRENGTHENS ARMS AND CORE, BUILDS HEAT • PROPS: STRAP

1. Start in Plank position.
2. Shift your body forward so that your shoulders are in front of your wrists.
3. Hug your elbows in toward your ribs and bend them to a 90-degree angle. Keep the rest of your body in Plank position.

GAZE: Front of mat
PRECEDING POSES:
Plank, Mountain pose
COUNTERPOSES: Up Dog, Cobra
PRECAUTIONS: If you have shoulder issues or you’re still building the strength in your arms, keep your knees on the mat. Never let your shoulders drop below the height of your elbows.
TIP: To perfect your Chaturanga, try using a strap. Make a loop inthe strap so that when it’s flat, the edges of the loop hit the edges of your shoulders. Place the loop around your arms just above your elbows. Shift forward and bend the elbows to a 90-degree angle. You will know you’ve hit 90 when the strap hits your sternum and
reaches across your rib cage


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